Title: Contagious: Why Things Catch On
Author: Jonah Berger
Publisher/Year: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 3/1/2013
Length: 200 pages/6 hours and 54 minutes
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Source: Review copy from Simon & Schuster
Contagious is about why things go viral. Jonah Berger divides the book into chapters based on his six elements of why things catch on, devoting each chapter to the explanation and examples of each element. The elements are social currency, triggers, emotions, public, practical value, and stories, and Berger calls this the STEPPS model. Nothing here is rocket science, but the examples are entertaining and the material thought-provoking.
As a book blogger, I found this book particularly interesting. Not only am I interested in promoting my own work, but I’m also part of a chain of promotion centered around authors, publishers, and books. Berger is very clear in noting that the first element for a contagious idea is that it must be a good idea. With blogging, this is how we have conversations about posts being original (instead of memes) and interesting. With books, we all know how a truly good book almost sells itself! But it’s more than that. I was particularly smitten with Berger’s coverage of word-of-mouth advertising. I never realized just how hard it is to promote such advertising and just how valuable it is. As book bloggers, thats EXACTLY what we do for publishers.
It’s like I knew that, but I didn’t. I didn’t realize how it important it is. How cool it is that I, by reading one little book and spending thirty minutes writing up a review for my thousands of followers, am really doing something. It’s the reason my email inbox is flooded with requests from self-published authors to read and review their books — word of mouth can’t be bought. Even a negative review is valuable. So, Jonah Berger, thank you for making me feel important!
FINAL GRADE: A I give this my top grade for being a pleasant listening experience. Not too dense, not too dry, not too long. It’s a perfect audiobook for the car or for working out. Accessible for the non-business majors among us. And for bloggers — definitely an interesting read! I also wrote a similar review for this book over at Bookkaholic, so hop on over to that if you want to know more.
Required Reading: Required for all my book blogging friends. Especially if you don’t normally like audiobooks, as this is a good gateway audiobook.
Library Recommendation: You could put this in a high school library, but it would probably be unnecessary. It’s perfect for a public library or e-book collection, though.
Title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Publisher/Year: Crown, 2012
Length: 333 pages, 10 hours 39 mins
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Format: Audio book
Source: Purchased from Audible
Introverts, this book is for you. In a world that values the qualities of the extroverted and labels introverts as shy, anti-social, and sensitive, Susan Cain highlights the positive qualities of this undervalued portion of the population. She utilizes both personal stories from real introverts and significant research to prove her points along the way.
I have a feeling I’m preaching to the choir when talking about introverted-ness to the book blogger world, since I’m fairly certain we represent an above-average number of introverts, but this book was like a big hug. The world we live in sometimes makes me feel guilty for wanting to spend my Saturday night alone with a good book. We are living in a world that values extroverted qualities more than introverted ones, but Cain successfully shows why we need to celebrated the introverts’ contributions and viewpoints. We offer something unique.
I did have two nit-picks with the book, which kind of represent nit-picks others may have with various parts. First, when Cain talked about teaching she attacked teacher’s viewpoints of group work. She almost made it sound like the new teacher allegiance to group work is a conspiracy by extroverted teachers. I disagree, since there is a lot of research about cooperative learning and there are evidence based reasons why these new teachers are using this as one of many instructional techniques. Critique the lack of anti-coorperative learning research, not the newbie teachers. Second, she encourages introverts to consider careers in library science. This represents society’s gross misunderstanding of what librarians do. I was told in library school that it is common to get applications that read, “I want to go to library school because I like to read books,” and those often got rejected over applications that read, “I want to be a librarian because I like helping people.” Don’t be a librarian if you want to avoid contact with people! I often left work socially drained, longing for introvert time (which is okay!).
FINAL GRADE: B It definitely stands out as one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in recent memory. Cain does jump to some conclusions and make a few points that I might argue against, but I’m going to forgive her due to the overall readability and awesomeness of the book. I read this as an audiobook, since I do enjoy reading adult non-fiction in this format, and I would definitely recommend the audio. It’s the kind of book that you can listen to while working out or driving to work — the starting and stopping to listen for an hour or so each day won’t ruin your experience. The narration is clear and non-distracting.
Required Reading: Required for all introverts. Also required for all extroverts, for the purpose of understanding your favorite introvert just a little better. Extroverts may feel a little offended or defensive throughout the book, but I’ll ask the extroverted among you to set aside your egos and give it a try.
Library recommendations: You could put this in your high school library, but it would be okay to skip it.
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you think introverts are misunderstood?
Spring break starts in just 42 hours (not like I’m counting), and I could really use a break to chill for a minute. Maybe read some books for funzies. However, I’ll also be writing papers like whoa. Hopefully I’ll be productive and churn out some draft-y goodness for all three of my final papers. I got a head start by heading to the library and grabbing a fabulous stack of books. I know y’all bookish folks love a good book haul, so here’s my contribution…though I don’t know if anyone will find this as exciting as I do.
Without further ado, this is what I’ll be up to over spring break and for the rest of the semester:
Oh, and stay tuned, because I think I’ll have some exciting news to share after spring break. Good things are happening in grad school land lately!
What nerdy books have excited you this month?
This week I’ll be reviewing a professional book I read because it sounded interesting and relevant to my future work teaching college students:
Title: On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching
Author: James M. Lang
Publisher/Year: Harvard University Press/Caravan, 2008
Length: 7 hrs and 14 mins, 319 pages
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Format: Audio book
Source: Purchased from Audible
No book about teaching is perfect, since everyone teaches a little differently. On Course is a great book for beginning teachers on the ins and outs of college teaching for both graduate students and first-year professors. Using the fifteen week flow of the average semester, Lang guides readers through what to expect in planning, teaching, and evaluating students in college-level work without going crazy. Lang also gives specific advice for strategies to try and reasoning behind different choices to be made (papers or exams?), while also suggesting excellent books and campus resources to consult for more in-depth information.
Though the book is organized by weeks in the semester, it is not intended to be read that way. Lang even explains this in the intro. His intention is for the book to be read 1-3 months before teaching the class, and then consulted as a reference throughout the first semester. I really liked how the week-by-week format keeps each topic focused so new teachers can tackle one task at a time without feeling overwhelmed. I also liked how Lang addresses multiple ways of tackling certain tasks, yet often takes time to explain which option he uses and why.
The audio book format works well for this book, even though it is not read by the author (which disappointed me!). I was able to listen on my commutes to work and while walking through campus. It’s a very easy listen, as Lang never throws too much information out at a time and his tone is almost conversational, like that of an experienced mentor. As a former middle school teacher, this was a great read for me to starting thinking about bridging the gap between K-12 teaching and college teaching.
FINAL GRADE: B+ You’re not going to find everything about college teaching here, but it’s a good start. Lang is likable. The resource lists alone make this a good pick or gift for anyone who ever wants to teach at the college level. You may not find anything mind-blowing or world changing here, but that’s not the point — it’s intended to help and comfort teachers without stressing them out!
Assigned Reading: Assigned to all graduate students (Lang tried to keep things interdisciplinary). Check it out from the library if you want, borrow it, skim it, and feel free to say, “Eh, this isn’t for me, I already know this stuff.” But at least give it a try.
Which resources helped you in your first teaching position? If you’ve never taught, which resources helped you as a student?
Title: The Panem Companion
Author: V. Arrow
Publisher/Year: Smart Pop, 2012
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
If you’ve read The Girl Who Was On Fire, then you have a pretty good idea of what this book is. The Panem Companion is a series of essays on the popular Hunger Games series. While The Girl Who Was On Fire was a collection written by various YA authors on different topics, The Panem Companion is written by a single author. V. Arrow dives in to explore the depths of Suzanne Collins’ world, analyzing everything from the geography of Panem to gender roles in the series. There’s even a very detailed etymology of every name from the series at the end.
The major flaw of this book is that I feel it tries to work an in-depth analysis around very little substance. Some of the essays felt a little forced, almost like student essays. The book gives very little information on certain topics for good reason — the topics are mentioned in passing, and aren’t crucial to the plot. To write a whole book analyzing these points means making a lot of assumptions and over analyzing a lot of minor plot points.
That being said…it’s also fun. I’ll take the over analyzing with a grain of tasty, tasty salt. The point of this book is to think critically about the series, to ponder some of the hidden points of the plot. To read between Suzanne Collins’ lines (whoa. that sounds like a pick up line). Some of the chapters are better than others, so this would be best enjoyed by reading the sections that interest you. I think any reader could find some of Arrow’s points quite interesting. It may even inspire a re-read of the series.
FINAL GRADE: C Not a life-changer, but definitely a neat read. It does have some flaws. And I did have to force myself to keep reading in some of the less interesting chapters. However, I love what Smart Pop is doing with these types of books that take a deeper look at some of my favorite series (next up is a book about Ender’s Game!).
Required reading: Required for fans of The Hunger Games or The Girl Who Was On Fire. Also required for any teacher who uses The Hunger Games in the classroom — you will probably find some essays/info in here that will help in teaching various aspects of the novel.
Library Recommendations: A definitely buy for both middle school and high school libraries, since kids will definitely want to check this out. Even if they don’t read it like an adult might, they will enjoy the map of Panem. Consider buying a copy for your professional collection if any teachers use the novel in the classroom.
Do you enjoy reading books about books?
This being the last week of the semester, it’s a miracle I’m even reading anything at all. But I am able to sneak in some moments, especially with my beloved audio books. Here’s what I’m reading, albeit in small doses, this week:
You Got to Be Kidding: A Cultural Arsonists Literal Reading of the Bible by Joe Wenke
Adult non-fiction e-book. I’m reading this one before bed. Basically the guy reads the Bible and writes what happens, in comedic form. I’m enjoying his “WTF?” tellings of traditional Bible stories, but it does make me want to read the corresponding passages. When read like this, the Bible does seem to have some weird stories in it.
The Holders by Julianna Scott
YA Fantasy. I’m reading this one at the breakfast table. It’s like Harry Potter/Percy Jackson/X-Men, etc. A boarding school for teens who have recently discovered their powers. I’m particularly interested in the main character’s rejection of female tropes, so I’m hoping this one does some interesting things.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks
YA realistic fiction, graphic novel, e-book. I’m reading this one on my iPad between classes (it’s a graphic novel, so it shouldn’t take too long to finish). How did I just now notice that the authors are named Prudence and Faith? That’s kind of awesome.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Adult classic, e-book/audiobook hybrid via WhisperSync. Reading this for two reasons. 1. I’m determined to read the five classics I challenged myself to read in 2012. This will be #3. and 2. I pledge to read the book before I see the movie, and I want to see the movie.
What are you reading this week? Are you also reading any books in preparation for any of the big book-based movies coming out over the holidays?
The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — But Some Don’t
by Nate Silver
Audiobook from Audible.com
[#63 in my 75 book challenge]
With the 2012 election season in full swing, I decided it was time to read Nate Silver’s little book about predictions. I finished the book on November 1, just in time to have his ideas rattling around in my head while reading election polls in the days before the big election day. Apparently this Nate guy is a prediction guru and he’s quite trusted in these matters.
At over 500 pages, this is a pretty hefty work of non-fiction. Silver covers everything from the housing bubble and 9/11 to Vegas gambling and sports betting. He can get a little wordy, going very in-depth to each idea, but his thoroughness is part of his process. Silver argues that too many people make overconfident predictions, while his are more calculated and offer probabilites rather than outright “this or that” predictions. It’s more of a tortoise and the hare type situation, which is why I forgive him for his book being moderately long-winded at points.
He’s not boring — never boring — but do beware that is a fifteen hour listen. I enjoyed the audio format such a long book, and I recommend the audio for anyone who likes non-fiction in that format. I learned a lot of tidbits about the housing bubble, Bayes theorem of probability, and weather forecasting that I might even drop in casual conversation. Of course, his insight on the 2008 election polls was the most fascinating. You can check out his popular FiveThirtyEight blog for the New York Times to see what he’s said about the 2012 elections. I’m writing this at 4pm on November 6 (election day), and he’s predicted Obama to win the election tonight.
FINAL GRADE: C Y’all know I love pop non-fiction, and I enjoyed this book. It gets a C for being steady and well-researched and for entertaining me on the bus in the morning. I recommend it to fans of politics and good non-fiction. This is solid adult non-fiction, so I wouldn’t put the book in a middle school library, but I can imagine some high school students finding the information interesting. This read brings me up to nine out of ten books for my personal adult non-fiction challenge in 2012, which means I’m doing better on that challenge than I am on any of my others! Now I just need to read thirteen YA novels by December 31st…
Which adult non-fiction books would recommend I try next? Have you heard of Nate Silver, and did you consult his predictions for the 2012 election?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week I’m looking at non-fiction, since it can actually be a fun little “genre” of its own. I’ll spare you the intense, dense, well-researched, theoretical texts I’m loving in my doctoral program, and instead I’ll focus on the more accessible popular non-fiction titles that I’ve enjoyed over the years:
Top Ten Authors in the Pop-Nonfiction Genre
[learn ALL THE THINGS]
1.) Malcolm Gladwell – Author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. Gladwell’s book are hard to describe — they are about thinking, trends, patterns, and society. A lot of folks are critical of his work, since it is more “science-light,” or “research-light,” but I enjoyed them for their fascinating stories and thought-provoking ideas. Take it all with a grain of salt, though.
2.) Alexandra Robbins– Author of Pledge: The Secret Life of Sororities, Overachievers: The Secret Life of Driven Kids, Quarterlife Crisis, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, and Secrets of the Tomb. I’m personally drawn to her books because they are usually about school or the social aspects of schooling.
3.) Bill Bryson – Author of A Walk In the Woods, A Short History of Nearly Everything, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, and other travel memoirs. Bryson is hilarious! A Walk in the Woods is his account of hiking the whole Appalachian Trail, and the rest are usually about various continents/historical/linguistic pursuits. His books give both a beginners history of the topic and his own hilarious misadventures encountering them.
4.) Jon Krakaur – Author of Into the Wild and Into Thin Air. Books about mountains, essentially. Venturing to cold, unforgiving mountains. Somehow I like reading about such things. I guess real-life survival tales make me appreciate my safe little house.
5.) AJ Jacobs – Author of A Year of Living Biblically, Drop Dead Healthy, and The Know-It-All. Jacobs likes to take an extreme task (following every rule in the bible, following all the crazy health food trends, and reading the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica) and do them for a year, with a dash of humor.
6.) Lady Commedians – Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life, and other books by funny ladies. I’ve grouped them all together because I’ve only read one book by each. Basically good for a good laugh and seeing what it is like to work on TV.
7.) David Sedaris – Author of Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Children in Corduroy and Denim, and Naked. Sedaris writes humorous memoir essays, and he does it well. These as best read as audio books, since Sedaris does the reading himself.
8.) Barbara Ehrenreich – Author of Nicked and Dimed and Bait and Switch. In the former, she takes a job at Wal-Mart and shows how impossible it is to live on minimum wage. In the latter, she poses as an unemployed white-collar worker, showing how hard it is to play the game of job hunting. I like books where people go undercover.
9.) Al Franken – Author of The Truth (With Jokes), Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, and Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot. Franken writes about liberal politics, but he’s funny. He basically spends much of his books hating on Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and the Republican Party. However, he’s a smart dude (he’s a senator in Minnesota!) and he makes good arguments. I did balance him out by reading Coulter’s books, but I can’t put them on this list for obvious reasons (I don’t agree with a damn thing she says).
10.) Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner – Authors of Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics. Economics light for people who aren’t really interested in economics. The books are interesting, made me think, and I enjoy the podcasts. Don’t take it as hard science, just pop science, and you’ll be entertained.
11.) Linda Perlstein – Author of Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade and Not Much, Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers. These books were important ones that I read early in my teaching career. The former is critical of No Child Left Behind movement and how it affects actual teacher in real classrooms, and the latter follows middle school kids around to show what they deal with each day (because we often forget). Two of my favorites, personally and professionally.
Which of these have you read? How do you feel about pop non-fiction? Does it introduce the public to interesting knowledge or water down/sensationalize the real facts?
The Drama Years
by Haley Kilpatrick
Narrated by Hannah Rose Mate
Post-Hypnotic Press, 2012
6 hours, 39 minutes
Audiobook for review from publisher
[#59 in my 75 book challenge]
The Drama Years is a guide for parents about raising healthy, happy tweens and teens. The author, Haley Kilpatrick, gives advice from her experience working with Girl Talk, an organization she started in high school. In Girl Talk, high school girls mentor middle school girls by offering advice about how to navigate friends, school, and family. Kilpatrick’s own experiences in middle school, where an older friend in a dance class was her mentor, inspired the club. Now there are many Girl Talk groups across the country. Kilpatrick’s advice comes from her experiences as a tween, her experiences with Girl Talk, and insight from girls in their own words.
Okay. I’ll start with the good stuff. If you are a parent of a tween or teen, this book is probably a good read. Think of it as advice from some one who spends a lot of time listening to tweens talk about their own lives. Kilpatrick does not have kids of her own, so she is able to straddle that objective fence between understanding the needs of kids and the frustrations of the adults in their lives. She offers “Three Takeaways to Downplay the Drama” (find a surrogate older sister, join an activity, and volunteer), and reinforces these throughout her look at various issues tween and teens face in growing up. Chapters cover everything, including helping tweens navigate friendships, the need to own name brands, family drama, and more serious dramas. I thought the chapter on name brands in particular was useful and well-written. Reading this book would be a good way to understand some of what tween daughters are going through, and offers commonsense, practical advice.
On the other hand, the doctoral student in me was a little critical of the book. Kilpatrick’s entire premise was anecdotal — there is very little research involved in the claims she makes. Her advice comes from running a mentorship club in local middle schools. Moreover, Kilpatrick is not a parent. Though this can be seen as a positive (see above), I found myself wondering what she’ll say a few years down the road when she has kids of her own. I can see parents having a hard time taking her advice because she lacks the “street cred” of navigating tween relationships in her own home.
About the audio book: The audio book was a good listen in the car, but the narrator (Hannah Rose Mate) drove me nuts. Her style of narration was extremely distracting. It felt like she was over over-ennouncating each word. It also felt lke she was trying too hard to put an auditory smile at the end of each sentence. This was most annoying when she was reading the quotes given by girls — I’m guessing she was trying to sound like a teenage girl, but it just sounded weird.
FINAL GRADE: C This book isn’t going to give you bad advice. If you are a parent struggling with how raise your tween, it’s probably going to give you good advice. I probably would have bought it for the parents resource center at my school, since the writing is accessible and practical for busy parents. It’s pretty clear that I read it with the wrong mindset (I’m looking pretty seriously at studying gender issues in education, specifically the middle grades, for my Ph.D), so I was a little disappointed by the lack of more scholarly content.
Do you remember your own tween years? What advice do you wish your parents had been given? Do you have tweens of your own? What advice do you have/need?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we are looking at books that made us THINK. Maybe they we real “intellectual” of very dense books, maybe the opened our eyes to new ideas, or maybe they made us question what we knew. Some are non-fiction books read for the explicit purpose of thinking, and others are fiction that ended in unintended thinking.
Top Ten Books That Made Me THINK
[rub those brain cells together!]
1.) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Ohhh, Russian authors. So dense and so intense. I read this in my senior AP English class, and I remember spending a lot of time on each page. I got it — I really got it — but I remember thinking it was extremely dense and slow going. Dostoyevsky changed the way I read fiction.
2.) Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds by Scott Berkun – I especially loved the essay on “The Cult of Busy” in this collection about being a more productive, and efficient, human being. It really made me consider how I run my own life.
3.) The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling – Mostly I was thinking about what would happen next. I spend a lot of time before the release of each new book analyzing what we already knew and predicting where Rowling would take the story. Probably a little too much time, but I enjoyed that golden time when we didn’t know how the story would end.
4.) The Giver by Lois Lowry – It’s the first book I remember really thinking about as a kid. I think I wore my sixth grade teacher out by drawing all of the connections I did…she wasn’t really prepared to teach us about totalitarian governments.
5.) An Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose – I know, I know…I talk about this book constantly! But this really made me think about diversity and respect/understanding for other people who aren’t like us. Liberal folk like this as an ideal, but sometimes we forget to apply that to the conservative, religious folks on the right. I think about Roose every time I consider de-friending my conservative friends on Facebook.
6.) The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – These sort of “pop-non-fiction” books are not always the greatest source of knowledge, but The Tipping Point did make me think critically about how trends are started. Even more than than, it fueled my curiosity to know why some things happen.
7.) Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner – I read this one at the same time as The Tipping Point, and they made me think in similar ways. Freakonomics taught me about the bigger picture of economics: that people respond to incentives. It’s why people don’t always do what you think they’ll do, and why people’s actions sometimes have interesting origins and explanations. I’m still a faithful listener of the Freakonomics podcast from NPR.
8.) When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – For the first 90% of the book, I was thinking real hard about where the story was going. The final 10% had me thinking about how it went the way it went and gasping in surprise at the author’s brilliant storytelling.
9.) Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons – I had to read this for my intro-level women’s studies course in college, and I think it really hit home as a teenage girl and a future educator. It made me realize that female aggression is a big problem, even if no physical violence takes place. I think about it constantly when working with tween and teen girls.
…and I can’t think of a 10th book that stands out in my mind, so I guess we’re capping this week’s list at 9 books!
Which books made you think? Have you read any of these?