Monthly Archives: December 2012

Flight Behavior

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Collins Audio, 2012).

Read by the author in a soft Southern lilt, this is the latest novel from the author of The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible. Labeled Women’s Fiction on the box, it could also be categorized as “climate change fiction” along with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain (one of my favorite books). In Flight Behavior, Kingsolver hits both the climate change issue and the political polarization of the United States head-on. The main character is a strong young woman living in a conservative religious culture who realizes that she is smart enough to think for herself. She helps the scientist who comes to study the monarch butterflies that appear on her family’s Tennessee land, and learns what it’s like to do science on a daily basis. In struggling to explain her life to outsiders, she gains a better understanding of why her family and her community behave the way they do, and how she wants to live. In the author’s note we learn that the monarchs are still wintering in Mexico (so far), but the fictional scenario of their mistaken shift to Tennessee is not impossible with current climate trends.

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Filed under Environment, Fiction

The New Geography of Jobs

The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

This book suffers from the same sorts of overly optimistic sweeping generalizations you find in books by fellow economist Thomas Friedman. For example, Dr. Moretti argues that college educations benefit everyone (not just the graduates) financially, and claims that because of this benefit, “state and local governments pick up most of the cost of educating their residents,” which is not true. He also pushes Richard Florida’s favorite hypothesis, that cities magically produce jobs by the interaction among their densely packed population of well-educated engineers and businesspeople. I am very dubious about the idea that “creative” people talk enough with their counterparts at other companies, about their work, during their off hours to make any economic difference. News flash: they talk about sports.

However, Dr. Moretti displays more common sense and compassion than most other economics professors. He recognizes that not all workers are mobile, and that regional differences in the cost of living further discourage relocation. He suggests that part of unemployment insurance checks should be converted to vouchers that enable workers to cover the upfront costs of moving to an area with better employment opportunities. He also points out that the same lack of upfront capital prevents many from investing in a college education that could pay off handsomely in job opportunities.

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Filed under Social Science

December grab bag

NW by Zadie Smith (Penguin Group, 2012)

This new novel has been heavily promoted in the literary press, and I have no idea why. It’s terrible. A bunch of incoherent London ghetto dialogue does not make a novel.  If the author is not willing to make the effort to write complete sentences, I’m not willing to make the effort to finish the book.

Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon (Random House, 2007)

This is a collection of 3 novellas about Lord John Grey, one of the characters in the Outlander series. It has a more supernatural bent than her books, making it sort of a Halloween special.

Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era by Adam Laats (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

This academic book provides a very thorough background on fundamentalism and its relationship with public education in the 1920s. It makes the interesting point that prior to the 1920s, the content of public K-12 education and even public higher education (particularly teacher training) was controlled by Protestant fundamentalists. I had no idea that public schools throughout the South required daily Bible reading (and often prayer) during this period. After the Scopes trial, however, fundamentalist Christianity got a bad name, and American public schools became secular.

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Filed under Fantasy, Social Science, United Kingdom