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Special Topics in Calamity Physics
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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  27,932 ratings  ·  4,084 reviews
?Dazzling, ? ("People") ?Exuberant, ? ("Vogue") ?marvelously entertaining, ? ("The Dallas Morning News") Marisha Pessl's mesmerizing debut has critics raving and heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of this ?cracking good read?4 is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinemat ...more
ebook, 528 pages
Published August 3rd 2006 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2006)
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Aug 29, 2007 Patrick rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: easily impressed high school students
Reviews of “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” and the Bottle of Açaí Juice I Bought for Lunch Cleverly Masked as SAT Test Questions

(a) Special Topics in Calamity Physics
(b) The bottle of açaí juice I bought for lunch
(c) Both a and b
(d) Neither a nor b

(1) __ I had heard good things about it
(2) __ I bought it on a whim
(3) __ If feeling extremely charitable, I might call it “frothy”
(4) __ It seemed sort of good in the beginning, but by the end I was like, “Blaahahhgajh. End, end,
There’s a special cold black place in my heart for writers under thirty who come out of nowhere with a best-selling much-praised first novel for which they receive huge advances and instant fame. The feeling is called jealousy - deep, shoulda-been-me jealousy that clouds my ability to judge the book itself.

Which brings us to Marisha Pessl and Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Every big review I read of it was glowing and every writer under thirty I talked to said it was a piece of steaming shi
Donna Tartt wrote a splendid book called The Secret History which both celebrated and skewered hyper-intellectualism as well as explored the process of interacting with a text and the pleasures of narrative devices. This book follows roughly the same storyline (and, incidentally, the storyline of Daniel Handler's The Basic Eight, down to the "study questions" at the end), except there's absolutely no reason for the precious chapter titles and the annotated references - they have no bearing on th ...more
Doug Bradshaw
I've read other reviews and I believe the negative reviews have been written by people who didn't take time to really read the book and follow it all the way through. It would be easy to do. It's not a book you can speed read. (See Ulysses by James Joyce) Sometimes I'll tear through a good book in a couple of days. But there is so much in this book that you have to take your time to really comprehend it and get the good stuff out of it. Marisha's writing technique is totally unique with her hund ...more
I really wanted to like this book.

But it’s a train wreck. The literary carnage is so grotesque and horrifying, you can’t help but look, read. (And I promise you, just take my word for it, that metaphor is better than most that Pessl uses in this debut novel of hers.)

Despite what Bayard says, it’s amazing what happens when you stop talking about a text and actually interact with it. I’ll tell you what happens: disappointment. Utter, utter disappointment.

For all intents and purposes, the book does
Jul 20, 2007 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to think about things, Nabokov fans, basically everyone in the world
Any book that's a truly good book will change your life, at least for a few days after you finish it, as you walk around still somewhat in the world the author created for you. Then you become embarassed. "For Christ's sake, it's only a book," you tell yourself.
This is a story told through books themselves, a whodunnit, a coming-of-ager, and, for me at least, at least a whiff of self-help. (I found myself a bit too recognizable in the June Bug characters). It conforms to my idea that all good s
Let me start by saying that I did like this book. I did. Ms. Pessl is probably too smart for her own good, but that's never stopped me before.

That said, as with most over-intelectualized writings, I had trouble getting close to her, to her work. There's such a lot of time spent obfuscating, demonstrating how clever she is, developing stacked metaphors and allusions, that the story is difficult to get lost in. You are constantly reminded that you are reading a novel by a very smart young lady. A
Nick Black
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jason Pettus
(Full review can be found at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [].)

Okay, I'll admit it -- that whenever I hear of another young, good-looking first-time author in New York getting an obscenely high advance on their first book and suddenly becoming The Talk Of The Town, I automatically become suspicious, as sure a response from me as Pavlov's dogs salivating at the sound of their little bell. And that's because I've been around various people in the New York litera
I was about one-quarter of the way through this book when I had a strange revelation. It was, basically, kind of formulaic. And yet, the formula was rare and unpredictable. See, several years ago, I read Donna Tartt's The Secret History, a dark book about a group of preciously sophisticated, murderous wacked-out Classics majors at a small liberal arts college. I was captivated. Six months ago I read Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket's) The Basic Eight, about a group of precociously sophisticate ...more
Struck by a severe attack of the cutes, an over-worked bag of metaphors, and flimsy characterization. The dialogue is unnatural and in most cases unfitting for the characters (Dee and Dum's conversations in particular strike me as unreal for high schoolers). Most of these things are stylistic and, while annoying to read, can be groomed out with some forethought and good editing. The book, as has been acknowledged by other people, could easily be a hundred pages shorter than it is.

Blue I found s
This first bit is my initial reaction to the book. I'm keeping it up because I still think it's valid. However, see bellow for my post-reading thoughts.

Oh, how I hate this book. The parenthetic statements are making me homicidal. The dad is a jackass of unparalleled proportion, and I have yet to see Hannah do ANYTHING that warrants Blue's fascination. Sure, she picks up strange men in diners, but really, who hasn't? The writing is way too fond of its own wit, and I'm sick of all the figurative

What Special Topics in Calamity Physics is: a book about a sixteen-year-old girl and her dad living in a new town. What it isn’t: a book about physics. What it is: a book about a sixteen-year-old girl, her five uber cool new friends, and one doting teacher. What it isn’t: all that it appears to be. Really, the story is indefinable. At its heart, it’s a murder mystery, but to say that is also rudely dismissive--of its thoughtfulness, its quirkiness, its complexity. Special Topics
Oct 01, 2007 Anne rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who once loved The Secret History, spawn of academics, over-readers
Special Topics... has certainly stirred the passions of readers and critics...especially those who love-to-hate first novels by young, successful authors. At the sight of Marisha Pessl's author photo -- lovely, unsmiling introspective waif -- I had to hold down my hate reflex with both arms, both legs, and my forehead. Yet twenty pages later, any evidence of hate (or even a struggle) was gone. I was captivated.

Blue Van Meer lost her mother at a very young age and now hops around the country wit
Oct 01, 2008 Erica rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one. Ever.
Shelves: fiction
What have I learned? I've learned that apparently it's possible for a large number of fawning reviewers to confuse "pretentious" with "intelligent". I very likely got what I deserved when I chose to ignore a clear warning, namely the so called "Glossary of Terms" inside the dustjacket which introduced our 16 year old heroine, Blue van Meer, as "a brainy, deadpan, preternaturally erudite girl who...has a head crammed full of literary, scientific, and philosophical knowledge." Admittedly, I was ta ...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
This was a weird case of having high expectations and having no expectations, and being disappointed in one and reasonably well satisfied in the other. Overall, though, I didn't like it, and found it to be pretty obnoxious.

The best way to introduce this one is to use the blurb off the back:
Calamity Physics: The resulting explosion of energy, light, heartbreak and wonder as Blue van Meer enters a small, elite school in a sleepy mountain town. Blue's highly unusual past draws her to a charismati
David Katzman
Jul 07, 2013 David Katzman rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Gossip Girl and MENSA club meetings
Special Topics in Mixed Feelings. Report from the Gifted & Talented program: there was much brilliance on display in the novel in question. My report from detention: some qualities of it irritated the hell out of me and one glaring structural element weakened it.

The premise: A genius high schooler is being dragged by her widowed, genius college-professor father from small college town to small college town and transferring from school to school. Said genius high schooler (one Blue van Meer)
Brilliant rendition of an unforgettable brainy teen who feels compelled to leave her world of books to solve the mystery of a teacher’s death. Many will find the book too long with not enough meaningful human action, but I found the world of the lead character’s mind grew on me as a doomed, but attractive, refuge from the narcissistic void facing many youth today.

Sixteen year old Blue van Meer moves to a small town in North Carolina with her political science professor dad and recounts her seni
Oct 02, 2007 Rory rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: apparently, anyone who isn't me
Shelves: gave-up-on
i didn't really read this. i read about 30 pages before announcing (to the book's cover), "I HATE YOU, BOOK. SHUT UP!" anyone who wants more details as to why i despise the book that everyone else is raving about might need to buy me a drink first.
I read several good reviews of this book, but none of them said that it was a blatant rip-off of Donna Tartt's "The Secret History". It's about a teenager and her not-quite successful academic father. Now, I'm the daughter of a not-quite successful academic father, so I'm a good judge of the territory, and this just doesn't make the grade. The stylistic tic adopted by the narrator is to copiously footnote her story with real and imaginary books. However, she doesn't footnote correctly, and I fin ...more
This may be the best book I've read all year, which isn't to say it's perfect. In fact, there are about a million reasons to hate it that most of my fellow reviewers have already touched upon: the gorgeous young It Girl-looking author for one, or the denseness of the writing (some have called it overwritten), the pretentiousness of it all. And yet, for sheer impact, I don't think I could come up with a single thing to top it. This book really gets in your head and doesn't leave it the same again ...more
several people I know and like loved this book. I'm about halfway through and I hate it so far. it's sooo wes andersonish, a tale of WASPS who think they're clever (and are, too clever by half!) it's filled with nice words, and some of them are put together well, but I really don't see the big deal. except, oh right-the author is young, and goodlooking. the cover is eye-catching. Did I mention I hate it? I might even have to stop reading (if I could, I'd italicize that.) I almost never give up o ...more

This is an excerpt of what is apparently Blue's father speaking:

"Always have everything you say exquisitely annotated, and, where possible, provide staggering Visual Aids, because, trust me, there will always be some clown sitting in the back—somewhere by the radiator—who will raise his fat, flipperlike hand and complain, 'No, no, you've got it all wrong."

This is taken at random, but Pessl's every sentence, even her father's words, have the exact same tint to them; the cutesy word choices and ex
Blue van Meer is a smart high school student on her way to Harvard who has spent most of her life alone with her father after a tragic accident took her mother's life early in Blue's childhood. Her father, a professor of political science, moves across the country to teach at small colleges for short periods of time, allowing Blue the opportunity to grow up as somewhat of a vagabond. By the time they reach the destination of which the book is about, Blue is unlike most kids her age. Her life has ...more
Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a puzzle, a Rubik's Cube of a story created by Puzzlemaster Marisha Pessl. You receive all the information needed to solve the puzzle throughout your reading, but it's not until the end, when each side of the cube is perfectly constructed, that you see the Blinding Truth.

The sides of Pessl's Cube aren't basic colors. Instead of fashioning rows and columns of nine small blue squares on one side, nine yellow squares on another, nine red, nine green, nine oran
Jul 25, 2013 M. rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one, not even genocidal maniacs or serial killers
Shelves: 2013
I waited a long time to read this book - years, in fact. I was more curious than I was excited, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Ultimately, I was not just disappointed. I was MAD.

Here, as I explained them to a friend, are the key issues with this book:

1) Every single sentence is overwrought and overstuffed with a pretentious, stilted, stupid simile (CONFIDENTIAL TO MARISHA PESSL: There are, in fact, literary devices other than similes; I just employed one called "alliteration"
My initial interest in this book was mainly down to the fact that I had read numerous reviews comparing it to Donna Tartt's The Secret History, one of my favourite novels of all time. Having finished it, I can now say with confidence that these comparisons are fairly inaccurate and really quite lazy. The obvious similarity between the books is that both concern an elite group of young people in an academic setting (in this case, a much-admired clique known as the 'Bluebloods' in an American high ...more
Sep 26, 2007 Jessica rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people i hate
Shelves: aborted-efforts
I found the first several pages of this book completely fucking unreadable.

Maybe it gets better after that.... it must, I guess, because a lot of people really seem to like it.

But I will never really know.
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I listened to the audio book. Had I been reading the print version, there would have been NO CHANCE of my staying with it all the way to the end.
Possible alternate title: Special Practice With Obnoxious Similes
Aug 10, 2007 Miss. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: clever boys and girls, pop culture fans, nail bitters
this is a book that has struck me dumb jealous with writer's block. i really urge all my bookworm friends to buy and figuratively eat this book TODAY. it's like Eggers meets Nabokav, which is a great merger because they both cancel out any negative traits (V.N.-excessive geographic plot turns and obscure adjectives, D.E.- too much creed in The School Of I Am Too Clever) and enhances the positive (which, I think, are the same as the negative).

when i read Life Of Pi (I think Kucher agrees), i was
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Marisha Pessl grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, and now lives in New York City. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, her debut novel, was a bestseller in both hardcover and paperback. It won the 2006 John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize (now the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize), and was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. Her ...more
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“Always live your life with your biography in mind.” 73 likes
“But most critically, sweet, never try to change the narrative structure of someone else's story, though you will certainly be tempted to, as you watch those poor souls in school, in life, heading unwittingly down dangerous tangents, fatal digressions from which they will unlikely be able to emerge. Resist the temptation. Spend your energies on your story. Reworking it. Making it better.” 71 likes
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