What I Have Been Reading

What I Have Been Reading – Serious

Hagel, John, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison. The Power of Pull : How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Phil Repp, Ball State’s Vice President for Information Technology, recommended this to me. It focuses on using modern communications to “pull” together contacts, information and resources to meet particular needs and contrasts that approach to a “push” model in which producers push particular products or information at potential customers. This is one of those books that has made me think about the world – or at least my part of it – very differently. It motivated me to create the “planningprof” website, something I probably should have done years ago. The authors would approve, I think, because one of their themes is the importance of serendipity. I read this book because its theme relates to a task force that I helped to create at Ball State University – rethinking the future of campus-based undergraduate education. Its obvious relevance to other parts of my life was purely serendipitous.

Kamenetz, Anya. Diy U : Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub., 2010. A fascinating critique of contemporary higher education, by a Yale graduate. This is another book that I read in the context of our task force on undergraduate education. It made me think much harder about how we deliver undergraduate education today. I commented at one meeting of the task force that I thought that someone who had taught in a university in 1970 would probably fit nicely into the contemporary model of teaching – noticing primarily the switch from 35-mm carousel slide projectors to Powerpoint. That led a task force member to comment that it took more than a decade for the overhead projector (remember those) to move from the bolwing alley to the classroom. Kamenetz focuses on LEARNING rather than teaching. She offers a somewhat visionary program for a literal Do It Yourself education, complete with your own learning network – but along the way she has lots of practical suggestions for enhancing the learning opportunities in more traditional institutions.

Morrish, William R. Planning to Stay : A Collaborative Project. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 1994. This ioos a small press contribution to the planning literature for neighborhood activists. I saw this book years ago but had lost track of it. I found it again recently and found lots of good suggestiopns for professionals as well as for volunteers. The concepts of “neighborhood niches” and “anchoring institutions” are common sense but often overlooked elements of effective neighborhood building. The book is very readable and well-illustrated – and it remains useful nearly two decades after it was published.

Gehl, Jan. Cities for People. Washington: Island Press, 2010. Cities for People is a thoughtful book from my favorite publisher. I had not known Gehl’s work before this, but I saw a positive reference to the book and ordered a copy. Much of the book deals with the traditional broad issue of human scale, but it treats the issue in some unusual and helpful contexts. Chapter 3 is particularly appealing, dealing effecitvely with “The Lively, Safe, Sustainable and Healthy City.” This is a book to which I will refer many times.

What I Have Been Reading – For Fun

Walker, David J. Too Many Clients: A Wild Onion, Ltd., Mystery. London: Severn House Publishers, 2010. My friend Katherine Kennison brings a remarkable variety of authors to Muncie annually for the Magna cum Murder conference (www.magnacummurder.com ). David Walker is one of my favorites. A former priest and part-time lawyer, Walker captures the gray areas of the law and the color of Chicago with great style and plausible characters. I bought 15 books at Magna this year, but I started his first. The Wild Onion couple – a lawyer who sometimes chases ambulances and his PI wife – are too frequently in peril, but it is always interesting.

Patterson, Richard North. In the Name of Honor : A Novel. 1st ed. New York: Henry Holt, 2010. I grab a new Richard North Patterson novel as soon as it comes out, but I sometimes set it aside for a few days so that it will not end too soon. The book is a fascinating character study of a senior military leader, the children whose lives he has damaged almost beyond repair, and the army lawyer brought into defend the son. The book is a tragedy in a classic sense – not my favorite style – but it is interesting. The treatment of a major military trial is clearly based on Patterson’s always good research. A reference in this book confirmed what I had suspected from the Ohio college in The Spire – Patterson clearly spent some time at Ohio Wesleyan University, my wife Sandra’s alma mater.

Greene, Graham. The Honorary Consul : A Novel. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. Bola Delano of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recommended this book. She actually recommended it to colleagues Jim Duncan and Marya Morris, who have been working in the Virgin Islands – she suggested that it would provide a useful political-cultural flavor for the region. I had not read Graham Greene in decades but had always enjoyed his work – and I was glad I had read this, despite its dark theme. The characters and the places are fascinating and resonate even four decades after the book’s original publication in 1973.

Kanon, Joseph. Stardust. New York: Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, 2009. Kanon, a former publishing executive, has been one of my half dozen favorite fiction authors since I read his first – Los Alamos. His favorite period is clearly the 1940s, ane he returns to that period here – to Hollywood in the period just after World War II. His books bring together historical characters and fictional ones in ways that are remarkably plausible. Here he deals with the early years of the controversies over Communists in the film industry. As with Patterson’s books, I start Kanon’s with mixed emotions – knowing that I will finish reading one before he writes another.

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