Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Reviews

Because I am a college professor, I read a lot. Probably much more than the average person, at least a book a week. I have to rotate what I read, and usually I am reading four or five books at a time. I read from categories of fiction for fun, literary fiction, spiritual/philosophical help, teaching and learning, and professional reading (communication or humanities). Below are some reviews/comments on my most recent reading in these categories.
1. Fiction for fun. Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen. I picked this book up only because it is set in the town I live in, Ringgold, Georgia. It's hard not to read a book about where you live. The setting is early 1970s, more or less (she makes some mistakes on this; at one point the characters are talking about President Carter, which would be hard to do in 1971). It's .... cute. Sometimes you know who she is talking about (the identity of a prominent dairy farming family is obvious to us locals) and always where she is talking about. But great literature, it ain't.
2. Literary fiction. Well, my own book fits here, I hope, and I read the proofs twice. I think it's a good read, but it's not fiction for fun. However, I am also reading House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Her voice is one of a very dry wit. I can't tell if Wharton likes Lily Bart or not; she seems to hold her at a distance; Lily's inability to think past her extravagant lifestyle and thus her need for a rich husband is definitely something Ms. Wharton dislikes. Yet she also portrays Lily as not really able to change her situation life, to be trapped in her social standing. Although written only 100 years ago, I can see how much the language and our standards for fiction have changed. This book and the one in mentioned above are on different ends of the spectrum, miles apart.
3. In terms of spiritual/philosophical help (this category includes anything I would read for my Bible teaching), I'm reading Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. It's something I need to read; it's not fun, rather preachy, and it commits the error of using Bible passages out of context to support their thesis, but all of us people pleasers need to be shaken out of our stupors. As a friend in our mentoring group this morning says, if someone else has problems with the boundaries you chose, it is his/her problem, not yours.
4. Teaching and Learning. The best book I've read lately in this realm is The Critically Reflective Teacher. Brookfield really made me re-evaluate my whole career as a teacher; it's a life-changing book for me. However, I was disappointed when I reached the last few chapters and found he was dependent on Frankfurt School ideology; I hadn't picked up on that early on. I feel that he is saying, "If you want to be a good teacher who really looks at what you do in the classroom in a clear-eyed, truthful way, you have to buy into this neoMarxist nonsense." And I cringe. But I don't believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater (what a horrid cliche). It's worth reading for any college teacher as long as you don't take the last few chapters seriously.
On a more practical note, McKeachie's Teaching Tips is a helpful guide to any new college professor.
5. In terms of communication, I've read several books this summer on Business--a good book on Drucker and one by him, The Practice of Management, Top-Down, The World is Flat, etc.--to include on my Business Communication course's reading list. Those usually have one or two ideas and a huge amount of verbiage. In fact, I'm having a hard time even remembering all the titles I've looked at!
Someone said recently, or I read, that if you have read three books on a subject you are an expert. As a person who lives and works in an academic realm even if I don't call myself an academic, that is nonsense. Unfortunately, I do feel better informed than most people, and it probably shows, for which I apologize.

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