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And now for the Back Story on …
The mathematician, pianist and author Eugenia Cheng talked to our Book Review in the By the Book column. Here’s what she said about merging art and math, and her new book “X+Y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender.”
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
My ideal reading experience is epic and uninterrupted. I don’t like reading in small daily installments; I like reading an entire book in one sitting. That’s if it’s a novel anyway, and if it’s any good. Deep nonfiction takes longer to absorb, and math books take years. I love the act of turning pages when I’m reading a novel; when I’m studying a math book I might need to spend several weeks on one paragraph.
Unfortunately this means I’m often wary of starting a new novel because I can be fairly sure it will wipe out the rest of my day (and night).
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
“Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women,” by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn.
At least, nobody to whom I’ve mentioned it has heard of it so far. It’s a bracing memoir in the same vein as “Notes From a Young Black Chef,” about someone almost destroyed by the deep structural racism of our society, but who managed, eventually, to rise up to help others.
You’re a concert pianist as well as a mathematician. Who are your favorite musician-writers? Your favorite memoir by a musician?
I don’t read much about music, actually; I prefer just doing it, or learning by observation, that is, going to many, many live performances (in the pre-pandemic world).
You’re the “scientist in residence” at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. How do you bridge science and art, and what’s your favorite book to discuss with your students?
Well I must admit: Mine! I wrote my first book, “How to Bake Pi,” as my dream of a liberal arts math course that I thought I would never have the chance to teach.
It’s easier to “bridge” science and art when you don’t really think there’s a gap between them in the first place, as I don’t. The boundaries between subjects are really artificial constructs by humans, like the boundaries between colors in a rainbow.
That’s it for this briefing. Don’t let quarantine envy get you down. Have a lovely weekend.
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at email@example.com.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about reopening schools.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: What Britain Brexited from (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Jazmine Hughes, who helped launch our Mag Labs, is moving to a writing role on the Metro desk and the magazine.