Yeah, I know I'm supposed to post from month to month. I'm a teacher. Sue me. :)
This should cover the entire semester from September to the end of December:
The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisionment in North Korea by Charles Robert Jenkins
Jenkins produces a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day workings of the North Korean government, especially in terms of the lives of "average" citizens. He writes in an engaging, down-to-earth style that makes for fast reading while still answering all of the questions that the average reader would want to know about why an American soldier would cross the DMZ one day and what his life would be like as a result. It's an engrossing story that's very much worth your time.
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Now, don't get me wrong...this is not a bad book at all. I was actually referred Hale's book by a friend, and only found out that it was "teen fiction" once it showed up at the hold desk at the library. And I, make no mistake, am not a teen. I still gave it a chance, though, and found it a very enjoyable but still predictable story about a teen girl locked in a tower with her royal lady. Hale writes with an informal, breezy style that make it easy to relate to the title character and to root for her success. But the ending was very predictable and at no time did I really wonder what was going to happen in the end. Still, it's an enjoyable read for what it is. I don't regret my time with it, and I don't think you will, either. My struggles with this book are pretty typical for me: I kept looking for some sort of "big picture" meaning or moral or theology or something, and never found one. This frustrated me a lot, but I think that's a "me" problem rather than a book problem. :)
The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan
Kagan has produced a short but very informative summary of the changes in the world's political structures in the past twenty years. Rather than "the end of history" where struggles between countries would melt into a multinational cooperative of combined economies and social structures, the rise of autocracies in China, Russia, and other smaller countries is proving that today is much like yesterday. However, Kagan also provides excellent on the United States' role in such a world. His conclusions are both well-founded and apt, and thus this short but deep read is worth your time as a primer of what may be to come.
Bob Plager's Tales From the Blues Bench by Bob Plager
Plager produces here a short but entertaining read on the life and times of a modern NHL club from its inception in the late 1960s to today's front-office dealings. He's not only a good story-teller, but a great human being who's still involved in the Blues organization, and his stories do a great job of illustrating the changes the sports went through in the past fifty years when they began as part-time recreation to become Big Business (TM). Highly recommended.
Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea
Shea produces here a very entertaining and enlightening glance at both a dictionary that is so large that many homes don't have a shelf that can hold it all as well as a glimpse into the madness of someone crazy enough to want to read such a book. Sure, you'll learn a few new words and laugh at a lot of words that you didn't know existed, but at the same time you see the workings of a human being who's excited by an activity which many would consider the definition of "boring". The author injects the dictionary with personality and intrigue, and it makes for a very good, quick read. Absolutely worth your time. Probably the best book I read this season.
Bloody Confused! A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer by Chuck Culpepper
Culpepper's aim in this text is to convince people who don't know anything about the world of international soccer that it's a great product, and worthy of an American's time. The problem is, unfortunately, that he skips from "soccer know-nothing" to the worst kind of American soccer fan--the pretentious, condescending know-all who is fully convinced that other countries play soccer because it is everything true and right while the Yanks represent everything stupid and wrong. And that's the text that Culpepper writes here--he misses no opportunity to tell you how enlightened he is and how stupid you and everyone else is who doesn't agree with him, and this attitude completely overshadows the good stuff that's hidden here. He takes "the beautiful game" and makes it as attractive as two political pundits throwing mud at each other on Sunday morning television. The author comes across as completely unlikeable, and he makes sure that you know how smart he thinks he is at every opportunity. Unfortunately, this approach doesn't make for much of a book. This is, by far, the worst soccer book I've ever read (and Jamie Trecker, the author of the last worst-ever book, probably thanks him for it), and by no means should you spend a red cent on it. There are so many good options out there in soccer books that this one isn't worth it. Worst book of the year for me, hands down.
America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It by Mark Steyn
Whether you like the author or not (I do), and whether you dislike his dry wit or not (I'm all about it), you're going to have a hard time disagreeing with his main point: much of what will be decided in the world in terms of Islam has already been decided by birth rate. Many countries aren't producing enough babies to replace themselves, and they need immigrants in order to pay for their lavish social programs. Those immigrants, especially in Europe, are (a) most often Muslim, and (b) often very uninterested in doing anything other than recreating their respective countries in their god's image. That being said, Steyn is able to tell this story with ample statistical and parenthetical examples of his claims along with the ability to predict the future by simply observing the present. It's a thought-provoking read, and it's certainly one worth considering.
The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) by Mark Bauerlein
As a teacher, I can tell you that Bauerlain's thesis is exactly true. I have always known that my students could learn material in order to regurgitate it on exams, but they had little hope of determining anything past whatever they had made a point of memorizing right before the test. Math students can calculate, but they have no ability to "think mathematically". History students can't attach ideas from one era to another. And heaven forbid if your subject isn't "relevant" enough. The author here gets it right: technology, money, and self-esteem-overload has made many of today's youth spoiled, self-centered, and stupid. There's no nice way to put it, but results are going to be easier to obtain if we're blunt about it. The author makes the argument that intellectualism should be encouraged and not lampooned, and the sooner the better.
Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search For the American Dream by Adam Shepard
Shepard produces a very interesting read (for the most part) out of what is a typical do-it-yourself story: could an average guy make it when starting as broke and homeless? The answer, it turns out, is yes. Shepard never denies his inherent advantages of education and common sense, but the story of his progression is still interesting. It's true that the book slows near the end; however, this shouldn't be a surprise. As Shepard gets a job and house, his life begins to resemble our own lives, and that's just not that exciting. Still, the first two-thirds provides a lot of material for reflection, and therefore it's worth a lot. Worth your time.
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Fantastic. If you haven't read any of Scalzi's books, go get them. Start with Old Man's War and go from there. Git. :)