Friday, August 3, 2012

July Reading

Here's what I read in July.

A note about the illustration:

If you read my blog, you might notice that I often try to find clever or telling pictures for the current month whenever I do one of my "What I Read This Month" blogs.  For the next year (one hopes), I will be using monthly illustrations from Les Tres Riches Hueres book of hours, painted by the Limbourg brothers in the early 15th century.  I first learned about books of hours in general during my study of the middle ages at Yale, and even posted a photograph of one of them that I encountered at The Cloisters in New York. (It was much smaller than I had imagined.)

The painting above shows the field and farm work of July.  The farmers are harvesting hay; the two figures in front are shearing the sheep.

To see more of Les Tres Riches Hueres, check out this WebMuseum site.  Ok.  Let's get to the books! Here's what I read in July.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (annotated and edited by David M. Shapard)

I have so much to say about Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that I am going to save it for its own blog post early next week.  (Spoiler alert: I really liked it.)

2. Chew on This: Everything you Don't Want to Know About Fast Food by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

Chew on This is a pared-down version of Schlosser's excellent 2002 book, Fast Food Nation.  This version follows the general trajectory of Fast Food Nation, but was written for an audience of readers at about the ninth-grade level.  

I think rewriting this book for teens is a great idea.  Not only does Chew on This expose young people to solid investigative journalism, it also gives them a different look at an industry--fast food--that is daily shoved down their throats.  It's a sort of anti-advertising campaign, offering research, logic, and facts in the place of hype.  I can only imagine how empowering this book would be for a deep-thinking teen who wants to know more about life than he sees in TV commercials.

Schlosser and Wilson never talk down or preach to their intended audience  they acknowledge how appealing fast food is, and they retell the prodigious talents and achievements of men like Roy Kroc and Dave Thomas with something approaching awe.  Why lie to kids?  Fast food tastes great (but see page 104 for the reason why), and everyone we know seems to love it (see page 51 for more on that).  

However, the authors of Chew on This are constantly challenging their young readers to think critically about what they see in advertisements, what they know from eating fast food, and what they have experienced working in these restaurants.  This book requires their long-term attention and delves deeper into the issue than they would see on the news or on a Facebook post.  And it's worth it; in my twelve years of teaching teenagers, I've observed that they appreciate it when you tell them the truth and let them make up their minds for themselves.  If you challenge them, they won't let you down.

In addition, the edition I have has a full bibliography, index, and section of discussion questions.  The afterword even addresses criticism that the first edition received from places like McDonalds and the National Restaurant Association.  The authors acknowledge this criticism with grace, then refute the criticism in a level-headed way.  It's a wonderful lesson on the reliability of sources and factual reportage.  

So, for all of my friends teaching 8th-10th grades, I would highly recommend that you have a look at this book.  Hell--put it on their summer reading.  Make 'em read it.  (I now see there is a similar kids' version of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I would love to read.)

And now, I would like to present my take on the entire Chick-Fil-A brouhaha in 113 words.  Here goes:

Some years ago, after reading Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollard, I made the decision to quit fast food for good.  And for that reason, I found this whole Chick-Fil-A controversy to be beyond nonsensical.  I support marriage rights for all, and I boycott all fast-food chains.  There was no controversy for me.

3. Kaplan's GRE Strategies, Practice, and Review 2013

I didn't like this book at all!  There was way too much math in it--much more than I am comfortable with.  And when there were prose sections in there, they were all cut-up and out-of-context and didn't have any swear words in them.  

But it did help me prepare for the GRE, which I recently took and on which I received agreeable results.  Anyone want my copy of this prep book?  You can have it!

4. "We Are Alive," by David Remnick (in the July issue of The New Yorker.) 

I wrote about this essay about Bruce Springsteen in a previous post.  Check it out.  Here's a picture of Darkness on the Edge of Town.