So I haven’t posted on this blog in over a year. Like practically every other human being on the planet, I have found this year with its politics and pandemics to be some of the most stressful in my life. You would think that books would be a welcome solace, but as my meager list below demonstrates, I have found it a struggle to read. Instead I have been spending my time at work (which is also technically at home), raising my children, and when those few precious moments of free time arise playing video games, watching streaming shows, listening to music. and also mindlessly scrolling the internet, the ultimate time waster, and probably an activity that only added to my stress. As part of my job as a librarian and teacher I received a tremendous amount of professional development to learn how to teach virtually and I also had to develop new lessons around an entirely new school library curriculum, which now includes things like basic computer science and coding. So now for the list of books I read this year:
- A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
- The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution by James Hannam
- The Poems of Marianne Moore
- Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
- Bob by Wendy Mass
- The Collected Poems by Theodore Roethke
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
- Smile by Raoma Telgemeier
- The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge by Tom Nichols
I am not going to comment on every single book. I didn’t take notes.
A Confederacy of Dunce was probably my favorite fiction book. It featured a motley cast of various colorful individuals in New Orleans. Ignatius J. Reilly is one of the most memorable characters in literature, as memorable as he is absurd. He is a man-child without a job living with his mom who thinks the Catholic Church has gone soft and instead of getting a job continues to work on a book about the evils and corruption of modern society full of quotes from various medieval theologians and philosophers. He attends modern cinema only to yell and criticize at the abhorrent morals in the film. Eventually his mother forces him to get a job with predictable results as he causes chaos wherever he goes, fomenting a secret rebellion among black workers at a factory, trying to begin a revolution among homosexuals in his attempt to end all wars, and even becoming a hot dog vendor at one point where he eats more hot dogs than he sells. He constantly convinces his employers of a variety of schemes to make improvements, only for things to go sour, which usually leads him to blame everyone else for the problems he caused in the first place. Besides his mother pushing him to get a job, the reason he hatches these schemes is to get back at Myrna Minkoff, his liberalized intellectual counterpart from his college days, who thinks all the world’s problems stem around their lack of sexual freedom. She spends her time psycho-analyzing Ignatius and insisting if he just had a sexual release he would feel a lot better spiritually and mentally. They continue a correspondence with each about their intellectual activities and accomplishments as part of their love-hate on-again off-again relationship.
The best nonfiction book I read this year was probably the Death of Expertise. Nichols explains the many factors that have led to the current state we are in where people don’t trust experts or often think their opinions are just as good as an expert’s informed view. Some of the factors exacerbating these problems are: there are more people in college than ever, but also lower standards than ever, grade inflation, and little actual learning among many college students who care more about social life and community at their universities than scholarship, the rise of news as entertainment as opposed to just reporting the news, the ability to google everything without having to know anything, and general bias and echo chambers of opinions found everywhere these days. Given this year of fake news, political controversies, and people struggling to determine what is true or legitimate in the first place, I feel like my job as librarian in which I teach some of these very skills is more important than ever.