Lest you think that all I do is crochet and garden, here are some books I've read recently--I'm on a committee that will help select next year's book that incoming students will read. Apparently, this is a big trend in colleges.
I'll share my one-sentence reviews from my reading journal and my other thoughts about the book. So far I've read:
Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
The story of a 19th c. cholera epidemic in London and one doctor's detective work to determine the cause.
How do you identify the cause of a disease if you can't see it? How do you convince people that you've found the source . . . when they subscribe to a paradigm that won't let them see the truth? The doctor who's the protagonist of this non-fiction book figures out that cholera comes from water--but the prevailing view is that illness comes from smells: "miasma." The prevailing view is causing more and more people to die. This book is a detective stsory about a disease and the efforts of two people to find a way to stop it. Well written and provocative. The last chapter looks forward to suggest future scenarios for cities and disease.
This one would be a great book for incoming students. It raises all sorts of questions about epistemology and sociology and urban life! And it has its own website. But . . . our book for this year is about illness (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman--GREAT book, btw) and I don't know if we want to do two illness books, one after the other.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
High-energy and intense multi-perspective story of Oscar and his family of Dominican immigrants and how love, violence, and politics (not to mention books) shaped their lives.
One review called this book "delightful." I disagree. This is not a delightful book. Although it's funny and engaging and wondrous, it's also dark and violent and full of profanity. One of the background "characters" who shapes the lives of the main characters is the horrible Dominican dictator Trujillo. I found this to be an exhausting read--very "literary" in its use of multi-perspectives and stream of consciousness-ish style, and footnotes (yes, footnotes).
I would love to teach this book in a class on coming of age stories. That way the students and I could check in after reading sections and talk about it--so much to talk about! But I don't know if I could expect incoming 1st years to handle it alone very well. The best readers would, of course, but I fear it would totally alienate most students.