submited by

Style Pass

In “A Divine Language,” Alec Wilkinson writes about the year he spent trying to learn the algebra, geometry and calculus that had confounded him decades before.

A DIVINE LANGUAGE {Learning Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus at the Edge of Old Age} By Alec Wilkinson 287 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $29.

Writing a book is hard enough, so authors will sometimes use it as a chance to embark on something they have always wanted to do — take up dance, learn to juggle, travel the world, have more sex. The longtime New Yorker writer Alec Wilkinson took a decidedly different tack, choosing instead to chronicle his sustained efforts to do something he knew he hated.

In “A Divine Language,” Wilkinson begins by admitting that he passed high school math only because he cheated. His memoir recounts the year he spent, not long ago, when he was well into his 60s, trying to learn the algebra, geometry and calculus that had confounded him decades before.

Needless to say, Wilkinson didn’t exactly do this for fun, even though he identifies as a “self-improver.” As he was getting older, he wanted to see if his teenage confusion reflected a lack of mathematical skill or a dearth of discipline. He ran into one of his colleagues, Calvin Trillin, who asked Wilkinson what he was working on. When told it was a book on math, Trillin peered at him and deadpanned, “For or against?”

Read more nytimes.com/...