I've just finished a book, Leonard Mlodinow's The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives. I recommend it highly, especially if you like pop-sci rambles through history and mathematics, salted with useful knowledge about how statistics intersect with reality, and sprinkled with wiseass parentheticals. I was actually asked for an evaluation by a friend who was unfamiliar with Mlodinow, outside of his work as a script editor for ST:TNG, and I thought I might as well try pretending to be a serious media person for a little bit and type up a review for all of you.

It's a bit different writing for a blog audience than for a single person you know; you need to take into account the sorts of things people who read you would have in common, and how those things would affect their reaction to the whatzit you're trying to describe for them. I mulled it over for a while and decided it would probably suffice to say that if you enjoy the tone of my snark, you'll also enjoy Mlodinow's oddball examples and informal writing style.

That gave me pause. I had just a few minutes before, in my individual review over in the other chat window, compared Mlodinow's style and literary bearing to Feynman's. I can sit down and defend the comparison with linguistic analysis, if necessary, although it also just plain hammers on the weird magic language sense I have that tells me when patterns cast the same shadow. It's probably intentional; the back of the other Mlodinow book I have on the pile right now informs me that he spent a year or two in the office just down the hall from Feynman, when Mlodinow was a wee babby physicist and Feynman was a living legend teaching at Caltech, but I actually wasn't aware of that until I picked up this last round of reading from BPL.

I don't know if there exists a transitive property between members of a set of related literary comparisons. I am afraid to ask. My first instinct is that I don't know that I'm qualified to draw so much as a lightly-dashed pencil line between me and Richard Feynman, in any respect. The idea that anyone might even think that I was daring to make that connection makes me incredibly uncomfortable. It's not the sort of vague social-anxiety fear that people will hear that and roll their eyes, either; it's an immediate look-behind-you fear that if it ever got out that I so much as thought that, punishment would be swift and brutal.

[I'm not sure the comparison would be entirely inaccurate, which feels incredibly dangerous to say. I haven't made a career of contemplating quantum chromodynamics on a daily basis, but I am the sort of person who would sit down and pick the combination locks on the filing cabinets, if we really needed something in them and the owner was unreachable. I am furthermore exactly the sort of person who would guess the combination in ten minutes from things my coworker had told me in casual conversation, and then sit around the office for two hours letting everyone assume I was picking the locks, which Feynman also did once or twice. (I realized only when re-reading this that I figured it was a given that of course I would know how to pick locks. Which I do. But you wouldn't presume that of just anyone.) I only dabble in physics, and I've never even tried playing the bongos, but as a raconteur full of weird stories, I'm probably at least in the ballpark.]

I am uncertain whether this profound reluctance to connect myself, even conceptually, with anyone who might in any way be considered by anyone to be astounding comes from repeated applications of tall poppy syndrome over the years, or just that I have no clue what to do with the idea that I have some connection to the past. My mother had a special sort of contempt for people who did things to be 'like' other people, which as you might guess translated to me being brutally discouraged from picking role-models or heroes. Whenever I got one of those stupid 'write about your heroes' assignments in school, I defaulted to babbling about my father the engineer. This thrills everyone to death when you are a tiny smart STEMmy girl-child. I didn't really conceive of it in the I want to be just like Dad! way everyone else was thinking, though; I just liked math, and at the time, Dad could still explain a lot of it.

[I still get attacks of incredible, terrified shyness about raiding the library for biographies. I am well aware that the library DNGIAF what I read as long as I bring it back on time, and that even if someone did notice and roll their eyes at me it would be of no consequence. I am nevertheless glad they have self-checkout kiosks.]

There was a time when noticing that I shared any elements of style with other writers would have sent me into a tailspin. There's some part of your primitive lizard brain responsible for absorbing things from your parents before you're old enough to learn it formally, and mine kept telling me that as soon as I saw similarity I needed to abolish it. It takes an astonishing amount of effort to keep up with that, which was one of the things that finally made me realize that my mother's ideas about human society were batshit insane. I just got tired of having to sprint around distancing myself from all seven billion other brains on the planet.

It has become clear to me, tracing how Leonard Mlodinow comes from Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking; how Douglas Hofstadter comes from Bertrand Russell and Willard Van Orman Quine; how Neil de Grasse Tyson comes from Carl Sagan; how Oliver Sacks comes from Edward Liveing and A R Luria and even the Victorian naturalists he read in his youth; that I am not just picking up things from single writers anymore. I am now carrying on a tradition.

How well I'm doing, I suppose, is an assessment for the reader to make. It seems a great responsibility.

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