Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mens et Mania: The MIT Nobody Knows

Mens et Mania: The MIT Nobody Knows
Samuel Jay Keyser
Publisher: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2011)

We all know about the Seven Wonders of the World (with more being built every day); some things are just mythic. We can look at the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon or see photos of Dubai's tallest hotel and see right away that they are unique, stunning, and beautiful. But when it comes to the abstract landscape of the intellectual and scientific, we don't really "see" things the same way. To most of us, MIT is a set of buildings in Cambridge Mass. along the Charles River that provides a counterpoint to Harvard on the other side. They do law and politics, MIT does science and math.

But what makes for a school that for generations has spun off new inventions and technologies? How does that work behind the scenes? What do the people there see? Jay Keyser gives us a peek into this world.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Was Solomon the Peacemaker?

Point of view is one of the most important elements of story telling. After a point of view is selected by an author, how to handle that point of view is the next necessary step. First person tends to be the easiest for the reader to follow. But if an author is not careful, the story may bounce between past and present tense and can feel uncomfortable to some readers.  When a story starts out: "The snow was falling when George came to me";  then jumps to: "I am standing in the doorway watching George turn the book over" and then moves back to: "George went to the door and threw the book back at me," the reader can get whiplash trying to discover whether we are in the present or talking about the past. One of the most popular book trilogies lately does this from scene to scene.  The story was strong enough to carry the wavering between tenses. However, most writers don't have a story and plot so absolutely compelling. On the other hand, first person can slip into a passive voice also a disaster for the reader as it becomes boring.

Today's choice, "Solomon the Peacemaker" by Hunter Welles, is written in the first person. Yet, it is unique unto itself. The story is a confession. Not your typical confession, where the author is pouring out his heart about some happening and his involvement. This is a real confession as in the cop is asking questions and he is telling what happened. I love cop shows and get on the edge of my seat during the suspect grilling; from the beginning this hooked me.  But there is more to this style Welles has chosen.  Right away we learn the voice and words of the interrogator is redacted. The reader must decipher the interrogator's words based on the confessor's answers. This interactive play will hook some people right away - people like me- while others will find it too cumbersome to be bothered with. It will be their loss. Even the font Welles' uses feels like a typed police confession.