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New Year's (book) resolutions

Just a few days until we hit 2008, so I guess it's that time again. I don't smoke and I'm not giving up caffeine ever again, so my resolutions have mainly to do with books.

For starters:

Adams 1. Read more nonfiction: Let's face it. I'm never going to turn into one of those people (like, say, my brother) whose idea of a great read is a 900 page book about John Quincy Adams. He also tells me World War Z is the single greatest book ever written in the history of mankind. Now if John Quincy Adams had fought off zombies, I might be more inclined to take a look at his life, but as it is...no. Still, there are so many other types of nonfiction out there. The excuse of "I don't like to read about history unless there are cannibalistic humanoids mentioned" really doesn't fly.

2. Get back to listening to books on CD: I was on a roll earlier this year, but aside from Stephen Colbert's book, I haven't listened to much lately except for the Juno soundtrack in my car.

To facilitate these aims, I have just ordered Freakanomics from the library at the suggestion of a colleague. Hey, it comes on a lot fewer CDs than Moby-Dick.

What are your New Year's book resolutions?

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Brett Bayne

There are many books I want to read that I have no time to sit down and actually read. Therefore, my New Year's book resolution is to hire people to record audiobook versions of those books so I can "read" them on my walks.

I'm not kidding!

Renee M.

Hi Connie,
I'm fairly new to the whole "books on CD", but I thoroughly enjoyed Freakonomics. I bet you will too! Another audio book that I liked, oddly as it seems, was Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great Service by Ari Weinzweig. I don't live in the north and I rarely visit delis, but this gentle discussion on how to make people feel valued was a good read...er....listen!
Best,
Renee

Renee M.

Hi Connie,
I'm fairly new to the whole "books on CD", but I thoroughly enjoyed Freakonomics. I bet you will too! Another audio book that I liked, oddly as it seems, was Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great Service by Ari Weinzweig. I don't live in the north and I rarely visit delis, but this gentle discussion on how to make people feel valued was a good read...er....listen!
Best,
Renee

Connie

Renee, thanks for the tip! I am always interested in getting recommendations...

And Brett...you're going to hire people to read books for you? Are there that many you can't find already recorded? What sort of stuff would you hire people to read? (she asked, wondering if she could make some extra money to pay off that new computer...)

Brett Bayne

Yes! The books I want to read most are out-of-print obscurities. Don't you have books like this on your shelf? Hmmm, I guess not. Here are some random ones:

Nightbloom, The Climate of Hell and The Eighth Square, by Herbert Lieberman

Listen Please Listen, by Naomi Hintze

Sweeney's Island, A Scent of White Poppies and Pendulum, by John Christopher

Soldier in the Rain, Father's Day and The Temple of Gold, by William Goldman

Shadow of the Beast, by Gerald DiPego

I like your voice! I would totally pay you to read to me.

Connie

I definitely have books like that on my shelf, but I guess I haven't worked my way through all the stuff I could easily get on CD...

One I should look into is a trilogy I have, Three by Tey, 3 novels by Josephine Tey (Miss Pym Disposes, The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar). I once listened to a Tey book on tape, about a detective laid up in the hospital trying to piece to gether the truth about whether Richard III killed the princes in the Tower or not...and it was GREAT. Now you've sent me on a quest to find out if any of these were ever recorded.

bibliophile

Freakonomics is a fascinating book, but some of the stuff in it didn't pass the straight-face test. After reading it I did some Internet research of my own and found a couple of things about the two chapters that bothered me most: the one on legalized abortion lowering the crime rate and the one on baby names among African Americans.

On the abortion chapter: I will admit right now that I am morally opposed to abortion, but that wasn't what bothered me about the chapter. It was the assertion that women who have abortions are, by and large, the types of women who would raise criminals. So, Levitt asserts, the legalization of abortion via Roe v. Wade helped reduce crime in America by reducing the number of people most likely to commit crime: Those raised by young, under-educated, poor, single (and, yes, Levitt says, mostly African American women.)

But does this make any sense? In my own experience, the "baby mamas" aren't the ones getting abortions -- it's the wealthy or middle-class girls of any race who realize that an unintended pregnancy would seriously affect their education and job prospects.

So I looked this up, and, lo and behold, it turns out that Levitt used European studies to back up his claims because American studies prove just the opposite: In the U.S., pregnant teens with better grades, more completed schooling, and not on public assistance were much more likely to abort than their poorer, less academically oriented counterparts. So, contrary to Levitt's assertion in Freakonomics, the women aborting their children are the ones he insists are more likely to be better mothers.

You can read all about it at http://www.isteve.com/abortion.htm

As for the story about the listener to a radio show who called in about a child being named Shah-teed, spelled Shithead, turns out this urban legend (or variants of it) has been around for a while -- since 1917, to be exact. See http://www.snopes.com/racial/language/names.asp

I was a little disturbed that an academic with Levitt's credentials would use this story to buttress what seemed to me to be a pretty racist chapter. Since when are radio callers considered founts of veracity? Did it ever occur to him that the person might be making this up?

To sum up, Freakonomics is entertaining, but keep a shaker full of some pretty big grains of salt handy. (I did like the chapter on why drug dealers live w/ their moms, though)

bibliophile

I, too, vastly prefer fiction, but there are some nonfiction reads I have enjoyed:

First of all, anything by Nathaniel Philbrick. "In the Heart of the Sea" is the true story upon which Melville based (you knew it was coming) Moby hyphen Dick. He has a new one about the Mayflower that looks fascinating. If you like outdoor adventure writing like Jon Krakauer's, you'll love "In The Heart of the Sea." (Warning: It does involve gruesome descriptions of cannibalism and death by starvation and dehydration.)

I loved David McCullough's "John Adams," but I am a history freak. A friend said that coming to the end of that book was like bidding goodbye to old friends, and I agree. It really should be titled John and Abigail Adams; it's a wonderful portrait of their marriage. And you'll never look at Thomas Jefferson in the same way again after reading it. Truthfully, though, I think you'd have to have at least some interest in early American history to really enjoy it.

And, in the history category, Alison Weir's "Queen Isabella" was fascinating, if somewhat ponderous at times. (This is Isabella of England, not the wife of Ferdinand of Spain.) I listened to it on audiobook or I surely would have skipped over some of the detailed listings of who was where and when based on household accounts of the period, but the biography of a woman who became known as the "she wolf of France" for getting rid of her sexually ambiguous husband and effectively reigning over England with her lover until her son came of age and killed him was pretty juicy.

Right now I'm reading something like "Classic American Slave Narratives," edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. The story of the ex-slave in the movie "Amazing Grace" is in there.

Connie

Oh WOW. Thanks for the tips on Freakanomics (and other books too). How bad, though, is it that Dubner purposely used UK stats when US ones didn't fill the bill? You've kinda soured me on it...but when the library calls I guess I'll give it a shot. But phantom stats kind of cast a pall on the others, don't they? And how do you fall for an urban legend? If you believe that I'll tell you the one about the choking Doberman...

I don't know about that Isabella thing, but I have heard great things about the Philbrick book, and I love adventure writing. (I hear The Mayflower is good, too.)

bibliophile

Don't let my comments sour you on Freakonomics, necessarily ... I'm glad I read it, because it's a book people have been talking about for a while, and as I said, it's pretty entertaining. (Also, I minored in economics in college ... bet you didn't know that.) It's not a book that particularly lends itself to an audiobook format, though, because I get the impression (from listening to it) that some of the chapters begin with excerpts from a magazine article by Dubner that was kind of the "seed" for the book, and it can be kind of confusing when you don't see stuff like that in print, usually set off in a different type style. Also, Dubner and Levitt apparently put a bunch of stuff in end notes that's pretty germane to their argument, and the end notes aren't on the audiobook, obviously. The source of the "shithead" story is only found in the endnotes, for example.

When you start googling Freakonomics you find that Levitt is the subject of a lot of debate, some of it pretty vitriolic, on the Internet. One might say that his critics are motivated by jealousy, but there's at least a little bit of fire behind the smoke, IMO.

Connie

Bibliophile, you are a buzzkill! But I appreciate it. Now I've got to go troll the library catalogue for something more interesting. (Heart of the Sea, perhaps).

Connie

By the way: I had a conversation with a friend last night about audiobooks. Her take on them was that she would never listen to something she really wanted to read, but she uses them as a way to get to books she knows she wouldn't pick up. Her example: a 900 page bio on Andrew Carnegie, which she would never choose to read over all the other stuff she's dying to get to, but she's from Pittsburgh so she has an interest in the subject and a long drive to work every day, so...now she knows a lot about Andrew Carnegie.

This was kind of my theory on Freakanomics: I'd never actually read it but I thought it might be interesting.

That said, I've listened to plenty of stuff I would have read, like, say, Into the Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, which were both excellent.

bibliophile

Exactly how I feel about audiobooks -- listening to stuff you wouldn't necessarily read otherwise. The Queen Isabella book was my equivalent to your friend's Andrew Carnegie book. If I had picked that up and seen the stuff where she goes on about royal housekeeping records, I probably wouldn't have started it -- or I would have skimmed a lot of it -- but with an audiobook you always hope that better stuff is just a 3-minute track away, without knowing any better.

Patrick

You really would need more than 900 pages to cover the details on J.Q. Adams....

Patrick

You really would need more than 900 pages to cover the details on J.Q. Adams....

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