What I’ve been reading

1. Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. Young man becomes small town barber and gravedigger in the US South. Elegantly written and tranquil to read. Maybe a little too tranquil. I struggled to get more than half through. I think I would need a hammock at a cabin by a lake to finish this one.

2. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. The most literary Western ever written? Would never have read this without Trey Miller’s recommendation (via Drew). Thoroughly excellent. Got me through an 11-hour flight where the movie system was busted. (Thanks, Delta.)

3. Bossypants, by Tina Fey. I love 30 Rock, so how can I not love Bossypants? Turns out I can. Thoroughly miss-able, and sadly not as intelligent or funny as the show. The main reason I don’t regret reading it: it only took about four hours to read.

4. One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir, by Binyavanga Wainaina. So far so good. Probably worth it’s own blog post when I finish the book. The NYT review said you should run, not walk, to buy this book. That raised expectations terribly high, and they are not quite met. But very solid, and I am only 1/3 of the way through. Stay tuned.

5. A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin. I really can’t resist reading this crap. I have no idea why. Anything where the subtitle is “Book Five” is instantly a bad idea. And if the author has two middle initials on the front cover he’d better have a Nobel Prize or it’s a bad sign. I put the book in the same category as bad New York cheese slices and Kraft Mac’n Cheese: things I irrationally crave, even when the better stuff is all around me.

6. Poor Economics, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo.  “I was kind of disappointed, ” am eminent colleague told me, “it’s just too good. This isn’t fair.” I know how he feels. They get to be brilliant researchers and write possibly the best popular book on poverty I’ve seen. More than worthy of a long post, but that will take a day with a great deal of time.

7 thoughts on “What I’ve been reading

  1. I read all the G Martins up to and including A Dance With Dragons, and yet I have no idea why. Even as I was buying the next one, I was thinkig “I didn’t really like the last one THAT much, do I really want to schlep through 800 more pages of this”. But apparently I did. I think they’re the literary equivalent of those junk food items that have both salt and sugar in them to make them massively addictive.

  2. I’m struggling to get through Poor Economics. it’s very well written and the range of topics and how they address them appeals to me, but I’m struggling with two factors.

    One is the fact that they cite so many working papers. It’s a bit hard to keep the “maybes” that I consider from working papers separate from the peer-reviewed papers in my head. (Working papers and potentially changing conclusions are a whole separate debate..)

    The other is that even with its relatively broad range, the book seems a little too “micro” sometimes – all the usual issues about external validity and the sheer amount of resources required to replicate those experiments elsewhere.

    A colleague with a medical background made an interesting perspective on impact evaluation studies in development. The drug-testing process our economics experiments arose from contain several phases prior to trials – he suggested economists were making mistakes by not emphasizing the ‘discovery’, ‘formulation’ and ‘testing’ stages more.

    In spite of my comments, Poor Economics might still be the best (and very accessible) book on poverty. I see the book as foundational – graduate students should be able to clearly identify gaps in every chapter and run with those ideas for really interesting research. And then those results should in turn be presented in this accessible format for the next ‘generation’ or ‘cohort’.

  3. As a total layman in the field, I was impressed by Poor Economics. Would appreciate some comment on how the research they discuss might also apply to the poor in the U.S.