Goodbye, Dr. Hofstadter...Book Club vs. The Next Series of Digressions

Today was our official last discussion on Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - kind of like an Ozzy Farewell Tour, because we've already agreed to go back and discuss sticking points once we've cleansed the palate, so to speak.  Also, we didn't really talk about GEB's content, but about our group.  We talked about talking about GEB.

I'm impressed that after spending 2.5 years reading one book we're eager to go on and tackle another one.  This is a great collection of people who digress well. Excellently, even.  We asked our ringleader, Lee, whether her initial vision of the study group matched what actually happened.  Not so much, but she's pleased with the outcome.

We brought to the table - literally - the following books:
Not present, but a late addition to the list:
We went round the table and asked everyone to explain why they brought the candidate they did. And we tried to stick to that format, gently driving our comrades back to the topic when we digressed. I'd brought Rovelli because somebody asked for it; Sharon had brought du Sautoy because nobody owned it yet but she found it at her library.  Libraries are these interesting things that have books you can take. It seems awkward, though, because they expect you to bring the book back.  I don't think I should try it; there's too much potential for conflict.

We've been trying to choose the next book in person and via email for months; the candidate list kept growing.  Bacteria to Bach and Back (henceforth known as B2BnB or maybe just B3) has remained a favorite from the beginning, and in fact I think I'm not alone in wanting to follow with The Mind's I, a series of shorter works curated by Hofstadter and Dennett. It would be a fun read after we've gotten pretty familiar with the style and mindset of each author. It plays in my mind like a book version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The Zorya, close-up of sunflower seeds
This is difficult stuff for me to digest, and that's what I love. I started reading Thinking, Fast and Slow over a year ago - Kahneman's book is like a regimented diet for my brain, good for me and I honestly enjoy the menu but it' hard on my attention span.  The Rovelli book, The Order Of Time, is more like red velvet cake. It's dense and delicious and I want to devour the whole thing, but after a while I just can't take any more.  I think today was the first any of us had peeped into du Sautoy's book, The Great Unknown, but there was a lot of interest. I'm currently deciding whether to buy the Kindle version or the paper pages.  I like to write in the margins and highlight in yellow. There's the added connotation for me that du Sautoy's BBC television series The Code is the soundtrack for my sunflower painting, The Zorya.

"Is it translated?" somebody asked about The Great Unknown.
"Yes," I assured everyone. "He's British." 

We equated our 2 years of reading GEB to Bible Study more than a traditional book club; I especially like that comparison.  When I first got into it I  read not from beginning to end, but opened random pages seeking wisdom like I read the Bible.  I got so excited about The Jabberwocky translations that I spilled a glass of Frappato in my book. It was horribly exciting; who translates made-up words into several different languages?  Dr. D.R.H., that's who. He figured out the path of the whimsy in English and created something similar in German, in French, and so on.

Choosing another book as topically diverse with a unifying thread has been a real challenge. We discussed at length how we could vote for a final decision. I wanted to shout out - yea or nay - and was accused of shouting out. Our several programmers discussed what they could build to tally our preferences. Lee suggested we email in our 3 favorites, in order, assigning points in order of preference or just tell them to her since we were sitting there. Barney finally accused us of just being enthralled with choosing a selection process, and he was right. Because science.

Ultimately we agreed to start on B3, but we still want to vote. We may run more than one type of poll for comparison, or we may just shut up and read the book.

It's been a true pleasure to digress from the pages of GEB, with the author participating in our discussions by proxy due to the way he laid out the whole thing.  I am looking forward to the coming year. There's another Godel, Escher, Bach study group starting up; If I can find the time, I may start over from the beginning.

Thank you, Dr. D.R.H. If you're ever in the Northern Virginia area, do stop in and say hello. We meet every 2nd and 4th Saturday. Digressors are always welcome.


  1. what a wonderful idea for a book group. rather inspired. when I finally settle somewhere I'd love to do this.
    in the meantime, I'm going to look at some of these books. I like the idea of sharpening the mind.

    1. I got really lucky. When I moved to Annandale, I knew it would be easy to sequester myself and get stuck in a work/home routine. I'd already bought the GEB book, so I surfed Meetup searching for something that combined GEB and homebrew. I did not find any such combo, but I've grateful for the group of people who like to pursue tangents like I do. I'm really tired of talking to people who just blank-stare because they have zero interest in what I like and no capability to talk about anything that doesn't interest them.


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