A quirky contender from Canada and a powerhouse of hilarity form the US (by way of UK). An odd match up of the persistence of memory against the history of the world. Heaven help me to find a winner here.
In college, I had a friend who worked at a bookstore. One day, I asked him to recommend some books, and The Memory Artists appeared in the mix. For that, I’m forever in his debt.
In The Memory Artists, main character Noel Braun works in a chemistry lab and tries to find a cure to repair his mother’s mind which is fractured by Alzheimer’s. He himself remembers everything by virtue of his synesthesia and hypermnesia conditions. Along for the ride is his friend Norval a dramatic artist in the midst of his grandest performance piece -sleep through an alphabet of women in a year or commit suicide. Of course, complication comes when a fellow psychotherapy patient joins in the search. Samira is beguiling, and Norval becomes stuck on S. Of course, Noel is in love with her too. What could have turned into a formulaic love triangle becomes a touching tale of love and memory. The Memory Artists has that je ne sais quoi that makes me yearn to read it again a decade later.
- Goodreads Score: 3.71
- Length: 3 – Just as drawn out as it needs to be, The Memory Artists comes in at a comfortable 300ish pages.
- Readability: 3 – Pulling from multiple perspectives, one of them an Alzheimer’s patient, and dealing with the field of neuropsychology, The Memory Artists can be very dense and unrelatable even while it’s gentle.
- Language: 3.5 -At points, it’s wispy and unnerving, at others your drowning in the vibrant pictures Noel paints as he describes the inner workings of his mind as a synthese.
- Characters/Plot: 4.0 -Moore could be an architect for the way he’s able to establish tension in his house of cards. At first, Norval’s the patent loathsome philosopher then transforms to be sympathetic as his true love for Samira becomes apparent and his commitment to his ideals remains. Noel is enviable but idealistic, and even though the deus ex machina ending seems a little too easy, it’s probably not the way you saw it ending at all.
Overall Score: 17.21
“It was as if [the textbook writer] wanted to keep the good stuff secret by making all of it soberly unfathomable.”-Bill Bryson on his school science books which prompted him to write a good one
If ever there was an individual to make boring topics interesting and entertaining, Bill Bryson is your guy. Though he started off with self-deprecating tales of his exploits exploring the word, in A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson decides to tackle the history of the universe in about 500 pages. Amazingly enough, he’s successful. Starting with the Big Bang, Bryson discusses the universe, the planets, earth, what happened on earth since it was created, how we figured out everything we know about what happened since earth was created, and rounds out with what we should look to in the future. If the amount of information covered seems intimidating, don’t worry, it is, but it’s also manageable. I know I’m a STEM devotee and knew many of his stories already, but I think nearly everyone would learn something new from the book. What’s more -they’d laugh themselves silly the whole way through.
- Goodreads Score: 4.21
- Length: 2 – 500 pages of scientific documentation is hard for almost anyone to handle and as much as I love Bryson, the wordiness is a detriment.
- Readability: 4 – As I just mentioned, 500 pages is quite a lot, but you’ll become so engrossed in reading the history of science, 50 pages goes by in a wink. I would push for A Short History to be used in classrooms for its guarantee of rapt attention.
- Language: 4.5 -Having been born & raised in Iowa before emigrating to England in his 20s, there couldn’t be a better deadpan humorist than Bryson. When I listen to his audiobooks, I worry I’ll wreck my car thus being unable to control the snorts and chuckles that come from his sarcastic one-liners. Read Bill Bryson because he is so damn funny.
- Characters/Plot: 3 -Yet again, the non-fiction loses in the plot/character category. I will allow points for so coherently stringing together such a long timeline and perfectly portraying the idiosyncrasies of his subjects/
Overall Score: 17.71
What a close one! I’ll agree A Short History of Nearly Everything deserves it. At the time I read The Memory Artists, I too was a person working in a chemistry lab hoping to solve the puzzle of Alzheimer’s. And damn it all if a devoted grad student and a ridiculous but attractive philosopher wouldn’t have been right up my alley. If I do chance a reread, I’ll be interested to see how much it still resonates. As for A Short History, it’s a work of art to make the common reader interested in rock formations and calorimetric conversions, but if anyone could do it, it’s Bryson. Although he doesn’t appear again in the challenge, I’ll take this opportunity to encourage you to start in on his travel guides.