July 31, 2012

Your micro-review roundup: 31 July 2012

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Paragogy, by Joseph Corneli and Charles Jeffrey Danoff

Paragogy
By Joseph Corneli and Charles Jeffrey Danoff
Pub Dom Ed Press

Regular readers will remember experimental author Charles Jeffrey Danoff, whose noble (but in my opinion failed) project Keyi its ?? 4 Sucsexy was reviewed here earlier in the year, and who you might recall I said reminded me of one of those freeware advocates in the software world who are positively religious in their beliefs about the free flow of information being essential to the progression of the human race. And it seems that my thoughts have been officially backed up, in that Danoff's newest book (co-authored with Joe Arided) is precisely an academic-style manifesto cum thesis concerning the political beliefs behind the style of writing that Danoff does, which in fact precisely has been strongly shaped by the freeware app-development world where the two have spent a substantial amount of time. Entitled Paragogy after the name they coined for their movement, it unfortunately is guilty of the thing that a lot of academic philosophical work is guilty of, which is of assuming that their audience will be their fellow doctoral-level scholars and thus not explaining some of the more basic concepts that their more complicated conclusions are based on (for one glaring example at the beginning, that their entire movement is a reaction to the more traditional study of andragogy, but then never bothering to explain what exactly that is); but from what I could piece together, it seems like an interesting enough concept, the idea of enfolding principles from the open-source world into the educational system, making peer-based learning, "meta" learning and nonlinear learning as big of pillars in teaching as traditional instructors and tests. Plus it comes in a beautiful all-color small-run paper edition, has been cleverly released under no copyright whatsoever, and includes an online wiki on the subject where you can add your own thoughts and edit the work of others. A fascinatingly dense read, but probably only of serious interest to their fellow professors, it comes with a limited recommendation specifically to that group.

Out of 10: 7.7, or 8.7 for academes

Understanding Arabs, by Margaret K. Nydell

Understanding Arabs: A Contemporary Guide to Arab Society
By Margaret K. Nydell
Nicholas Brealey Publishing

This is one of those books about foreign culture that I like the best, where someone will both detail the various things that everyday people in another area of the world might do that might seem strange to us Americans, and explain why they do them; and it's especially fascinating in this case, because of covering the "Arab World," which like the "Islamic World" is a term mostly made up by Westerners to try to easily explain something that doesn't have an easy explanation. (Think for example of mashing together Irish, Latin and African Catholics, in order to explain in a single short statement the "Christian World.") And indeed, that's one of the first things that scholar Margaret K. Nydell makes clear, that there's a difference between Arab society and Islamic society, with there being a lot of overlap for sure but some very specific differences too; and that's basically the start of a long and informing look at all the normal parts of Arab life that might seem weird to us, from the routine overuse of both praise and damnation to the sometimes draconian dress codes of some nations, why straight men hold hands in public but not men and women, and a lot more. Now in its fifth edition, this is a lively anecdotal guide that will help clueless Americans like me to better understand and appreciate their Arab neighbors, and comes strongly recommended to those even with just a passing interest.

Out of 10: 8.8

City, by P.D. Smith

City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age
By P.D. Smith
Bloomsbury

This is being promoted as one of those "NPR-worthy" books that combines an academic's precision with the witty style of a commercial writer, all about the rise and development of urban centers over the last 20,000 or so years of human history. But alas, this slick, photo-heavy doorstop seems to have been designed more to look good on a coffeetable than to be a fascinating read; split into infuriatingly non-intuitive sections on the various random things that make up a typical city, the scattershot writing tends to read along the lines of, "Here's a chapter about bridges! And now here are some famous bridges! Here's a chapter about city walls! And now here are some famous city walls!" A book that could've been dense and fascinating like a Peter Ackroyd title, it's instead more along the lines of a forgettable basic-cable documentary, and despite looking great does not come recommended.

Out of 10: 6.7

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:05 AM, July 31, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |