Thursday, October 19, 2006

I don't do book reviews

Books. I like 'em. I read a lot of them.

Often I recommend them to others. (Perhaps you noticed?)

Unfortunately I suspect my recommendations might be more effective if I could muster the willpower to write detailed, enthusiastic reviews. As much as I enjoy books, and as much I want others to appreciate the good ones, I greatly dislike writing book reviews. They remind me too much of book reports and school homework assignments.

Reading a book is fun. Writing about it takes time away from reading the next one.

As a kid in fourth grade I went on strike over book reports. I refused to write them. Specifically, I declined to participate in a classroom contest to try to write more book reports than the other kids. It seemed pretty clear to me that the contest was designed to get some (many?) of the kids to read more. The prospect of gold stars and smiley stickers on a wall chart (or the prize, whatever it was) didn't offer much incentive to me. I already averaged about four books checked out of the library at a time.

My civil disobedience prompted an emergency parent-teacher conference. Although I didn't exactly prevail, we did negotiate a concession: I agreed to stop setting an example of disobedience in exchange for the teacher's acknowledgement that the contest wasn't likely to advance my education.*

Now I have better incentive to write book reports reviews. I want other people to benefit from useful books as much I have. I want other people to read those books. But book reviews still feel like homework to me, and writing them does take time away from reading them.

Unfortunately the statement, “You should read this book because I say so”, doesn't seem to work very well.

I often think of books as tool boxes filled with idea tools. I have some background in engineering so that feels like a natural and obvious approach. For me, recommending a particular book is like recommending a particular tool for a particular task.

“Hi, there. I see you're pounding that nail with a brick. How's that workin' for ya? Have you considered a hammer instead? I just happen to have a hammer right here.”

Most models are wrong, but some are useful
. Good books are full of ideas. Some of them are wrong, but some of them are useful. There are many I might recommend to a particular person in a particular situation. There are a few I recommend widely because they're especially versatile. These are my Swiss Army, Leatherman, toolbox-in-paperback, recommended books:

Each of those three is really a subset of the author's ideas. Each author has body of related work — more toolboxes filled with more tools — but those three are immediately useful.

I know I should say more, of course. But I'd rather be reading.


* I give my 4th grade teacher, the late Mrs. Harder, a lot of credit for her unusually candid admission.

More book recommendations with inadequate reviews...



etbnc said...

I am amused, and pleased, that within minutes of publication someone found this post while searching for the term "book reviews".

Ah, the unintended irony of the Internet!

Erin said...

I'm not much for writing book reviews either, or using them as a deciding factor in what I read either...

Unknown said...

Interesting to see Lakoff and Senge in the same post. I have a connection to both of them, and have met Peter Senge, who once came to our class in the '80s and talked about his developing idea of "metanoia". He was at MIT and I was down the street at Harvard. He was also a good friend of my professor (John Robert Ross) who was then a visiting professor. John or "Haj" or "Haji Baba" (as he preferred his friends to call him) had studied with Chomsky and Jakobsen, and was instrumental in the theory of generative grammar.

Haji was also a friend and colleague of Lakoff, whose "Metaphors we Live by" was required reading. Great, influential book, which I suspect you have read. "Love as a collaborative work of art." Brilliant!

Another connection with Senge comes with Robert Fritz with whom I have studied, and from whom I have learnt much...especially his structural model of creative vision. Fritz was a teacher of Senge, who was also impressed by his vision work, and refers to him quite often in his "Fifth Discipline" books...based on said metanoia, as well as Fritz' ideas.

Haj used to visit with me at home in Cambridge, and later in Brighton where we would yack till morning about the most arcane of subjects.

I have yet to meet Professor Lakoff, but look forward to the opportunity.

Peter is an other-worldly figure. The time we met, I saw a glowing azure diamond-shaped somethingoranother radiating from his abdomen, which I could see from the corner of my eyes, and stragely though little about it at the time, although I still wonder over it, and now assume it had to do with true enlightenment and chakras.

I best shut up now, our of deference to space and your patience.

Oh...thanks again for Bravoing my poem!


Unknown said...

"out of deference"
"our of ..."

"strangely thought little of it..."
"stragely though little of it..."