A fun book meme
Eszter Hargittai has tagged me with John Cole’s book meme: Do you ever read those stuffy book lists you see circulating, like ‘List your five most important books,’ and think to yourself- no wonder these people are so damned boring. Some of the titles give me a damned headache, they are so dull. Knowing things ...
Eszter Hargittai has tagged me with John Cole's book meme:
Eszter Hargittai has tagged me with John Cole’s book meme:
Do you ever read those stuffy book lists you see circulating, like ‘List your five most important books,’ and think to yourself- no wonder these people are so damned boring. Some of the titles give me a damned headache, they are so dull. Knowing things is great, but fiction makes life bigger and better and in color. So, in the proud spirit of anti-intellectualism (just kidding), I am going to offer… the five books I liked enough as a teen/young adult to read again as an adult.
Here are my five — two of which might surprise Cole:
1) Bloom County Babylon, by Berkeley Breathed. The first time I read Bloom County was in my high school freshman physics class. I was laughing so hard that even my teacher — easily the most absent-minded and clueless instructor I ever had — appeared to be vaguely aware of my behavior. I didn’t care — Bloom County was just too funny. Opus remains one of my favorite cartoon creations. 2) Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. As a young adult, I found the notion that young children have the capacity for evil, brutality and politics to be utterly shocking. As the parent of young children, of course, I am not surprised in the least. This book is also worth re-reading because of Card’s prescience in anticipating the Internet’s role in political debate. 3) Under the Frog, by Tibor Fischer. An episodic account of life in Hungary from 1944 to 1956. Sounds grim, but it’s actually pretty funny — the chapter with the eating contest always makes me laugh. This was an essential read when I was in Ukraine. 4) Holidays in Hell, by P.J. O’Rourke. I first read this in my junior year in college, when I was studying in London for a semester. There are so many classic essays in this collection — his voyage on a Soviet cruise ship sponsored by The Nation, his ramble through a Lebanon torn apart by civil strife, his first-person account of student protests in South Korea — but the all-time classic remains his essay describing what it was like to be trapped in Europe immediately after the U.S. bombed Libya in 1986. O’Rourke, in venting his spleen at the end of that essay, managed to provide catharsis for every American who lived abroad and grew weary of defending their country of origin. O’Rourke also gets consideration for what he wrote in the preface:
I wanted to know where trouble came from and why the world was such a lousy place. I wasn?t curious about natural disasters?earthquakes, mudslides, floods, and droughts. These are nothing but the losing side of the Grand Canyon coin toss. Okay, it’s sad. Now what? I was curious about the trouble man causes himself and which he could presumably quit causing himself at the drop of a hat, or, anyway, a gun. I wanted to know why life, which ought to be an only moderately miserable thing, is such a frightful, disgusting, horrid thing for so many people in so many places.
At a primal level, O’Rourke’s rationale was certainly one reason why I got a Ph.D. in political science. 5) Summer of 49, by David Halberstam. I stumbled onto this book one summer (naturally) and was completely hooked, despite the fact that Halberstam’s Yankee bias comes through loud and clear. This book (and O’Rourke’s) also nicely refutes John Cole’s absurd claim that, “Nonfiction and history books may be good for facts, evidence, and showing relationships between people, places and events, but they in many cases tend to make the world smaller…. Fiction, on the other hand, makes the world bigger, more colorful, and more pleasant.” No, good writing and a sense of narrative makes the world more alive. I could have easily given this spot to Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, Brinkley’s Washington Goes to War, or Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition. However, Summer of 49 best conveys the sweet sadness of what it was like to be a Red Sox fan before 2004.
Readers are encouraged to list their five. I’ll tag Daniel Nexon, Megan McArdle, Tyler Cowen, Kevin Drum, and Laura McKenna.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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