A Star Chart

Welcome to my book blog; let’s talk about astronomy.

I’ve always been more interested in my squishy humanities than in the hard sciences. Literature, history, philosophy—these are the things that put the fire in me, and since middle school, I’ve been pretty certain I’d end up doing something in that general area. The only thing that ever had me seriously reconsider this was a science elective I took back in college that had me thinking about a career in astronomy. Astronomy was able to catch at something in me that none of the other sciences ever could. I really loved coming to class and learning all these weird facts about the planets and stars, getting a sense of the ridiculous scale of the universe, watching chemistry and physics come alive on the cosmic stage in a way they never could when it was just formulas and models. Sadly, this little love affair was a doomed one—the real work of astronomy is mathematical, and I flunked out at high school algebra. I went back to lurking the liberal arts departments that next fall, but for one semester I was flirting with the idea of abandoning all the confusion and frustration of the humanities for the clean, pure world(s) I thought I’d find through a telescope.

One of the things I enjoyed most about astronomy was also one of its oldest and simplest features. I liked how astronomy changed my everyday—or rather, everynightrelationship with the sky. The stars I saw on my walk home slowly transformed from a meaningless mass of white dots into planets and constellations. Sometimes I would go outside to sketch crude star charts and then go on the web to figure out what it was I was looking at (The most fun I had was the time I got obsessed by this freaky, red star hanging low over the horizon. I learned it was Antares, the heart of Scorpion). In order to play this star mapping game, you have to take into account your longitude as the stars change their position based on where on the globe you’re viewing them from; mapping stars, as it turns out, can give you a pretty good idea of where you’re standing.

Even though I’ve mostly left astronomy behind, I never forgot that experience of going out and mapping stars. I learned that it’s not enough just to see stars, you have to see stars in relationship to other stars, to the horizon, and to your self. It’s only when you start finding those relationships that the constellations and planets really appear and you can start learning how to navigate by starlight. My hopes are that I can accomplish something similar with my reading life in this blog. The literary world is deep and dark, and the authors, works, tropes and ideas which populate it are beyond counting, but not beyond mapping. I don’t want just to keep a record of my reading, but to draw meaningful connections, new constellations, and useful tools for navigating out of it. This isn’t just a blog, it’s a star chart, and if I’m lucky it won’t just help me understand the cultural universe, but help shed a little light on where we all stand in relationship to it.

Welcome to the galaxy; don’t forget your bookmark.

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