book review

One of my unexpected Christmas delights was a little novel called The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa. My mom sent it to me, with a little note on the tag that said, “I thought this was sweet and easy to read.” I laughed at the note because I had had to restrain myself from writing similar notes on all the gifts I’d sent to her – there always seems to be a caveat or an explanation about the gifts we give.

I needed something sweet and easy to read. I’ve been plodding through The Book Thief on my sister’s recommendation. The first time I tried it, I gave up after something like 6 pages, when the brother died in the snow outside the train. This time, I got farther, but still had to steel myself every time I picked it up: it’s told from the point of view of Death in Hitler’s Germany. Every word oozes with sadness.

The Housekeeper and the Professor was a welcome change. I started it Christmas day, when everyone else was napping, and finished it last night. Here’s the weird thing: it is about math. A math professor, actually, but there is a whole lot more mathematics in this book than you find in most novels. Whole equations, and the history of famous theorems, and lists of prime numbers. It was intriguing, though, in a way I’d never have guessed if someone had described it to me. The professor in the story has a sort of love affair with numbers. He sees beauty where the rest of us see calculations. He talks about “God’s Notebook” as the place where the infinite universe is all written down, and each math equation helps us see a little glimpse.

I learned a lot while reading it – and probably would have learned more if I had read it more slowly – but here’s one piece that stuck with me. There are three kinds of numbers: perfect numbers (the sum of the divisors of a number is equal to the number itself); deficient numbers (the sum of the divisors is less than the number); and abundant numbers (the sum of the divisors is more than the number). I like the use of the word “abundant.” I wonder if Jesus knew about abundant numbers when he talked about abundant life. Because isn’t that what he meant, sort of? Life with God always adds up to more than you started with: abundant life.

Thanks for the book, Mom.

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