Recommended Reading from Alan Lightman

I just finished a bunch of huge freelance jobs and now I actually have time to read (and write) again! Which is very good because I have a book due to my publisher before the end of the year, and it’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for those who haven’t heard). I’m not working on a novel, but I’m joining up with all the other writers who are trying to pump out at least 50,000 words this month and using the time to get more material for my deconversion memoir onto the page.

My nightstand is also starting to sag under the weight of the pile of unread books I’ve amassed over the past few months.

Still, I can’t keep buying more books. Yesterday I read an article one of my favorite authors, Alan Lightman, in Poets & Writers magazine.

If you haven’t read any of Lightman’s work, I highly recommend anything you can get your hands on, especially The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th-Century Science, Including the Original Papers and Einstein’s Dreams, a short fiction including dreams that a young Albert Einstein has about ” places where time behaves quite differently.”

Lightman, Adjunct Professor of Humanities at MIT, wrote his first novel, Einstien’s Dreams, when he was 44. He’s recently decided to focus entirely on his writing, as he discusses in the article in P&W. Both his fiction and nonfiction are easy to read, with beautiful language, and results that make writing look easy, although anyone who has done any writing can tell that Lightman has done quite a bit of work to make this illusion believable.

Ghost by Alan LightmanLightman’s newest book is called Ghost: A Novel. (Creative subtitle, huh? I guess since he also writes nonfiction, I can understand the need to specify the genre.) It’s a story about a skepctical guy who works in a funeral parlor and one day sees something that looks like a spirit hanging around near one of the corpses. What does an unbeliever do when he or she sees something that aparrently can’t be explained by science?

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

David is a person of modest ambitions who works in a bank, lives in a rooming house, enjoys books and quiet walks by the lake. Three months after unexpectedly being fired from his job, he takes a temporary position at a mortuary. And there, sitting alone in the “slumber room” one afternoon at dusk, he sees something that he cannot comprehend, something that no science can explain, something that will force him to question everything he believes in, including himself. After his metaphysical experience, all his relationships change-—with his estranged wife, his girlfriend, his mother–and he grudgingly finds himself at the center of a bitter public controversy over the existence of the supernatural. As David struggles to understand what has happened to him, we embark on a provocative exploration of the delicate divide between the physical world and the spiritual world, between skepticism and faith, between the natural and the supernatural, and between science and religion.

Combining a dramatic story with compelling characters and provocative ideas, Ghost investigates timeless questions that continue to challenge contemporary society.

Lightman describes himself in the P&W article as a “spiritual atheist,” and he’s also written a nonfiction book called A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit that explores all kinds of interesting subjects that could be grouped under the heading of “spirituality” in some loose sense. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ll probably order it together with Ghost, especially if the combination makes me eligible for free shipping on Amazon.

If you’d like to join me in reading Ghost next month, let me know and I’ll put the more serious books on hold for the new year.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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