Battlepanda: Freakonomics update and the confessions of a recoverinig bookaholic


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Freakonomics update and the confessions of a recoverinig bookaholic

Finally, I got my hands on a copy of Freakonomics, gratis, via the marvel that is my local library. After weeks of anticipation, of obsessively logging on to the library website, of wondering in annoyance why, if the book is already at the library, it's taking so long to process (I guess they have to put the plastic dust jacket on and barcode it before it can go in the system). I devoured it in a few hours, and realized that it was so good I'm going to have to buy a copy anyhow to give to my sister, who is a econ major at BU, along with the mind-blowingly excellent Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan.

While I'm in the book-recommending kind of mood, I have to mention American Exceptionalism: a double-edged sword by Seymour Martin Lipset. Matt Yglesias mentioned it approvingly in several of his posts (yes, I am all too malleable) and a couple of weeks after placing an interlibrary loan order for it, it arrived at my local library. That was about a month ago, and I'm still not quite done with it, even though I'm usually quite a fast reader. The way Lipset writes is quite dry and sociological, packed with statistics and neutral statements. There is little of the gripping narrative drive of a William Greider pageturner, for instance. So why am I recommending it? Because it's damned good, that's why. Because of the prose is so dense, I can only read a few pages at a time, usually accompanied by fidgeting. But by the end of those few pages I can usually be found jumping up and down at a piece of brilliant, insightful, argument Lipset constructed out of individually bloodless paragraphs much as a pointillist constructs a picture out of blobs of paint. Then I get over it and it's back to the yawns and the fidgets.

Observant readers would note a heavy reliance on the library system by me. I am a recovering bookaholic. I don't mean that I necessarily read more than anybody else, but I used to buy books the way some women buy clothes. Going to the bookstore was a social activity, a soothing and de-stressing experience. I bring home whatever books strike my fancy that day, often without reading more than the blurb and a couple of random pages. If I ended up liking the book, I'd read it and then put it on the shelf. If I ended up not liking the book, it ended up on the shelf unread. Soon I amassed a formidable collection of books, most of which I would never read again. What a crazy system! It wasn't until I decided to move to North Carolina and started liquidating 80% of what was on my bookshelves that I started to wise up. I started going to the library instead of the bookstore. I realized that even new books can be gotten with a little bit of patience, and their selection is vaster than any bookstore could be, especially if you take into account the interlibrary loan system. Now, I read the book first, decide if it's an worthy edition, then I buy it if I truly cannot live without it. My bookshelves no longer sag under the weight, and I estimate that I'm probably saving at least $20 a month.