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).

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