Thursday, April 26, 2007

Because fried potatoes go with everything.

Becky's Book Reviews led me to the Grasping for the Wind blog and this seductive challenge: to read "5 books you think will challenge your thinking about any topic." My first thought was to reach for a book by Ann Coulter, but then I realized that, if properly taken up, the challenge is subtler than that. After all, I don't think reading a book by Coulter would seriously challenge my thinking, and it would be only lip service to equal time. So what will it be? What book could make me seriously consider the arguments for atheism, creationism, the death penalty? Which one could talk me out of my aversion to Westerns? What would convince me to believe in astrology? Who could make marine biology interesting? That Stephen King is not a hack? That hamantashen are better than latkes?

19 comments:

Andy Laties said...

I can't read anything by Buckminster Fuller without wanting to scribble frantically in the margins.

philotheus said...

TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis. Yep - the very one that was made into a John Wayne movie. It would be hard to exaggerate how generally unattracted I am to the idea of 'westerns' - and I've enjoyed this book over and over. I cannot resist pushing it to people who would otherwise see the title and flee. It is truly great and hilarious.

Kelly said...

"Lisey's Song" and "On Writing" should convince you Stephen King is not a hack. I think his short stories are pretty darn good as well.

Believe it or not, I'd be too afraid to post about which books would challenge me.

P.S. Nothing would be able to convince me of the justice of the death penalty either. (Or creationism, for that matter. My daughter just lost a friend to the ol' evolution debate. And she's 11.)

llemma said...

I suppose this only works if you care passionately about teaching, but books by Alfie Kohn on the one extreme and, I don't know, Ron Clark on the other challenge me to work out my dissent because they both care so deeply about their students and they're both so obviously effective.

As for Stephen King, the middle section of his otherwise-mediocre Hearts In Atlantis is a tightly constructed being-young-and-American-in-the-sixties novella, with no oogy monsters in it, if that sort of thing turns you off instantly, which it does me. (My other works in this category are Philip Roth's American Pastoral and a short story by Dave Barry about an internet romance: Books that made me go "Eesh, if you're capable of doing this, there must be some reason why instead you choose to do that."

llemma said...

My favorite religious works don't challenge my atheism, exactly -- I don't think they'd be presumptuous enough to try -- but they let me glimpse what it might be like to believe. Maybe even envy it a little. Marilynne Robinson and Anne Lammott (sp?) are good for that.

Katie said...

For a book that touches briefly on any number of topics (and actually has a really good piece on atheism, for example) try "This I Believe". It's a collection of some of the best essays from the NPR show of the same name with a few essays included from when the show started in the 1950s as well as about 80 from the current run. None are longer than maybe four pages long and every one is worth reading. It's a fantastic book. I highly recommend it.

sdn said...

i think latkes and hamentaschen are both good. they are just different. maybe there should be some sort of eternal stuffed triangle: the knish, hamentaschen, and kreplach.

OR said...

For a book that makes marine biology fun, try Lady with a Spear by Eugenie Clark. Fascinating stuff.

Anonymous said...

Books that have challenged my thinking in the last few years tend to be in-depth critical looks at mainstream ideas I haven't necessarily considered deeply: The Skeptical Environmentalist, for example, or The Obesity Myth. If there are things you tend to accept but, on reflection, you realize you have gotten all your information about it from the mainstream media, or that it's just something "everybody knows," it might be fruitful to do some reading on those subjects.

rindawriter said...

I've been gobbling up every new book, boring or not, on the European invasion of the Americas I can find since I read

Guns, Germs, and Steel: By Jared Diamond which will shake you up if you thought the Puritans and others of like ilk actually came over here and DID something super spectactularly unusual...

I actually secretly do not hate all chick litty books either...not after reading Georgia Nicholson...

I don't think I'll ever find a book to convince me about anything good about that war in Irag, though. Sorry.

smoakes said...

I don't know if it will challenge YOUR thinking, but when I read Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan it challenged my thinking on so many, many things: superstition, healing, faith, mediums, astrology and tarot, alien abduction, alien life, belief and skepticism, the importance of science literacy in and out of schools, and lots of other stuff (I was not at all skeptical about ANYTHING before I read it).
It also was my first small step towards atheism, although Richard Dawkin's Blind Watchmaker had a lot more to do with that.

jules said...

Hmm, a book that challenges what I believe. Agnostics get kinda screwed here.

(Note to self: Find something to believe in . . . Pick a religious leader and settle already)

John Ottinger said...

Thanks for checking out my challenge. I hope you will join up and try to meet the goal. I think we will all learn a lot from moving away from patting ourselves on the back to trying to understand different views and lives.

Kelly said...

Okay, since Jules is so brave, I'll mention the topic that would challenge me: books that could convince me there is anything beyond the material world. (Oh, and I have read the Bible.)

rindawriter said...

To encounter much bigger challenges than even books can give to all, I most highly recommend living in another culture for a while...

I recently met a retired couple; he'd been in the Air Force in Thailand during the Vietnam era; we had a blast talking over our long ago and varied experiences in that beautiful, mysterious country, but he made a comment that has stuck with me ever since about his and his wife's own short experience with living there:

"It changes everything," he said, "it changes everything."

Books can do that also but on a more limited, subtler, less invasive basis, I think.

jules said...

Kelly, The Life of Pi purports to do just that, but instead it just made me want a hug from someone, anyone. Good book, but I thought he simplified the matter.

amy said...

On Writing, the author read audio version, in particular, changed my opinion of Stephen King's work.

Stephen Pinker's The Blank Slate; The Modern Denial of Human Nature, pushed my thinking about several topics.

Anonymous said...

You obviously missed the hammentaschen at Clear Flour Bakery this year, Roger.

Kathe said...

Try Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian - it's a Western the way Flannery O'Connor is a nice Southern lady writer.