Beach umbrella ratings for some of my summer reads

As usual, I’ve spent some of this summer reading about three things: higher education, teaching/learning, and writing. Of course, that’s not all I read, but it was a good chunk.

While I actually reviewed last year’s selections (or at least some of them), I won’t do that this year. I will, however, rate the books. And what could be more fitting, given that I read all of them during summer travels (it was the Year of the Honda Odyssey for us), than a beach umbrella rating system?

  • Higher Education


    Because I happened to make consistently good book choices this summer, you’ll note that I rate all of these books highly. But Mark Edmundson’s Why Teach? In Defense of a Real Education really stood out. My wife and I agreed that reading this aloud as we drove was one of the highlights of our travels (no, our family is not that boring; Edmundson is that good). After finishing it up this past week, I would read just about anything by Edmundson. I give it five beach umbrellas.


  • Teaching/Learning


    Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning debunks myths about learning and uses scientific evidence to point us in the direction of practices, some of which are counterintuitive, that actually help us to retain what we learn and enable us to use that learning more effectively later. The science of learning has implications for program/curriculum-level decisions, as well as pedagogy, making this book a helpful read for faculty and academic administrators alike. Despite very different approaches, there are some resonances with Edmundson. For example, the authors focus much of their attention on the learner—they want the student/trainee/lifetime learner to take responsibility for making it stick—which resonates with Edmundson’s imploring students to be the ones who make sure they get a “real education” because he fears that no one else is looking out for them (the students). Armed with Edmundson’s idea of a real education and the strategies from Make it Stick, our students could be real threats to the status quo. Make it Stick only gets four beach umbrellas because the authors tell us about a lot of different learning strategies, but don’t take full advantage of the opportunity to show us those strategies in action. That is, the book could have been written in such a way as would require or encourage the reader to engage in more of the strategies that the authors describe.


  • Writing

    I imagine I’ll be revisiting these two books by Roy Peter Clark for a long time. I’m sure I haven’t come close to absorbing everything I could from them, but both have helped me write better already. There is a bit of overlap between the two—some of the writing strategies from the older Writing Tools are revisited in How to Write Short, but I suppose that revisiting strategies I had already read up on might just help “make it stick,” anyway. I give these two five beach umbrellas.


  • Bonus

    I really enjoyed reading Infinite Jest (how’s this for strange: every time I try to type, “Infinite Jest,” it first comes out as “Infinite Jesus,” which gives me the howling fantods) with a group of friends this summer. Our discussions (the ones I’ve made it to, at least) have been great. It’s one of the most challenging and memorable books I’ve read. It will take multiple readings (no small task) to begin to grasp some of the genius at work in this book. There’s so much more I could try to say, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have the right words for it. This one gets 1079 beach umbrellas.

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