Monthly Archives: January 2011

Current reading: two out of three ain't bad

Long flights used to be a haven for my reading, but Virgin America’s inflight WiFi means I now spend the bulk of my regular SFO-JFK and back emailing, writing and catching up on feeds, rather than reading the books that are handily toted in my iPad. So I need to find other niches for my reading.

I recently finished two of the books on my shelf at last report, and a third that I picked up on the recommendation of a friend. All were worthwhile, but one was exceptional.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler has already had plenty of favorable notice, and it deserves all the plaudits. It has instantly become my top recommendation to gain an insight into today’s China. As Matt Yglesias pointed out, it has the virtue of being three short books in one, rather than one mid-sized book stretched out to fulfill publisher and reader expectations. Even if you read the parts of the book that were published in The New Yorker, you should run out to get Country Driving.

Diane Ravitch would have been well served if someone suggested that The Death and Life of the Great American School System would have been better as a pamphlet or a long magazine article. I agree with virtually everything in Ravitch’s book — which provides chapter and verse on the dangers of the current approach to testing and assessment in the US education system. But it’s repetitive and tedious. Save yourself time and read Ravitch’s magisterial dismantling of Waiting for “Superman” in The New York Review of Books. It will give you the key arguments of Ravitch’s book in pithier form.

The third book, Robert Parker’s Double Play isn’t a classic, but it’s great fun to read the mash-up of a tough-guy crime noir with a baseball story with a key moment in US race relations with an echo of a lost childhood (Parker’s own).

On my shelf

I think I read a lot, ranging from newspapers to blogs to books (magazines, which were once the focus of my working life, don’t figure so much these days). But I have to join the many online commenters who found Aaron Swartz’s year-end list of 2010 reading pretty astounding.

It inspired me to start logging my reading, not for oneupmanship (between family, Berkeleyside, my paying work, my non-profit board and tennis, I don’t think I’ll rival Swartz), but as an aide-mĂ©moire for myself. As the year goes on, I’ll try to record my impressions of the books I read. (My blogging energy is entirely taken up by Berkeleyside, but I don’t want to abandon this site. So it needs a new impetus. Perhaps this is the new mutant form in which Davos Newbies can thrive. I won’t rule out, however, other forays.)

Like many voracious readers, I always seem to have a number of books on the go. At the moment, the number is swollen because of holiday book fever and the ridiculous ease with which you can get a book on Kindle for the iPad. I’m not totally convinced by e-books, but the lower cost and convenience is probably skewing my purchases to that form. Here’s what’s on my “shelf” at the moment, at various stages of completion: Continue reading