Friday, June 04, 2010

What I have read from the NAS list, now with brief thoughts

The NAS recently published a study on those books that a lot of colleges assign to incoming freshmen over the summer. I would like to write a response to some of their observations at some point, since the study seems far from perfect, but I wanted to look over their book list. They do not exactly make the list easy to read, so I took the list from the EXCEL sheet they provide and went through it. The list contains 180 books. I have typed below the titles that I have read from the list. Links go to WorldCat records (so you can find them in a library near you if so moved). The ones I have read then:

Out of the list, I have read 19 books. A significant number of the books on the list fall under literary fiction, a genre that holds very little interest to me. I had enough of it after I came out of graduate school. While I do read some literary fiction in Spanish from Latin America, and some in translation from around the world, that is about it. Anglophone (read mostly British and especially American) I don't particularly give a hoot. As for the nonfiction on the list, there are one or two works that might interest me, but overall I am not too excited either. Part of the reason is that, for some of the books, I have read others on the same topic, so I don't feel any urgency to read on X or Y again.

Now, here are some works I have read that I would propose to substitute or just to point out that I have read the author, even if not the work listed. Consider it just me looking at my reading preferences and profile.

  • Philip K. Dick. In addition to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I have read A Scanner Darkly. Dick is definitely a writer worth reading. Someone else that may be similar is Alfred Bester.
  • For Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed is probably the best one for students. I have read her most recent one Bright Sided, and while it is worthy for discussion (and probably more relevant at this point in time), it is not as engaging.
  • I have not read The Wal-Mart Effect. However, I have read Big Box Swindle, which not only looks at Wal-Mart, but at other mega-retailers who are just as bad as Wal-Mart in terms of the damage they can cause.
  • I have not read The Maltese Falcon, but seen the film. In seriousness. I have read some of Hammett's shorter works as well as Raymond Chandler's works. Want another similar suggestion? Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer series.
  • I read Tracy Kidder's Among Schoolchildren. This is nice, but I would have thrown in some Jonathan Kozol instead. Not as cuddly, so to speak and more punch, which a lot of young people need.
  • I would consider adding Roméo Dallaire's Shake Hands With the Devil. Want to make the kids feel bad about how governments and bureaucrats (from the West) abandon other nations to genocide while tying the hands of those wanting to help? This is the book to read. I don't say the remark of making the kids feel bad just to be snarky. Actually, the NAS argues that many books on the list are meant to make students feel bad about the West (and I will say that in many cases, they should). This one is moving, and it will make people upset and angry.

No comments: