With much fanfare, Oprah has re-opened her Book Club (after closing it down two years ago over hurt feelings that Jonathan Franzen would not let her select his novel "The Corrections" for her monthly pick. That bastard).
If Oprah can do it, so can I. I'm thick in the middle of the doldrums of the fall semester: buried under papers and student conferences, but I have had a little time to read on the bus I take to Cambridge, so I thought I'd pass some (non-fiction) recommendations your way.
Speaking of Oprah, I finally checked out Michael Moore's Dude Where's My Country, which is pretty funny (although not as funny as Al Franken's Lying Liars and the Lies they Tell) and contains the compelling argument that Oprah should be our next president. He's not kidding about this either. He thinks Oprah is the only person that could win, hands-down, when running against anybody, based on her widespread appeal, name recognition, and the general respect she commands in this country. When I see her passing out free Christmas gifts to a screaming audience of hysterical housewives, I'm not so sure. But most of the time, I have to agree. Who doesn't like Oprah?
Moving away from politics (reluctantly), I found Freakonomics (by two science-y guys) really interesting. It's that book that has the green apple on the cover, sliced into so that you can see it's an orange inside. So right away I was intrigued. Basically the book breaks complex issues down to their nitty-gritty by using math and statistics. It's actually MUCH more entertaining than I just made that sound. For example, authors Levitt and Dubner debunk all sorts of commonly-held beliefs--like, crack dealers make lots of money and reading to your kids will make them smarter--and they show you how your swimming pool is much more likely to kill your children than the guns you might have in the house. It also has a really fascinating chapter on the long-term effect of the name you choose for your baby.
I also recently taught an excerpt from Nicked and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich to my Harvard Extension students. It's an interesting case study. This journalist, a middle-class, middle-aged woman, slips into the low-wage workforce (as a waitress at a charming family style restaurant called "The Hearthside") for a few months to see if you really can survive on minimum wage (without welfare). The results are pretty illuminating, making fools of those Republicans who led all that welfare reform in the late '90s. Oh look at that, we're back to politics again.
And finally, one book that everyone should read that owns a trash can: Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. It shows where your garbage goes after you throw it away. It is never preachy or depressing, more of an interesting look at something you never think about...sort of like when Mr. Rogers would visit those factories that make toothpaste or drinking straws to show you how it's done. I always loved those factories.
Okay, so no more saying "I don't have time to read" then spending four hours watching that Desperate Housewives/OC/Lost cocktail you recorded to DVR. Now you have some good options. And, if you've read anything interesting yourself lately, do post it up here for our collective benefit.