15 December 2008

Two Books, Bookin' It Up!*

Seventeen years ago I read two awesome books, and then a few days later I told you I would tell you about them. If the suspense hasn't driven you MAD already, here goes.

Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough
God bless This American Life, bringing me TBTL and, from an episode just a few weeks before, this book. Unlike people who either work in education in NYC or, like, read the New York Times Magazine, I had never heard of Geoffrey Canada or Harlem Children's Zone before he/they were profiled in a recent episode of This American Life. Reported by Paul Tough (also the author of this book and the NY Times Magazine piece (maybe pieces?) that started it all), it described Canada's kinda revolutionary approach to trying to get kids, and entire neighborhoods, and everyone, out of poverty. This is one of those books where, before the This American Life piece, before reading the book, if you'd said to me, "Hey, Jaime, I've got this book about this dude working to eradicate poverty in Harlem, who thinks he can get every kid from a poor inner-city neighborhood to college. How'd you like to read that?" I'm not sure I would've made it to "How'd you like to read that?" But Canada is so passionate and his work is so daring, and Paul Tough (Paul Tough & Geoffrey Canada - best names ever?) is a damn good writer and reporter. This story is compelling and moving, and not over yet. The book's fantastic.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I've always said that my favorite Neil Gaiman books are his collections of short pieces, but they've got some serious competition now. This is one of his lovely books that's sort of for kids, but sort of for grownups. (I'd say it's more grown-up than Coraline, probably about the same as Stardust.) The Graveyard Book follows Bod (short for Nobody) Owens, a little boy raised in a graveyard by the resident ghosts. Each chapter is a sort of short story unto itself, following Bod from toddler to teen. The stories move from playful to mysterious to heartfelt to straight-up adventure, but it's all a unified and completely satisfying whole. The action passages are exciting and scary, and the tender moments are beautiful and occasionally will break your heart. Gaiman is a master storyteller, and goddamn I loved this book.

Oh, also, bonus book, because I think I never actually blogged about it:
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
I actually ended up with this book through a bit of my own confusion - I think I was thinking of Allison's mad love for Brian Greene when I saw this at the library and picked it up. I realized my mistake early on, and in those first few pages I was all, Pssht, dude, I *know* about quarks and the cosmic microwave background radiation. But I kept reading, and got used to Bryson's occasionally too-chummy tone, and discovered that this wasn't just a primer in, oh, the entirety of known science, but also a fantastic chronicle of science history. Sure, I know about the cosmic background radiation, but do I know how it was found? No! (Well, now I do, but only thanks to this book.) Do you have any idea how tumultuous and interesting the debates have been about the age of the Earth? Could I be a bigger nerd? From cosmology through the history of the Earth, geology (a specialty heretofore unexplored in my geekdom), biology and evolution, this is a fantastic survey of, as the title says, nearly everything, with no science knowledge prerequisite. Bryson wrote the book because he realized his own scientific ignorance, and realized that scientific ignorance is ignorance of the very workings of the world.

He also was like, "Jaime is not entirely enough of a nerd. How can I fix that? Let me give her another science book to geek out about." And then he did.


1 comment:

Moxie said...

YAY HCZ! I am going to start volunteering with them. Had a little bit of a crisis after that This American Life episode, in which I considered quitting my job and going to work for them. (If they would ever hire me). Volunteering is much more practical.