On the Pile
* Charm City by Laura Lippman. One of my pet peeves with mystery novels is the undeserved ending---when the author throws in a twist ending that has no relation to the rest of the novel: no foreshadowing, no buried clues, no thread to follow back through the story. An ending that makes the reader go, "What?!" rather than "Ooooh." Lippman rather precariously walks that line between "Ooooh" and "What?!" The clues are there, and the heroine helpfully traces the thread back through the plot---usually just before she gets her ass kicked by the bad guy. But the convolutions required to trace that thread can induce more groans than "ahas." That said, Lippman does what I want a mystery writer to do: gradually builds the suspense and pace of the story until I can't put the book down and then gives me an ending that is both surprising and satisfying. In this case, however, Lippman succeeds more with the B-story than the main story, and I was more interested in the origins of the various elements of Tess Monaghan's life that show up in later books than in the central mystery of this book. Worth reading if you enjoy Lippman's more recent work and want to get the background, but I wouldn't recommend it as a stand-alone read.
* Consuming Passions by Judith Williamson. Well, I sort of finished this one . . . if by "finished" you mean that I read the introduction and conclusion and then skimmed enough of the content to decide that it wouldn't be particularly useful for my prelims. Williamson uses a textual analysis approach to examine how media package "passion"---both as sex and as individual desires---for mass consumption. Yet despite her early attempts to take a broad definition of "passion," Williamson focuses on passion in terms of the sexualized female as consumer and, more often, object of consumption. Williamson also claims to approach the media-as-texts from the consumer's point of view, but she then inserts herself as the sole point of view, failing to see that she's recreating the same problematic as the media: an essentialized idea of the "female" experience. In general, I thought her analyses were superficial and overdetermined. But I'll give her the benefit of time---perhaps her analyses were more provocative and original when the book was published more than 20 years ago.
* The Social Construction of Reality by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann
* The End of Overeating by David Kessler
* Teaching First-Year College Students by Bette Erickson, Calvin Peters, and Diane Strommer. My initial impression is that this book is a good overview for someone who has no background in pedagogy or education theory. The first third of the book reviews theories of learning styles and cognitive development. So far, however, the conversation is largely theoretical; the authors haven't given much practical advice for how to structure a class to address these concerns. They keep promising that practical advice, though, so I'll remain cautiously optimistic. I'm also a bit turned off by the authors' attitude that everyone but the student is responsible for the student's learning. In the introduction, the authors' blame student failure on high school teachers, college professors, the education system as a whole . . . but they have yet to acknowledge that part of the college experience is transitioning into adulthood, which includes taking responsibility for one's own goals, decisions, actions, and outcomes.
* Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. I am loving---LOVING---this novel. O'Neill writes in a nice cantor that moves the story along at a pleasant pace despite the narrator's propensity toward long ruminations on his marriage, his relationship with his mother, his depression, post-9/11 NYC, and the game of cricket.
* Understanding Contemporary Africa, edited by April and Donald Gordon. So far, a decent primer on the history and major issues of Africa. And I'm mildly reassured by the familiarity of the material; maybe I'm not completely unqualified to be the TA for an Africa survey class.
In addition to the books remaining from last week . . .
* Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I've read many, many positive reviews of this book, so I'm fully prepared to be disappointed.
* The Spirit of Development by Erica Bornstein and Tensions of Empire, edited by Frederick Cooper and Ann Stoler. Both for prelims.
Added to the Pile
* American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
* The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. Because I promised Charitie that I would read this.
* Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. I'm 177 out of 184 on the library request list.
* The Scenic Route by Binnie Kirshenbaum
* Fairy Tales: A New History by Ruth Bottigheimer
* Red Riding Hood for All Ages by Sandra Beckett
* Ethnicity, Inc. by John and Jean Comaroff