Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Book Club

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.


At 5:29 PM, Blogger James Apostol said...

Can I get any of these on tape?

At 5:49 PM, Blogger huntsmanic said...

nickel & dimed is a great read. the main criticism is that it's short on conclusions; but @ its essence it's a narrative book, not a conclusions book. i still quote the part where the little boy is flying around pulling clothes off the shelves at walmart and she mutters to herself,

"it's too bad abortion is wasted on the unborn."

so are we starting a book club now? does that mean that now i get to tell you the nonfiction i've been fascinated with now?

both malcolm gladwells: Blink and the Tipping Point. probably you have read these. i love blink best but the science in the tipping point is excellent.

steven pinker's the Blank Slate: it's about human nature. dense prose but he finds his groove and the conclusions he reaches, and even more the ingrained fallacies he points out, are f'ing fascinating.

bill bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything: the best science book i have ever read. easily. it's about the history of earth and the narratives he weaves (mostly about the f'ed up scientists who made all these big discoveries; did you know that edwin hubble was a) a rich, gorgeous athlete of a man, b) who people actually called "Adonis", c) brilliant, d) fantastically rich and successful, and e) a pathological liar who contrived the thinnest, most obvious deceptions at every turn? by the time i put it down i had decided to write a science book, one like this one; one that makes people feel humbly smart and particularly righteous.

i think we should have meetings 2x a month. we can take notes and burn incense, drink dessert wine and eat snacks.

At 11:53 PM, Blogger scs said...

I love Blink!! I only omitted it from the list because I've been raving about it so much here I figured people were sick of hearing about it from me. But I'm glad you gave it a plug. Tipping Point was great too; my goal in life is to be thought of as a Maven.

Thanks for the other great recommendations: I had no idea you would so deftly leap onto the bookclub bandwagon. First meeting will be at my house; I will make bacon-wrapped scallops and white bean dip with pita chips for snacks. It really is too bad about that whole entire country between us thing.

At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I join the club? I'll read each first chapter and BS my way through the rest? Just show up to drink and talk and divert the discussion off topic?

Okay, what if I promise to actually read the books? Then can I come?

If I admit the conflict of interest, can I recommend a book from work? William L. Fox: IN THE DESERT OF DESIRE: LAS VEGAS AND THE CULTURE OF SPECTACLE. Email me, I might have left over galleys.

At 5:23 PM, Blogger scs said...

That's an uncanny description of my undergraduate career, Mon, minus the drinking, which wasn't allowed in class. Who are we kidding, that's how I got through grad school too. (but not minus the drinking this time)

I am into any book involving Sin City. The Real World: Vegas opened my eyes to its possibilities.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger huntsmanic said...

ohmigod, bacon-wrapped scallops, are you serious. you could be dressed in your oprah costume and i would still come. still love it.


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