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Archive for the ‘Library: Simmons College Library’ Category

12. “White Tiger,” Aravind Adiga

April 14, 2011 1 comment

Took me a while to get into it because it is “tricky.” The narrator is slick and dances around things a lot. Suddenly at around eighty pages, I was completely engrossed and I don’t know how it happened.

Page count: 304

Page total: 3,305

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50. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” JK Rowling

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I hadn’t read this one for a while, as it’s one of two from the series that I don’t own and I had a job getting it from the library (it involved three trips and a discussion with the YA librarian, who sent me to the children’s room. I finally got it from my grad school library. Chew on that). Anyway, this one has a lot of exposition a la the second chapter of every Baby-Sitters’ Club book, but was still pretty good.

Page count: 734
Page total: 14,126

33. “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell

June 4, 2010 1 comment

I found this a much more satisfying read than Freakanomics because it deals with how a multitude of small things come together to create one big effect. Gladwell concludes, for example, that one of the major reasons that crime dropped so drastically in New York in the 1990s isn’t that “unfit” mothers had aborted a lot of fetuses 15-18 years earlier, but that a number of small things that police forces, particularly transit police, were doing began to accrue.

Gladwell also looks at children’s educational television and discusses the differences between “Sesame Street” and “Blues Clues,” and there’s nothing I love quite like I love seeing educational theories in praxis on brightly-colored animals.

Gladwells’s very easy to read. One of my professors last semester went to grad school with him and became a fact-checker for him when he was at “The New Yorker.” Every now and then he’d call, read her a sentence and ask “can we use ‘deconstruct’ like that?” and she’d say yes or no and get fifty bucks.

This is my fondest ambition. (That and finding out how airplanes stay up.)

Also, Vikky, isn’t this totally Mary:

Connectors are the people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.”[6] They are “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [… for] making friends and acquaintances”. [7] He characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. To illustrate, Gladwell cites the following examples: the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Milgram’s experiments in the small world problem, the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” trivia game, Dallas businessman Roger Horchow, and Chicagoan Lois Weisberg, a person who understands the concept of the weak tie. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to “their ability to span many different worlds [… as] a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.”[8]

Page count: 272
Page total: 8,125
Call number: HM1033 .G53 2000

19. “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” Junot Diaz

March 24, 2010 1 comment

This is at least the third time I have checked this book out of the library and only the first time I made it beyond twenty pages. This isn’t because it isn’t a good book– it was excellent– or that those pages were slow, it just somehow always got bumped by other books. This is weird because it’s right up my alley. It’s a sort of cultural history of a post-Trujillo Dominican Republic. There’s family history. There’s geekery. There’s a first-person narrator who is fallible, funny, conversational, smart, observant. It makes you feel smarter without actually having to learn anything. I enjoy all these things! Once I got into it, the book was great, and I could see why geeks I respect would enjoy it.

The third part of the book felt pretty rushed, though. I suppose that was the whole rapid-passage-of-time as this part of someone’s life rushes to a close thing, but it felt sort of unfinished. The last paragraph or so is really great, though.

And can I also go on record as saying that I would totally hate Oscar, too? I want to like him. A fat geek with an impressive vocabulary? Have you met me? But damn, Oscar is annoying. Diaz’s writing is impressive in how effortlessly he is able to adopt different voices. I generally dislike when authors don’t use quotation marks because I find it confusing (hi, I am an oddly literal thinker sometimes), but each character’s voice was so developed that I could easily follow.

Page count: 335
Page total: 4,573

12. “Twinkie, Deconstructed,” Steve Ettlinger

January 26, 2010 2 comments

The subtitle is “My Journey to Discover how the Ingredients in Processed Foods are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into what America Eats.”

My over-all reaction is just a big “eh.” I was expecting more muck-raking and generally more intrigue (that is, I expected to be more intrigued) than this pretty harmless list of chemical names provides. I did pretty well in chemistry, but that’s only because my wonderful teachers carried me (shout-out to Angie Melcher and Dr. Rivkin!). It also just seemed weird in this day and age to talk about high-fructose corn syrup and red dye #40 without talking about how people are shitting themselves over how scary these things are (or aren’t?).

Maybe the honey moon is just over for me and the cultural history of a noun books, but I kind of doubt it. In fact, my problem may have been that there wasn’t enough culture here. This book was mostly like an episode of “follow that food.” We go to the mines for salt, the oil fields for hydrogenation, but there’s not a lot of talk about the cultural meaning of these products. I’m writing this when not quite finished with the book, and here’s an excerpt from the page I’m on:

Shanghai Dyestuffs Research Institute Co., Ltd., the largest synthetic food color producer in China, plays a very important role in creating colors: reacting aniline in a metal sulfate to create sulfanilic acid (a common metal sulfate is magnesium sulfate, aka Epsom salts.)
Meanwhile, Sinopec refines naphtha and ethylene out of more crude oil and combines them to make naphthalene (a rather unlikely subingredient for a food ingredient, this is the main ingredient in old-fashioned mothballs). Shanghai Dyestuffs reacts this with another acid and plain old table salt to make something called Shaeffer’s Salt, the key ingredient in both red and yellow [food dyes].” (250-251)

This is pretty characteristic of the writing style in this book. It’s how things happen, I guess, but not what it means. I don’t know what naphtha is. I barely know what ethylene is. So their creating naphthalene doesn’t mean much. Ettlinger obviously is great with science stuff, but maybe not great at translating that to non-science audiences. The result is uneven and occasionally a little patronizing. And it’s the worst kind of patronizing, too, where you don’t know the information but just resent being talked down to, so you can’t even stomp your foot and be like “yeah, duh, napphthalene, like msot chemical intermediaries, is frequrntly reacted wit ha large number of other chemicals to produce wildly different results. For example,
naphthalene sulfonic acids are used in the manufacture of naphthalene sulfonate polymer plasticizers or dispersants, which are used in the production of concrete and other building materials, like drywall. In addition to their use as dispersants for dyes and tanning agents, they are used in a similar capacity are also used in pesticides and Lead-acid battery plates. But all of that is hardly the same as your insinuation that we’re eating sugary mothballs.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!) I do. however, know enough to say “I’ve noticed that a lot of things contain both carbon and one oxygen, but they are probably not going to smother me if I eat them in my garage.”

So, to sum up, I think overall the implied audience (people who enjoy science) and actual audience (people who enjoy snack cakes) for this book are quite different.

The book also felt really stilted to me. I only just put a finger on it: each chapter is about a different ingredient and overall it has the feeling of a large stack of pamphlets created by Hostess to dispel some unsavory rumors about how theirs is the most-processed food of all time.

The last chapter is fairly redeeming and more what I expected overall. In it, he cautions us against being too paranoid over food additives, because we have been adding things to food to change their behaviors or prolong shelf life forever– salt and sugar, for example. But the biggest gift this book gave me is my continued attempts to make flour dust explode.

Page count: 263
Page total: 2,802

Edit: The author was kind enough to comment below. Go see!

6. “Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America,” Scott Poulson-Bryant

December 21, 2009 1 comment

I started reading this in October, mostly via eBrary, which is a pretty cool site. It lets you highlight the text and, the really cool part, copy it. I was making such slow progress with it, though, that I had to give up and order it through the BPL.

This book pretty much what the title says, a meditation on (US American) discourse constructing the black man as hung. It’s written in the first person, which I think required, to use the metaphor Poulson-Bryant expands upon in the past third of the book, a pretty big dick. He peppers his writing with anecdotes about his own dick and the dicks of guys he knows. Drawing on his career writing for magazines, he’s able to reference a lot of Black NFL and NBA stars, as well as hip-hop and rap artists and draw common links between their sexualization and the sexualization of old movies like “Mandingo,” right through Lexington Steele’s porn.

The writing is pretty good, too, though occasionally self-consciously so. There’s a chapter where he quotes liberally from an old journal, which always kind of bothers me, and the book begins with some references to his college journalism career. Overall, I think I was expecting something a little more academic (more citations, less ancedata), but it was pretty good for what it was: one man’s personal attempts to understand the myth of the big black penis and all it means for him and America.

Here are a few quotes:
A (white) woman, upon seeing his penis, remarks that she thought he’d have a bigger one. “I thought I’d have a bigger dick, too. There was shame in that response but also a nagging question, as in: Why the shame?” (12)

James Baldwin in “Just Above My Head”: “It was more a matter of its color than its size… its color was its size.” (quoted on 14)

Gunnar Myrdal study: White Southerners were asked what Blacks most wanted. They rated intermarriage and sex with whites #1 of 6 options (20)

“The white men who invented America weren’t trying to create a monster to subjugate. They needed a monster against which to measure their own monstrous actions. […] It’s a measuring stick of self-worth, capabilities and fallablities.” (22)

“It’s the men’s magazines that run articles about dick size […] because for so many men, it’s the very definition of who they are.” (23)

“I could cite position papers and speeches and documents detailing the African-American male’s continued status as less than endowed on the economic, social, and political totem poles. But it almost seems to defeat the point because pop-culture-wise, black men are the cream of the crop, the definers of image, and the valued sites of desire and cultural anointment, endowed, as it were, like myths. And maybe, eventually, that’s all we have. Maybe, eventually, that will be our salvation, as America, and not just hiphop, makes its mad dash to the finish line of high capitalism. Maybe, eventually, it is the Michael Jordans and Puff Daddys of our world who will signify what it means to be a black man, who will be the sole signposts to follow along the road to true endowment. Perhaps the myth will hold because there are men like our pop-culture and sports icons who put a face on the American dream of bigness, whether it’s the real financial thing or the big-dicked-ness everyone surmises them to have. Not that Jordan and his crew are immune to adhering to some of the same mythic qualities in the American obsession. “(198)

Page count: 224
Page total: 11,85

63. “The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” JK Rowling

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Totally dispensable. I liked the Harry Potter books, this is just a few disjointed fairy tales with a couple quips from Dumbledore. At least it was a really quick read.

Page count: 111
Page total: 24,299