Crucial for ignoring the person next to you on this Hell Flight.
Plugging along on my book lists continued. Somehow I read no fiction at all for an entire six months, but will finally turn that around in July. Not much of a theme with these titles as I deduced from my Quarter 1 reads
, but perhaps you could classify this as an anti-establishment reading list of a sort.
Ratings are also what I included in my LibraryThing account, but I haven't yet figured out how to crosspost reviews and other content from there to here, so you get to see them in this narrative format.The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy
by Nicholas Lemann
Another of the older titles that has been on my reading list too long. Some of this history is important to consider again, as the SATs were in theory going to be revamped again in 2019 before public backlash put the kibosh on the planned "adversity score" that test takers would also get. You can learn from this title that this feature was first devised in the middle 20th century! And some of what feels backwards about standardized testing as a student or a teacher did make more sense with detailed background about its inception. Still, it was a bit too fussy about including a play-by-play of the ETS Corporation when we didn't need that to get the overall point. 2.5*Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World
by Anand Giridhiradas
I read most of this title on a substitute flight from San Francisco after my original one was cancelled, so I was in an uncomfortable seat and trying to zone out. I say this because it was an apt setting, as the very frequent flyer next to me flirted with the flight attendant and they each tried to one-up the other in their respective knowledge of the American Airlines fleet. The premise is that we have no good reason to assume that the most wealthy in our society should have taken charge of all that they do, too often try to use philanthropy as a substitute for real problem solving, and aren't even very skilled at what they rule over. And the fact that this small group has largely segregated themselves from the rest of us is a corollary, enforcing further his main point. If you want the public sector to be strengthened and reclaim its work that has been contracted out, Giridharadas has the ideas for you. 3.5*My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
Let me just start this one by noting that I hate TED Talks. The supposedly beneficent "non-profit" that puts them on is extremely wealthy and charges literally thousands of dollars for their annual event, after which they use the generous proceeds to do ... nothing else of consequence all year. Still, once in a while an "original" TED Talk is actually inspirational, and hers is my favorite.
With that digression complete, I did enjoy this one. The writing is approachable and not at all academic, mirroring the effectiveness of her lecture style as mentioned above. Much of the story recounts how she recognized her own stroke and the subsequent years-long recovery, from a deeply humble perspective. I will also say this is a very useful book: she includes easy-to-understand symptoms that you or someone around you may be in the early stages of a stroke, and when that merits medical attention. In addition, she has been part of the NAMI
board and advocates for supporting them, plus details you how can donate your brain to science after you die! 4.5*In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History
by Mitch Landrieu
Maybe you wouldn't consider a book by a big city mayor from a politically famous family to belong on a list of "anti-establishment" reads. But in this case, the focus is on how Landrieu used his mayorship to remove four huge and imposing monuments of Confederate soldiers/other figures from the City after decades*, in response to the request of a much more famous New Orleanian, Wynton Marsalis. The latter issued this challenge while they were planning the city's 300-year anniversary, and it was personally nice to be a visitor in that year knowing the statues were gone. But the book focuses far more on civic pride and the feelings of long-time residents, especially black residents, that had to endure their presence. This book is largely about Landrieu's legacy, and he did a decent job noting why these events should be a part of that. Since it was published, the city has continued to discuss their fate, and it is notable that ideas to re-display two of them can't be carried out because Landrieu and the City Council passed laws prohibiting it that courts have also upheld. 3.5*Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City
by Gordon Young
If there's a book about Flint, I am eventually going to read it. And if there were a category for people feeling conflicted between their hometowns and wherever else they end up, that would overlap pretty thoroughly with my bookshelf. This author is a youngish guy trying to buy a house with his wife in already too expensive San Francisco, while at the same time wishing to somehow keep a presence in his hometown of Flint. As an admittedly indecisive person, I liked his forays into the city and what didn't work. What he could have done better, though, was to distinguish between the relatively local (like the ghastly but tidy subdivision where he crashed with a friend) and distinctly global (like the auto industry and thriving cities that attract Michiganders away) phenomena that Flint has to fight against. 4*Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials
by Malcolm Harris
While it's difficult (and not necessarily wise) to try to boil down a whole generation's experience into one book, the never-ending litany of media coverage on boomers, millennials, and sort of demands that someone take a crack at it. I've done a very limited amount of that in my profession, but Harris is undoubtedly doing a better job here, indicating how the nature of labor and endless credentialing for its own sake have shaped and misshaped us. Aside from getting at the broad differences between the growing pains that each young generation experiences and the problems unique to this time period, he had well-researched micro-stories that reinforced his points, too. Like, the Vine stars that proposed a deal to the company directly, got turned down, and abandoned the platform. And we all know how it turned out for that app. My favorite nonfiction of the year so far. 5*
*Unsurprisingly the statues in question were put up between 1881 and 1911, not close to the end of the Civil War and not intended as the innocent remembrances their proponents would have us believe.
Titles YTD = 12