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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Summer Reading Challenge

Yes, I know we're halfway through fall already, but I did read this during the summer--I'm just insanely behind on reviews.

The Reading Challenge is a challenge to expand your reading horizons by making you pick something you ordinarily wouldn't read. Which is opposed to the TBR Challenge, which is a challenge to get those overlooked books out of your TBR pile--that is, books you already own but just haven't read yet. Clear as mud?

Without further ado, the TBR Challenge for Summer '08 is to read a book that won, or was nominated for, a Quill Award. It's a fairly short list, as the award was suspended early this year. You can find a list of winners and nominees here.

I chose:

****½ The Assault On Reason by Al Gore. Nonfiction.

I absolutely loved the first half of this book. The second half made me angry and frustrated. Which is not to say I didn't agree with it, but it was very hard to read. Plus, I was looking forward to more of the intellectual exercise from the first half.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The assault on reason that Gore talks about is something I've discussed a lot with friends and family: how sound bites and sensationalism obscure and warp the truth. In fact, it's one of the reasons I'd posited for Gore himself not winning by a wide margin in 2000--his detailed and earnest statistics couldn't compete with the simplicity of "fuzzy numbers".

But he goes further than that, and provides a lot of food for thought. How because of the 24-hour news channels, things are considered "news" that wouldn't have been before, and how our view of what's important and true is skewed because of that. How a celebrity's minor misbehavior is considered more important than a scientific discovery, how a sports team's performance is considered more important that a natural disaster or a war somewhere else in the world. Etc., etc. You can come up with countless examples.

And there's quite a bit on the use of fear--including a psychological analysis of how and why fear-mongering works--that's downright chilling.

In fact, there's an indictment of the television as an information medium in general, because of its one-way communication, and because that communication is limited to those wealthy enough to use it. If you disagree with those TV "news reporters" who give their opinion along with the story (when did they start doing that?? I only noticed it last year when I'd turn the news on while making breakfast for the kids. I was shocked and completely disgusted.), you can't argue your point, and there's a natural tendency to believe you're the only one who thinks differently, since there's no give-and-take.

He does point to the internet as a positive communication tool, and that's something that gives me hope, as well.

Then the book descends into actual examples from current politics, and there it got really painful. Even allowing for partisanship, there's so much that's disturbing and hasn't been publicized or investigated--which makes his point. Because it's not on the news, people disbelieve it, or just don't know about it.

Much as I respect and admire Al Gore, The Assault on Reason did suffer from his trademark over-explaining. He did it in the 2000 presidential race; he did it in An Inconvenient Truth; he does it here. Which is only a complaint about the readability of the book, rather than the subject matter. And it's probably only frustrating to someone who's heard most of the real-world examples already.

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I didn't even know he wrote another book. I probably won't read it but enjoyed your review. There's probably nothing new for me but I'm glad he wrote it for others who are just starting to think about the mess our culture is in.
I enjoyed the theoretical, sociological part of the book better than the real-world examples because they weren't news to me. And while I'd been thinking along the same lines, he did look at things from a different angle, which kept it interesting.
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