Friday, November 7, 2014

Don't forget to check out these new bestsellers!

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

"It’s fun to watch as Munroe tackles each question and examines every possible complication with nerdy and methodical aplomb, his distinctive scribblings providing clever running commentary of peanut-gallery jokes as his train of thought (sometimes) happily derails. The delightfully demented ‘What If?’ is the most fun you can have with math and science, short of becoming your own evil genius...We feel the tug of Munroe’s playful yet existentially-tinged worldview, and all that geek logic and number-crunching becomes unexpectedly poignant."

The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein

Teaching in America, which began as an informal, seasonal job heavily influenced by locale, has evolved into a highly politicized and polarizing profession, argues Goldstein in this immersive and well-researched history. Goldstein, who comes from a long line of teachers, claims that teaching has historically been viewed as a profession best staffed by women and that there’s been a persistent classist (not to mention racist) undercurrent in education that continues to this day via programs that focus on test scores and ratings. Readers may be surprised to learn that hot-button issues, such as overcrowding and teaching ESL, are hardly new. The author also discusses educational fads, the battle for federal funding, the vilification of teachers’ unions, and the nation’s almost pathological obsession with data and statistics. Goldstein closes with recommendations for the future, including: better pay; more perspective on test scores; and the expansion of teachers’ purviews in the classroom. Attacking a veritable hydra of issues, Goldstein does an admirable job, all while remaining optimistic about the future of this vital profession.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

A 20-something’s account of her life as a professional mortician.

Doughty's fascination with death began in childhood, but it wasn’t until she got to college that she dropped all pretenses of “normality and began to explore “all aspects of mortality” through her work in medieval history. Intellectual exposure to death and the human rituals associated with it eventually led to a decision to pursue a career as an undertaker. 

The author offers an intimate view of not just the mechanics of how corpses are treated and disposed, but also of the way Americans have come to treat both death and the dead. 

For the author, the way forward to a healthier relationship with the end-of-life experience is to reclaim "the process of dying” by ending the ignorance and fear attached to it. Death is not the enemy of life but rather its much-maligned and misunderstood ally.

A witty, wise and mordantly wise-cracking memoir and examination of the American way of death.

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