My autumn and winter reading material arrived about a month ago. It’s my usual mildly eclectic mix of science, the Orient and European novels.
I began with a science book, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. This is a disturbing exposè on the mass media’s unreliable, error-riddled, poorly-investigated reporting on stories in which science plays a role.
It is a very accessible book and a reminder that you should never believe anything you read in the paper – health scare stories in particular.
If you were ever considering wasting money on alternative therapies then I suggest you read this book first or visit the bad science website.
For a complete change of scene, I then turned to In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki, a long essay in which the novelist expresses his idiosyncratic views on aesthetics.
The essay itself pays homage to a Japanese writing aesthetic; don’t expect a Western style of composition with familiar organisation and structure and one key idea per sequentially-linked paragraph.
This, instead, is a flowing essay form where the essayist dances the reader around various high and low-brow ideas on beauty, using examples that follow no discernible pattern but that are consistent with the overall theme of shadows.
There are rhapsodies on poor lighting, the joys of outdoor toilets and woman with blackened teeth.
Junichiro laments the visual impact of Western inventions such as the stove and toilet fixtures on everyday Japanese life, comparing the Western well-lit aesthetic unfavourably with his own.
“We Orientals” the novelist explains, “create a kind of beauty of the shadows we have made in out-of-the-way places.”
Maybe he does speak for his nation (or his generation), but the essay is essentially personal; it is an account of what one man likes about his own culture.
I liked this slim book but I am not at all attracted to dimly-lit interiors; give me good lighting any day.