Thursday, November 16, 2017

Misbehaving - Richard Thaler

It's only natural that I continue my tour of duty through the fundamentals of behavioral economics.  I paused for a bit of nonfiction; this one was a bit of a bear to get through in the midst of teaching.  It's easier to get into flow with nonfiction on holiday, but nonetheless, I tried my best to get into this one over the past couple of weeks. 

That makes it sound like it was a chore.  Sorry, but that wasn't the case at all.  Richard Thaler is the most recent recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics for his contributions to the field (quite literally, his work in helping to create the field) of behavioral economics.  Although I've now read more on this subject than is probably average, I am not a trained economist, of course, which is why I can appreciate the presentation of these books for people like me without a formal background in the topic.  Distilled, behavioral economics is a repudiation of much of the core of classical economics: that humans behave rationally and make good choices according to opportunities and costs in light of scarce resources.  That makes up the backbone of the portion of economics that is required for a high school diploma here in SC.  What if one of those premises, that humans behave rationally, is flawed?

For those of us in education, the idea that humans behaving rationally is not always accurate isn't exactly front-page news.  In economics, this is apparently heresy.  For the past 40 years, Thaler has worked to carve out a career in pushing back on some of the stodgy old gatekeepers to the field of classical economics, particularly those at the University of Chicago.  In this book, Thaler tracks his career path, from listing and brainstorming about "anomalies" on his office whiteboard to rubbing elbows with the UK Prime Minister and everything in between.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

As an English teacher, a former English major, and someone that owns a tweed blazer, I'm supposed to have a disdain for "popular literature."  If you come to me talking about Nicholas Sparks, I'm supposed to smile politely and quote some obscure passage from Henry IV, Part One, or something.  That's only slightly hyperbolic; Falstaff is a great character!

That said, I had my reservations about this book, because it was so popular and quickly made into a film, and the literary snob inside of me said that it probably wasn't good.  Then, I needed to read something spooky as part of October book club, and this was on the list.  Why not?

If you're born with a name like Ransom Riggs, you're going to write this type of fiction, I think.  Alliterative names like that don't write romance novels.  What's grown out of this story is equal parts novel and equal parts familiar.  Let me catch you up, if you're one of the few people who haven't yet read this one.  Jacob is a young man with a vivid imagination.  He's kind of a quirky outcast, but he's got a thriving relationship with his grandfather, who filled his childhood brain with all kinds of stories about his time as an orphan during WWII.  As Jacob has grown up, the stories were dismissed as fairy tales, but after his grandfather's mysterious death, Jacob's psychiatrist recommends a trip with his father to the Welsh countryside to reconnect with his family history. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahame-Smith

This book has one of the best hooks of any novels I've read in a while.  It has sat untouched on my shelf for a few years, ignored.  The other day I, for reasons unknown, took it down to read it.  I guess I was feeling like reading something spooky in true October fashion.  This book was that, but so much more.

Do you think you know the story of Abraham Lincoln?  Mr. Grahame-Smith is counting on the fact that you do.  You probably know about his epitaph of being honest.  You probably know about his self-education.  You probably know about his debates with Stephen Douglas.  Thanks to the recent biopic film, you might even know about the machinations behind the controversial passing of the Thirteenth Amendment.  But do you know the "real" story?

Let's call this book "parahistory," a term destined to give my spell-check fits.  It's historically-based, with many of the facts undisputed.  Yet, this isn't strictly historical fiction.  And it's not strictly a ghost story either.  This book is a uniquely-written account about one of the most famous humans to have ever lived, essentially claiming that as good as he was with words, he might have been even better with an axe.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Those That Wake - Jesse Karp

I found a hardback copy of this novel in almost pristine condition at a thrift store.  $1 later and it was mine, to sit on my shelf for a little while and become part of my "To Read Next" section, which, thankfully, is progressing a little.  This book looked ambitious by all accounts.  I could tell it had a dystopian flair to it, and pretty early on it seemed like it had a more aggressive bend to it.  Let me explain: the book is set in Manhattan and the surrounding area, and according to some exposition between the characters pretty early on, the city had barely recovered from the effects of 9/11 before something known as "The Big Black" really destroyed the heart and soul of the city.  New Yorkers even apparently constructed some sort of barrier over lower Manhattan to keep out the effects of whatever was involved with The Big Black.  The story doesn't really explain all the details, to be honest.

The psychology of dystopia is always the most interesting part of a novel in that genre, at least in my opinion, because it underscores the reasonings why humans would behave how they do.  If you don't believe in the President of Panem in the Hunger Games series and his motivations, the entire system of the novels collapses.  This system of dystopia seems even more ambitious.  Something has affected the minds of thousands of people in New York, and this novel follows four main characters (two adults and two teens) who are struggling to figure out what's happening.

The teens are tipped off to something weird being afoot when both of them are greeted with the harsh realities that their families and those who know them (or should know them) best have suddenly forgotten their existence. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

United We Stand - Eric Walters

Many of my students have just finished reading The Odyssey, the story of a long journey that thankfully gets happy at the end.  Over the summer, I had my own odyssey: the search for a book about a subject that many young adult authors seemed to avoid for a while, 9/11.

After searching for a while and finding a few choices that weren't exactly right, I found myself sitting on a rock staring at the ocean, longing for my family.  No, sorry, wrong odyssey.  Mine ended with getting on Amazon and ordering a book by an author I already knew: Eric Walters.  Mr. Walters wrote the dystopian novel The Rule of Three that Mr. Padgett recommended to me and we ended up incorporating into our classroom studies.  Mr. Walters' book We All Fall Down chronicles the story of Will over two days of his freshman year in high school: 9/10/01 and 9/11/01.  On Monday, we see him interacting with his friends in class and checking out the ladies.  On Tuesday, we see him living through a very personal hell on job-shadowing day at his father's office, located on the 85th floor of the World Trade Center.

The story ends near the end of 9/11, but for those of us who lived through it, we know that many of the stories that are so powerful about the tragedy occurred after the towers fell.  Mr. Walters seems aware of this, which is why United We Stand picks up the morning after, on 9/12.

While the first book is a story of action: climbing down stairs, avoiding chaos, etc., the sequel is a story of grief.  Although it's told from the same perspective: 15-year-old Will, the tone is much different.