24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: nonfiction (page 1 of 2)

Abby Reads: The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller
Harper Perenniel, 2014, 352 pages
Nonfiction

When he realized he had effectively stopped reading for pleasure, Andy Miller knew he had to do something about it. He began a short list of novels he’d always wanted to read, from classics to popular fiction, and started in on it. Before long, he’d caught the reading bug again and added to his list, deeming it 20910034the List of Betterment. In The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life, Andy Miller discusses his journey through literature, espousing his feelings on classics such as Moby Dick and War and Peace alongside his disdain for The Da Vinci Code and Middlemarch.

The Year of Reading Dangerously is, sadly, poorly titled. Miller’s stories about books are hardly tales of how they saved his life and he refrains from visiting each of the fifty-two books promised in the title. While the discussion of how Miller came to read the books featured is engaging enough, Miller doesn’t deliver on the title, if that’s what you’re looking for.

But moving on. In terms of the actual content of the book, it’s decidedly British. Full of dry humor, Miller’s anecdotes are sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes depreciative of the material he reads. That he’s able to maintain the humor throughout the book — which is fairly lengthy, given how he chooses to go about the topic — is impressive. Both in-text and in footnotes, Miller injects dry, and often sarcastic humor throughout, both at his own expense and at the expense of the books he reads. While I’m not one to usually pick up on humor in books — to give you a sense of how bad it is, I really didn’t get The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — it was well-placed and written here, allowing even me to laugh at passages.

Speaking of the footnotes, they did become a bit much. Though some of them certainly add to the book as a whole, many of them felt egregious and superfluous. Plus, two chapters themselves felt like footnotes. The first of these is a fan letter to an author Miller admires. He admits in this chapter that, were he the editor of the book, he would cut it. It’s long and rambling and doesn’t seem to connect well with the rest of the material and I have to say I agree that it didn’t belong in this work. Another chapter — the last — is an epilogue about Miller’s relationship with Douglas Adams and his most famous work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While the content of this chapter was a lovely tribute to Adams and his novel, it ultimately felt out of place and far more specific than all the other sections of the book.

Overall, reading about books with which you’re already familiar is more fun — at least, this was what I found in The Year of Reading Dangerously. Chapters about books I hadn’t read myself felt tedious and long, as I couldn’t pick up on much of what Miller described. Although he does a decent job at providing what information the reader needs to get through those chapters where they haven’t read that book, there still seems to be something missing that can only be gained by reading the original material.

The Year of Reading Dangerously might not deliver on its title, but it’s a reasonably fun read for book-lovers who will see themselves reflected in Miller’s descriptions of himself, even as he laments the challenges of reading. Though it’s a bit on the long side, it generally reads quickly and might give you some inspiration to pick up a book that’s been hanging over your head for years or avoid ones you thought you’d always want to get your hands on.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
St. Martin’s Press, 2017, 240 pages
Nonfiction

Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America takes a decided stance on racism in America in 2017, particularly within the context of the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America in the 2016 presidential election. Drawing from personal experience, 31421117anecdotal research, and data, Dyson illustrates the situation of the black man in America with poise, empathy, and clarity. Written as sections of a sermon, the book is directed at white readers but offers a great deal of material for American citizens and, indeed, beyond.

With regular references to the reader (often, “beloved,” as you might expect in church), Dyson effectively draws the reader in prior to beginning his argument for better treatment of African Americans. Much like officials including Trump’s name frequently in reports meant for his consumption in order to maintain his attention, Dyson’s frequent addresses to the reader does a powerful thing in actively engaging and interacting with the reader who might, without proper empathy instilled, wonder what this has to do with them. To get to the debate of what this has to do with them (assuming the reader does not see the poor treatment of other humans as relevant to their own lives — a reality, to be sure, for many), Dyson must first get the readers on his side. He does this beautifully with these gentle call-outs — calling readers in by name. Beloved. Paired with the history of the word beloved in black culture (think Toni Morrison), this method is hugely impactful to cultivating the reader’s attention.

It is this language, however, that also contributes to a softening of Dyson’s call-out. He is empathetic to a fault, acknowledging directly that confronting racism within yourself and your peers is challenging. At times, Dyson seems to imply that confronting this racism is just as difficult and emotionally traumatic as it is being on the receiving end of racism — whether it’s personal or systemic. He concedes having white guilt is difficult and how white folks in America do have it hard. In doing so, he distracts from the central issue of racism and what people of privilege can and should be doing about it.

In many cases, Dyson’s arguments are strong for those of us who are already on-board. But aside from stating that white folks have it hard as a result of their own racism and using inclusive terms like “beloved,” his arguments are rarely anything new or particularly persuasive for someone who might disagree or is undecided. This is a tough thing to achieve. Certainly those who need convincing are the least likely to pick up the book in the first place, so this may be a misinterpretation of the purpose or target audience of the majority of the book on my part.

That said, the book is highly relevant for modern times. Dyson regularly refers to Trump, Ferguson, and other current events that make the book an immediate call to action. With — well, I don’t know what, luck? Hard work? — with any of whatever it is that we need, we’ll not need this book for too long. And, even more-so, news moves fast. Trump, we’ve seen, moves fast. Tears We Cannot Stop is a static piece of writing that, though perhaps able to be updated in reprints or new editions, will not remain relevant in its current form for long. These are ongoing problems, certainly, but the specificity sometimes takes away from overall goal.

Still, Dyson wraps up his work with an immeasurably useful chapter on real, practical actions readers can take to mitigate the strain of racism. Ranging from tipping people of color extra in their work to reading dozens of more writers on racism in America, these suggestions are some of the strongest I’ve seen in terms of making activism actionable in real people’s lives. Not everyone has the capability to organize a rally, but a good deal more people can effectively choose to patronize establishments owned by black people over white, and thus help even the playing field. The list of writers Dyson offers in terms of further reading is also impressive and helpful, though another format might have made the list more accessible.

Tears We Cannot Stop is readable and interesting, but won’t do much to bring new folks over to Dyson’s side. The actionable items at the end are invaluable and well-organized for those who stick to the end and feel inspired by Dyson’s sermon. As a piece of literature on racism, though it might not lend a lot of new material to the subject, it’s an important one and likely to become part of the canon.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman

Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman
Dutton, 2013, 352 pages
Essays

Famed for his work on Parks and Recreation, Nick Offerman pulls together his top life advice for readers in his series of essays, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living. With advice that runs from the religious, to the handiwork, to the legal, Offerman’s writing often veers into Ron 17674991Swanson (his character on Parks and Recreation) territory. If you’re wondering what you’re getting into here, Offerman’s book can be boiled down to a few (mildly profane) words: don’t be an ass.

Pushing against this philosophy, however, is the book itself. Often, despite his protests to the contrary, Offerman comes off as pretentious and holier-than-thou, particularly as he discusses religion. He borders on the idea that those who appreciate religion are inherently stupid. Though he argues against this concept and states he can feel the opposite, given those of faith are not pushing their faith on others, many moments had me rolling my eyes at the hypocrisy. If you’re not a fan of folks like Richard Dawkins, who is known for his vitriol against religion, tread carefully.

Offerman’s attitude doesn’t stop at religion, of course. At times, his essays are nothing more than obnoxious manifesto, as if the book’s entire purpose was to give Offerman a space to let off steam. This might work well for readers who already wholeheartedly agree with Offerman on anything and everything, but Offerman isn’t doing much to persuade anyone here. Unfortunately, the topics Offerman touches on are repetitive. Again and again, it’s anti-religion (in some form) and pro-recreational drug use. While I have no concerns about visiting these topics at all, the constant revisiting made Offerman’s book somewhat hollow and bland.

Because Offerman mixes personal stories with opinion essays, he has a tough job of balancing the two in a way that reads naturally and makes sense. Unfortunately, this throws off the pacing of the book as a whole, making it feel entirely longer and slower than is necessary. Still, despite the title of the book, it ends up being more of a memoir than tips and advice on “delicious living.” And still, still, the instruction that does appear is starkly in the vein of Ron Swanson in many ways. This is further highlighted by a prose style that eerily matches Swanson’s speaking patterns, suggesting Offerman either does a significant amount of improv in his acting work or that he’s otherwise influenced by his most famous work in this book. The prose style, then, is okay — but not great.

Paddle Your Own Canoe was marketed for fans of Ron Swanson — the cover alone makes that abundantly clear; yet Offerman fights against the connection throughout his work while pulling together his thoughts on things in a way that isn’t terribly cohesive and is ultimately tiresome. A few moments of humor pop up and Offerman certainly can go on about this and that, but at the end of it, I felt let down.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Storytimes for Everyone! by Saroj Ghoting

Storytimes for Everyone!: Developing Young Children’s Language and Literacy  by Saroj Ghoting
American Library Association Editions, 2013, 296 pages
Nonfiction

When I learned I was going to be hired as a Children’s Librarian, I panicked. My Library and Information Science program focused on adult and young adult services. At the time, my goal was to be a Young Adult Librarian and, if I had been required to list, in order, in which positions I was interested, Children’s Librarian would have been last. So, I needed something that would be a crash course in one of the main pillars of children’s librarianship and I needed something that would make me excited about the job. (As an aside, since I started a several months ago, I’ve found I enjoy children’s librarianship after all!)

This, anyway, is the story of how I came to read Saroj Ghoting’s Storytimes for Everyone!: Developing Young Children’s Language and Literacy. This text was, first and foremost, incredibly practical and easy to implement. With sample storytime plans and a complete explanation of the leading early literacy theories, Ghoting prepared me well for my introduction to storytime. With lots and lots of repetition, Ghoting drills in the main components of early literacy. This might make for somewhat dry reading for those looking for something more casual, but I found this style extra helpful for my needs.

Ghoting is clearly an expert in the field and, if her catalog doesn’t show it, her adeptness at describing these concepts does. The complete clarity she writes with shows a deep level of skill and knowledge while making the book and its concepts super accessible for even the most beginner of novices. Ghoting also supplements her writing with plenty of resources and examples, some of which are available free online.

I checked this one out from the library, but I’ve since considered purchasing it. With lots of storytime plans at the end of the book paired with plenty of instructional materials at the beginning, Storytimes for Everyone is incredibly useful and great to have on-hand. Whether you’re a total newbie to storytime and early literacy or you’re a long-time pro, there’s something for everyone in Ghoting’s text.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece by John Pfordresher

The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece  by John Pfordresher
W. W. Norton & Company, 2017, 256 pages
Literary Criticism/Biography

In The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece by John Pfordresher, the Georgetown University professor posits that Jane Eyre is a largely autobiographical work written in response to an affair that wasn’t in Brontë’s life. I came upon The Secret History of Jane Eyre through an event at the Arlington Public Library in Arlington, VA in September 2017. The library would host Pfordresher in his lecture on the book at the Central Library. I read the book in preparation for the event and was gravely disappointed. Reader, it was absurd.

While I no doubt agree that writers inform their work with their personal lives, claiming that Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre are the same is ludicrous. In my years of English classes — including a Bachelor’s degree in English from Hollins University and, too, a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San José State University for which I further examined literature from a scholarly perspective — I likely fell into the trap of comparing the author to the narrator or main character. I can’t recall a particular time I might have done this, but I am certain it was whipped out of me quickly. Ascribing intent, as Pfordresher does here, in a writer’s work is literary criticism suicide. We can, by all means, suggest that a piece of literature can be read in such-in-such a way or that a piece of literature can be interpreted thusly, but to straight out assert that Jane is Charlotte and vice versa is a leap most educators would not find acceptable in a midterm paper, let alone a published work. I happen to agree.

On top of a rather ridiculous premise, Pfordresher fails to really support his ideas. Though the organization of his work is solid — he chronologically exhibits both events from the novel and events from Brontë’s life side-by-side, lending the only credibility to his claims I was able to find — the evidence is weak at best. The majority of Pfordresher’s evidence relies on speculation and emotional projection. For example, he supposes Jane’s low moods, especially reflected in a cold and barren opening scene, are reflective of Brontë’s feelings of entrapment as she tended to her temporarily-blind father after he had eye surgery. Surely, he asserts, Brontë felt sad and cooped up, and so she wrote Jane the same. While letters from Brontë to friends might suggest these feelings, to then assume these emotions were all-consuming and, what’s more, the basis for her novel is, again, a leap. Self-insertion narratives exist, no doubt, but we cannot make that kind of claim here without more evidence, at least. How many letters have I written to friends about how I’m hankering for a sandwich? And later, how often do I mention a sandwich in my own fictional pursuits? Often enough, I suppose, but this does not mean that my characters are me, nor does it mean I am utterly enthralled with sandwiches. We don’t write just about things we obsess over: we write about the everyday, too, and Pfordresher ignores this fact in his points. Pfordresher may suppose Brontë felt sadness at being bound to her father, but how much is he supposing based on how he expects he would feel in the same situation? The language he uses in this particular example seems to indicate, even, that he is projecting his own experiences onto Brontë, who, according to him, is projecting onto Jane.

Other outlandish assertions include Jane’s love interest, Mr. Rochester, being modeled primarily off of Brontë’s brother and father (along with the man from her affair-that-wasn’t); that Brontë was interested in domineering men (though Pfordresher provided contrary evidence in that she referred to her own husband as “my boy”), thus explaining Mr. Rochester’s character to a greater degree; and that St. John Rivers was not modeled after anyone (which, while I might agree with that, it seems a copout to write an entire book stating that Jane and Charlotte are the same without, again, supporting it in every facet). These are only a few of the big jumps Pfordresher makes, always within the frame of intent, as opposed to possible interpretation.

When I confronted Pfordresher about his premise and evidence at the Arlington Public Library event, I simply stated I wasn’t convinced. He agreed that other critics and readers had pointed out his evidence was insufficient for them, but that he stood by his thesis. I asked for further evidence and his primary source of confidence, he said, was a letter Brontë wrote to George Henry Lewes in which she alluded to the combination of nature, truth, and imagination in her writing. Still, without documentation from Brontë herself stating that Jane is truly herself, this letter means nothing more than that Brontë was perhaps influenced and informed by her own life in her writing.

In terms of prose, Pfordresher has a slow and tedious style with little sentence and vocabulary variation to keep things running. Though it’s fairly readable — and he admitted the book had been rewritten after original criticisms that the first go was too academic for a mainstream audience — it is still not exactly pop literary criticism, leaving the book in this odd place between popular and academic writing. Combined with the barely-there evidence, this style renders the book practically useless. (No personal offense to Professor Pfordresher, and I do mean “practically” here in the sense of the word “practice.”) There is no useful application for this material excerpt, I suppose, as an opportunity to publish material that argues against it, and I suspect it could be done very, very successfully.

Though Pfordresher explained the origins of the book came from a woman who heard his interview with Diane Rehm some years back and requested a text on how Charlotte Brontë came to write Jane Eyre, the book ends up feeling like the result of pressure to publish as a working professor. That is a kettle of fish I really know nothing about, though at first glance I worry that this is often the result of arbitrary publication rules around tenure and careers of teaching. Pfordresher, in his lecture, noted that he had not already drawn his conclusion at the time he started his research, perhaps as a way to placate my concerns over his lack of evidence — if he had been swayed throughout his time working on the book, certainly I could be by what he presented. If the evidence is there, Pfordresher does a poor job at selling it — but, frankly, I don’t think the evidence is there to begin with.

The Secret History of Jane Eyre doesn’t add anything new to the canon of literary criticism, relies on outdated and unreliable sources for evidence, and spends a lot of time turning supposition into fact. It’s not something I can imagine any professor I’ve ever had accepting as an idea for a paper, let alone as the paper itself. Unless you’re interested in preparing a rebuttal (I’ll edit!) to this work, it’s not worth the time. Skip it.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Free to Make by Dale Dougherty

Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds by Dale Dougherty
North Atlantic Books, 2016, 336 pages
Non-Fiction

Emphasizing the importance of the maker movement in modern society, Dale Dougherty sets out to meet makers, describe makerspaces around the world, and convince his readers that makerspaces are here to stay. The book’s opening chapters imply Dougherty will also explore what makes a good makerspace and an all-around how-to when it comes to implementing a makerspace or maker program at, say, a public library. This was one of my main motivators in reading the book. As someone in the library science field, I’m naturally interested in emerging trends therein.

Unfortunately, Dougherty doesn’t really deliver in that arena. While some digging in the book might bring out some gems as to what makes a good makerspace and how to go about successfully designing a maker program, there was nothing deliberate in the text that got at this concept. Instead, Dougherty focuses on stories of individuals making things independently — often inspired by, but not necessarily directly involved in, makerspaces and making. He describes the origins of Arduino and as sous-vide machine, for example. And, while these kinds of projects are certainly attainable for many makers, the concepts are simply too advanced for most makers. The individuals in these stories essentially dropped their lives to work on their projects, which isn’t a thing that can happen in reality for most people. Although Dougherty discusses how making is a thing of democracy and equity, I wasn’t convinced. It takes a lot of time and often money to develop these projects, which makes them inherently inaccessible to many.

While readers may draw their own conclusions from that path of thought, Dougherty does little to emphasize the implications of the maker movement beyond the first couple of chapters and his conclusion. Instead, the book reads like a lengthy article profiling a handful of makers who, excuse the pun, made it. And while that’s interesting to some folks on its own, it doesn’t make the work especially useful, particularly in the context of its subtitle, “How the Maker Movement Is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds.” Another point toward the article-esque feeling of the work is the writing style. Dougherty’s background with Make: magazine means this writing style makes sense, but it doesn’t serve the nature of the thing he’s writing. What is perhaps readable and even interesting in small amounts becomes tedious in a book-length piece.

Dougherty’s focus suffers as he notably emphasizes making that revolves around technology and what you traditionally think of when you think tools. There’s a brief moment in which Dougherty nods to crafters (and we can go on about how “making” is masculine and “crafting” is feminine, but that’s for another time), but despite the fact that crafting is making, its sadly absent from the pages of Free to Make. To be sure, it does not fit neatly within the maker movement. Craft fairs, with pre-made and made-to-order items available for sale have been around for years, taking up booths in high school gymnasiums and boasting the skills of their crafters (read: makers). And yet (and, I’ll return briefly to this, because I do think it’s important, if not strictly relevant — I think this may be because crafting is feminine and making is masculine so we as a society, Dougherty included, place more value on making than we do crafting), crafting is not a thing in Dougherty’s maker universe.

All said, if you’re a librarian, teacher, educator, or maker looking for information on how to go about building a makerspace or even making a case for a makerspace, you likely won’t find much of use here. Free to Make is full of fascinating case studies, but it doesn’t deliver what it advertises. Though easy to read and inspiring in many places, the contents are not what I’d lean on for any research on the topic.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #13, “Read a nonfiction book about technology,” and I leave it behind with three hearts.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins

Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins
Broadway Books, 2014, 304 pages
Non-Fiction (History)

Like plenty of other red-blooded Americans, I fell into the hole that is Hamilton: An American Musical in the early months of summer 2016. Also like plenty of the aforementioned Americans, I wanted to get my hands on Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton – you know, the biography that inspired the musical. I have a lot of library cards. I put a hold on every single eBook version that I could find in those library systems and bided my time. But it wasn’t enough, so I went in search of more Hamilton lore and came upon Paul Collins’ Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery.

Let me start with that title. If I didn’t know any better, I might guess it was the name of a Fall Out Boy song. And not only this, but it’s also incredibly misleading. While Collins does discuss Hamilton and Burr and their strategy for tackling the trial of Levi Weeks, this is but a small fraction of the contents of the book. The sensationalism here got a little out of hand and ends up leading the reader to a book that is not as advertised. Given that anyone who picks up this book is likely to be at least aware of Hamilton and Burr’s tumultuous relationship, Collins spends shockingly little word capital on their relationship outside of this trial, which would have not only been relevant, but useful in understanding the specifics of their interaction during this period.

Collins sets the stage for these events beautifully with specifics that can make the reader feel like they’re reading a novel. He certainly did his research, digging into the diaries of small players in the story or even just of local citizens who had no connection to the trial. But the legal approach and technique of Hamilton and Burr is glossed over, leaving a narrative that is deeply interesting for people looking for a vivid depiction of post-Revolutionary era New York but less so for those seeking only what the face value of the title describes.

The problem with reading nonfiction on an eReader is, you don’t necessarily know what percentage of the book is notes, so you don’t know if the end of the book will actually come at 78% or 94% — and that makes a big difference. The conclusion of the trial occurs about halfway through the book (and really doesn’t begin until at least a quarter or third into it – everything else prior sets the stage with the yellow fever, Burr’s well and his therefore potentially unethical and impartial connections to the defendant, and so on) and each of the following chapters is written like some grand conclusion. So it was with the rest of the book, I read it as if waiting for the other shoe to drop which was pretty dreadful. The content in those sections was certainly interesting and well-written otherwise, but as I kept anticipating a true end to the book, each time I came to the end of a chapter and began my happy sigh of having completed another book, I was robbed when, to be sure that the notes began on the following page, found the beginning of yet another chapter. I imagine this isn’t as much of a problem with the print book, though I maintain that the style of writing lends itself to conclusion for each of the chapters following the end of the trial.

Collins’ work could have been more focused here and certainly advertised in a more accurate fashion. But the tidbits and details throughout the book make it such an interesting read that it moves quickly and paints, at least for me, a new light onto post-Revolutionary America. While I was left wanting for something truer to what the title promised, I was ultimately happy with what I got when I separated the work from its title. Whether you’re a Hamilhead, you’re interested in history, or you’re just looking to step outside the usual novel for something compelling but different, Duel with the Devil will satisfy you.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder
Broadway Books, 2014, 320 pages
Nonfiction (Data Science)

Despite not being terribly old, Dataclysm by Christian Rudder already has two editions with two different subtitles. The eBook edition I read had the subtitle of Love, Sex, Race, and Identity while another version emphasizes with Who We Are (When We Think No One Is Looking). I note this because I think this marketing strategy is interesting, especially as the two subtitles are so different and imply completely different things about the content of the book. I’ll also point out that, while I (and many others) pronounce “data” as “date-uh,” the title demands the pronunciation of “dah-tah” to reap the rewards of the, er, pun.

Christian Rudder, as a founder of OKCupid, has access to an extraordinary amount of data (dahtah, I remind myself). While discussing the habits of OKCupid users, Rudder broadens the implications he finds there to the whole of society – at least in America and sometimes beyond. The problem with this, and Rudder does admit it, is his data is not representative of any actual population aside from the population that uses OKCupid. Despite his acknowledgement (and a brief chapter on users who are not WASP-y men), Rudder often writes as if the information he extrapolates from this population can be applied across any and all spectrums. I may only have a minor in Psychology (and, yeah, I avoided the stats class – oops), but even I know that is poor scholarship.

Admittedly, the book is a work of popular nonfiction, so I suppose some might argue it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s interesting and somewhat informative. But the problem with acting as if your research is comprehensive aside from a few nods otherwise is that people will use that information as such and it can do some serious damage to how society ultimately operates. Insidiously, yes, but impactful nonetheless. There’s also a piece Rudder never really did acknowledge – the fact is, there’s only one kind of person who will use OKCupid/dating sites: people who will use OKCupid/dating sites. Meanwhile, Rudder takes the information from this particular dataset and applies much of it to the American population at large. Surely there are at least sometimes fundamental differences between the people who are willing or choose to use dating sites and those who are not. What, for example, about technophobes?

All this said, if you’re a straight, probably-middle-class, white person living in America, you might find a good deal of this book insightful to not only others but yourself. Rudder has an accessible form of writing that makes even complicated data structures, theories, and concepts, easy to grasp for the layperson. Rudder does a pretty excellent job explaining the various graphs he used, some of which were in formats totally new to me, which was exciting (though I made the mistake of reading this on a black-and-white Kindle, which made some interpretation challenging – get the print, if you can). What’s more, he explains it in an order that makes sense and doesn’t bog the reader down with details. Instead, he explains the essentials, points out a few especially interesting details, and leaves the rest (with some encouragement) for you to coax out yourself with careful examination of the graph.

He’s funny, too, though perhaps overly self-deprecating in some parts. One passage leads him to provide a picture of his adolescent-self with no reining in on the punches. Rudder relishes in his nerdiness, which, as it is, happens to be trendy right now, so more power to him. Regardless of his approach, the humor itself adds another layer of accessibility to an otherwise often-inaccessible, but increasingly in-demand and important, subject.

Ultimately, the content in Dataclysm can’t begin to cover the actual topic at hand. Like many a teacher and professor told me, the subject is too broad; narrow it down. Rudder might have done well with this somewhat-nebulous topic if he’d gone more in-depth and written something lengthier, though that would likely take away from its readability and popular intrigue. Smart readers will recognize there’s a great deal of complexity behind each statement that Rudder chooses to avoid, but I’m again torn between feeling this is at the reader’s detriment and feeling the book wouldn’t have such wide appeal if he did go into greater detail.

Dataclysm is a great introduction to the world of data. As someone who primarily lives outside of the data world, I found myself understanding a great deal more about it than I had previously (despite numerous explanations of various data theories and structures from my ever-patient data scientist boyfriend). The organization, for the most part, makes sense and the concrete examples Rudder offers do well to illustrate his points. If data is something you want to “get into” but don’t know where to start, maybe start here and move onto something a little more challenging and in-depth.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
HarperCollins, 2007, 290 pages
Nonfiction

I vaguely remember being introduced to Annie Dillard in my tenth grade English class. Long after having forgotten her – and Dylan Thomas, who I read around the same time and often wondered was being confused with Dillard (Dylan, Dillard, it was all the same to me) – and her story about snowballs and being one of the boys, I sent in my acceptance form to Hollins University which was, little did I know, Dillard’s alma mater. I walked the same paths as she, sat in the same classrooms, even shared a teacher or two. I have yet, sadly, to become the sensation she has been, but I hold out hope. But I’m digressing.tumblr_nxofghFTcT1qe4vfco1_1280

I finally got around to reading Dillard’s best known work, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek this past fall. While I had felt guilty about not having read it as a student at Hollins, reading it post-Hollins was probably for the best. Pilgrim’s look at Roanoke, Virginia, though its focus generally sits outside of the Hollins’ campus walls, made me feel as if I was visiting home again. Dillard’s grip on exploring her surroundings in every sensory permutation possible brings the environment to life.

I also want to admit that I went into Pilgrim expecting to dislike it. Also in high school, I’d been introduced to Thoreau and Emerson. Despite the pair’s ties to Louisa May Alcott (who I love), I hadn’t been impressed. In fact, the magnified look at ants one of them described – to be honest, I can’t remember which of the two existentialists wrote about the ants, I hated them both so much at the time – bored me to death. I expected Pilgrim to be much the same, as it had been advertised. The guilt pulled me into it, however, and since I was determined to read collections of essays throughout November, I couldn’t think of a better time to get it over with.

The only word that comes to mind here is, indeed. Indeed, indeed. I savored it. In either the foreword or the afterword, Dillard explains that Pilgrim is not so much a collection of essays as so many critics described it at and since its publication, but a narrative of an environment throughout the seasons. And that much is true, though it’s a winding and unfocused narrative that you may not be aware of until the thing is through and that narrative structure has been explicitly pointed out for you, as it was for me. Dillard works through the metaphysical and philosophical in indirect, meandering ways. It’s not until her inevitable punch that you realize all of the minute description leading up to it had not just been for the aesthetics, but for the thesis that the chapter led up to. With a theme for each chapter, Dillard sprinkles in other poignant lines between comments on squirrels, cicadas, and other creatures of the Roanoke Valley.

I’m often hesitant to read NYT Bestsellers or Pulitzer Prize Winners and whatnot simply because the topic of the book isn’t in my realm of interests. I imagine I’ll dislike it because I’ve read others that appear to be similar and hadn’t liked those. But each time I do, I’m surprised. This was the case with Pilgrim and others I’ve read. Even if natural observance isn’t your thing, give Pilgrim at Tinker Creek a chance – slow in some parts as it may be – and go on a journey of your own.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race by Sara Barron

The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race by Sara Barron
Three Rivers Press, 2014, 320 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays

It’s admittedly been a while since I’ve read The Harm in Asking. I toyed around with the idea of not writing a review for it at all because, frankly, I have few positive things to say about it. In fact, I never even took a picture of the book because I was so sure I wouldn’t review it. However, I’m committed to reviewing as much as I read as possible and, despite being woefully behind in that, I have no real reason to not review Barron’s collection of essays. If you’re interested in the particulars of why I was less-than-impressed by this book, read on.

Barron’s essay collection is very like many other essay collections: she describes her various misadventures as a twenty-something living in New York City while pursuing the seemingly unreachable goal of a profitable career as a holder of a Bachelor’s in English. Barron suffers getting locked out of her apartment multiple times within a day, breaking a leg, and the horror of washing her landlord’s back on a regular basis among other tales. There is, in true white-girl-English-major fashion (yes, I’m aware I’m a white-girl-former-English-major), lots of alcohol involved. Overall, the theme of Barron’s collection can be summed up in two titlewords: privileged irresponsibility.

I get the whole self-deprecating humor thing. In fact, it’s something I love to do (and feel I’m pretty good at, if you don’t mind me saying so) myself. It’s my intimate knowledge of this particular brand of humor that leads me to believe Barron fails at it. While feigning self-loathing, Barron actually turns the hate on everyone around her in each of her stories, managing to blame just about everyone except herself for her problems. To her credit, she does sometimes admit to this and it’s sort-of-kind-of in her subtitle. But I found it to be a bit much. She’s regularly offensive, using long-outdated and consciously-insulting words for “jokes,” and isn’t above any category of slur. I could go on about why Barron’s take on humor is harmful, but I’ll leave the research to you (unless it pops up in the comments, in which case I’m happy to oblige). In any case, Barron’s essays felt condescending while she played the victim and everyone else was a villainous *insert racial/homophobic/ableist/sexist slur here*. It was disheartening. And this isn’t to say that Barron necessarily is condescending and plays the victim and all that — I haven’t met Barron. Her writing may be an act for all I know. This is merely how these set of essays came across.

If you can get past the general offense of Barron’s writing and take a look at the writing style, it’s really nothing remarkable. Overall, it’s not poor writing, but it also doesn’t tickle any particular sense to life. There are no especially clever turns of phrase, no heart-stopping similes, no exciting plays on words. The pace flows quickly enough and doesn’t feel disjointed or anything like it, but you’re not going to hold up this book as a piece of Great Literature.

Of the stories Barron tells, most of them are fairly similar if you take enough steps back. Barron thinks things are going well, she makes a bad decision, she complains about the situation she’s now in, she blames it on those around her, someone else solves the problem or she ignores it until it goes away (or it turns out to not really be a problem after all). With this predictable formula present in each story, it’s easy to become bored, especially as you’re inevitably turned off by one or more of her comments that somehow feel like person attacks even though she’s not saying any of this directly to you. I hate to come back to this issue and I know I’m what people like to call a “sensitive person,” but the ongoing offense became tiresome. Not only was it in poor taste, but it seemed to be a main theme and it just felt old and not funny and unoriginal. Because this was the foundation of so many of Barron’s stories, it’s hard to come away from the book with any sense of joy. If Barron’s collection is supposed to be a book of humor, I think she missed the mark.

I did manage to finish it, if only just, so it gets a heart for that. But nothing more.

❤ out of ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Older posts

© 2018 24 Hour Library

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑