Thursday, July 24, 2008

IRD: Recommendations for the Adult Booklist

One of the benefits for students and/or their parents who take the IRD summer reading classes is a booklist for each level to provide some of the best books for reading for absorption and pleasure. The one level that does not get such a list is the adult speedreading course. This year, the company has asked teachers to make a list of books in several categories for a forthcoming adult level book list. This list will be unique because it contains not only works of classical and contemporary fiction, but will also have non-fiction categories.

I have been working on my list as requested, and here are some books that I have read that I believe belong on such a list. I don't know if it was wanted, but I included a short annotation about each book.

I thought readers of my blog would be interested in some of these books, too!
I am still working on the list and have not gotten to other genres, so expect updates in the coming weeks.


The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollen

This book is a fascinating read that brings us from the farm, field or garden to the table for four different kinds of meals. In the process, readers learn about modern agribusiness and monocultures, nutritional science, what "organic" does not mean in the common parlance, and the ethics of eating meat and hunting. The book is well written and enjoyable reading.

Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement
by Brian Doherty

This book is an excursion through the history and people of a modern, radical political movement by a senior editor for Reason. Though a "fringe" group in the eyes of the dominant political parties, the Libertarian movement has had a surprising effect on recent politics in the United States. Like many such movements, this one is filled with fascinating and eccentric people who have uncommon interests. For example the founders of the L-5 Society for Space Colonization and the founder of the X-Prize for private spaceship design are all libertarian. This book is well written, and is in turn both serious and humorous in style. It's absorbing and enjoyable.

Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath

As per the title, this is an account of the demise of classical learning at the university level. It is also a discussion of important changes in university education brought about by the wholesale acceptance of post-modernism as critical thought in the arts, humanities and education departments. It is also a passionate argument for the eternal verity of beauty, ethics and wisdom brought about by the Greeks that are central to Western culture and tradition, and the need to teach them to each generation of scholars in the universities of the West. This book is both erudite and entertaining. Anyone who has had experience or exposure to the modern university will be nodding their heads in agreement at much of what is written here. The authors have included a booklist for the interested layman entitled: 'When All We Can Do is Read,' as well as notes for those who wish to pursue the topic on a more scholarly level.


Three Hainish Novels (also published as Worlds of Exile and Illusion: Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions) by Ursula K. LeGuin

These are some of LeGuin's best works. The story woven through the three novellas is that of the developing ability to communicate instantaneously across time and space using a new technology, and from mind to mind using a unique human sense first discovered on the world of the first novella, Rocannon's world. In her evocative prose, LeGuin explores the themes of exile and return, friendship and the rejection of otherness, and the spirituality of human freedom and choice. This book was so absorbing and so beautiful that I felt a sudden sense of loss when I finished and had to rejoin the everyday world on earth.

Other recommended sci-fi by LeGuin: The Telling, Four Ways of Forgiveness, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossed.

He, She, and It
by Marge Piercy

This novel is two stories interwoven together. One is a re-telling of the creation of the Golem of Prague by the Maharal, a European Jewish story that inspired such works as Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. The second story is of a near-future dystopia in which plague and environmental crisis have rendered earth as a world ruled by corporations, and free cities survive by selling proprietary knowledge and skills to them. The story is about the creation of an android who has human capacities as a weapon. The book explores the theme of what it means to be human through such motifs as gender, technology, marriage, parenthood, slavery, freedom, and spirituality. The writing is rich and the story is absorbing.

Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper

This is the story of a choice for the fate of the earth told through the images of classic fairy tales. Time travel, space travel and magic are all devices through which the story is told and a mystery is solved. Themes include life and death, beauty and terror, spirituality and evil. The location of the repository of earth's life forms, knowledge and wisdom is found in a very surprising place; this absorbing story has implications for all of us in all times and places.


The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Normal Doige, MD

This is a well written account of recent discoveries about neuroplasticity told through accounts of people with brain injuries and diseases, and the detective work of neuroscientists over the past 100 years who overturned the paradigm of the unchangeable brain. It is well written with clear scientific explanations rendered into layman's terms.

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolfe

This popularization of the neuroscience and cultural history of reading expounds on three subjects: the cultural and neurobiological aspects of the development of writing and reading in human history; the neurobiology, methodologies, and culture of reading development in contemorary literate societies; and what happens when the brain cannot learn to read in the usual ways, the neurobiology of dyslexia. This is written for lay readers and explanations are well rendered for this purpose. Wolf is passionate about the problems in the culture of reading brought about by popular educational trends, and she draws parallels between the concerns of the Greeks (especially Plato) during the transition to alphabetic writing and reading and comtemporary concerns about the transition to digitally codified information. Very interesting and well done, and Wolf includes notes for the scientists among the general readers.

The Search for Longitude by Dava Sobel

This is an account of how the problem of calculating longitude for navigation was solved and why it took unil the late 18th century to solve it. As part of the problem the reader is brought on a journey through such subjects as the measurement of time, astronomy, and the art of navigation at sea. This is a fascinating and encouraging look at human ingenuity in the face of a great scientific problem. Sobel tells the story well!

Go forth and read great books!


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denise said...

Oh, good timing. I have been reviewing hundreds of books in my monthly obsession to find "just the right book" for my local moms online bookclub. I do this every month - and just when I think I have the perfect book, I look and the library only has 1 copy. This looks like a diverse and interesting list! :)

sheila said...

I heard very good things about Proust and the Squid - and always meant to read it. Our library doesn't carry it though, so I've been dragging my heels a bit. I'll be curious to see what you think after you've read it.

Melora said...

Interesting list! The Omnivore's Dilemma & Who Killed Homer have been on my "to read" list. And I like Ursula Le Guin. The Tepper book sounds like fun.
Since you have read quite a bit about the human brain, I wonder if you are familiar with Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, by Sharon Begley. It looked interesting & has been on my Amazon list, and I'd love to have your opinion if you've read it (although it may be too "general reader" to have made your bedside table)!

Anonymous said...

"Neurological studies show that learning to read changes the brain’s circuitry. Scientists speculate that reading on the Internet may also affect the brain’s hard wiring in a way that is different from book reading."

When I started reading this I couldn't help but think of your recent posts on reading, and wondered what you thought of this article and topic.


Jenn Casey said...

Longitude is great! I read it a few years ago. I'll check the others out--a couple I think I have on my bookshelf already. Thanks for the ideas!