Freakonomics- is it worth it?

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The unique interpretation of Economics here is perhaps far-fetched

Freakonomics. The despair of every Economics University admissions officer as they scan personal statements. At this point in time, who hasn’t read Freakonomics, and even if they had, would flaunting the fact their eyes have skimmed over 211 pages make a difference to their knowledge of interdependence in Oligopolistic Markets?

It, like the pocket-sized physics books which were all the nerdy rage last year, was part of a half-hearted trend to revive the intelligence of the nation. Perhaps publishers had had enough of talking about the weather over their tea break and thought, if only we could talk about something interesting, something like why drug dealers still live with their mothers, then life would be better. So let’s publish a book so people know about this and can then discuss it. Or maybe Steven D. Levitt was good enough at economics to know that:

Lots of books sold – (tax + publisher’s cut) = A FUN HOLIDAY

Or so it seems. So down to the content; there’s not much of it. There are only 6 different chapters, which were more like 3 broken in half, where the authors tried to pass the second half off (sometimes) as an entirely new subject. Which they weren’t. The issue was also that there was no unifying theme. There’s no satisfaction in covering lots of ground when you’re moving too fast to pick anything up. It’s a shame. Maybe Steven should have proof-read it.

Initially, it was gratifying, if slightly pointless, to see that there was a link between a sumo wrestler and a teacher, but I was left with one question. The authors repeatedly say that you have to look for the right question, then the rest will follow. I’m not sure about anybody else, but it seems that obviously when you have masses ‘data’ and know about separate ‘studies’, it’s articulating the link which is the only mildly tricky part. There was no research done into either profession in order to find the bridge between the two: Levitt simply had to scan a few pages from studies done on teacher and sumo wrestlers, find a tenuous loophole to sling the two together, then gleefully stuff the pages with irrelevant facts about nepotism in the University of Georgia.

It seems like although Freaknomics is the adult version of a ‘fun facts booklet’, there is nothing tangible that can be taken away from reading this. Nothing that you can flaunt to your friends except that somewhere in New York, a few decades ago, a father named his sons Winner and Loser Lane. But perhaps I am being too harsh. After all, it offers great insights into sectors of human thought that would never normally cross our minds, such as how humans more intensely fear things that they’re unfamiliar with: an easy example is jumping into a car vs. taking off on a plane. Yet that’s not much a revelation, is it?

It seems that at times the evidence, whilst sounding impressive with their acronyms, because the companies are too important to have their names squeezed into a single word, is flawed. Sometimes the evidence was too superficial- hardly reliable when trying to make grand posturing claims about contradicting prevailing wisdom, and at other times foolhardy. Scores of their ‘evidence’, once you trudge to the footnotes of the book, seem to be laughable or dubious at best. And is this really book really covering Economics, or merely palatable Sociology? The latter for sure, but given that these supposed ‘findings’ were so ‘obscure’ (i.e bound together by the most far farfetched pieces of data), it’s no surprise that instead of being crafted into a respectable journal, it’s been churned out as a commercial book.

I was at first steeling myself for this review; I had the general impression that people liked Freakonomics and thought of it as their intellectual lunchtime companion, but soon it became clear that elsewhere people were having the same thoughts as I did, and that I wouldn’t be the only personal trying to articulate my distaste.

My final word is that, despite the hype, I didn’t buy into it. So no; it’s not worth it.

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Should we swallow all literature?

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Unless you read awful books, then you can alternatively die of boredom quite a few times as well…

Short answer: No.

Now that I have weeded out all the non-commited readers (or those with a stereotypically 21st century attention span), we can begin. There is talk of reading everything you come across, as it’ll make you more appreciative of the better crafted books and if you’re a writer, enhance your skills. You can envision it now; a class of nervous looking graduates, ink pens resting atop leather-bound notebooks, almost crushed by the weight of the student loan that uneasily allowed them to attend this class. “Read” rasped the teacher, her hair like tendrils twisting down her back. “Read everything, let the words encompass your soul and sift through the goodness…” she jutted out her chin, dramatically clawing of the air in front of her bookcase.

No thank you. Although it was meant to be a demonstrative metaphor, I suspect that I might have just exposed to some rather poor literature right there. Swiftly moving on, it seems strange that people should advocate for wasting their time. Thanks to the internet, we seem to be procrastinating unwittingly most of the day anyway, so adding to this intentionally is going to help nobody. I suppose the argument is that it’s going to help with technique, that once your retinas have been scarred by such a disgusting use of a semi-colon you’ll never dream of copying it in your own work.

However I don’t exactly need to read other’s work to experience poor writing. The first draft of any novel I write (publishers- I know this is a long shot- but I’ve got a manuscript for one I’ve recently composed and if you email me I can always send it over) is going to be shocking. Who has a first draft that isn’t? (That front-row student puts her hand up, 15 different highlighters lined up on her desk and already 3 supernovas to her name; she had found them causally doing astronomy before school this morning.) Alright, apart from her. Regardless of the number mistakes I’ve made, I’m still going to do a second draft. And a third. And a fourth. (Yes, all publishers out there, I am thorough.) I’m going to inevitably correct my grammatical errors if my laptop doesn’t do it for me so I don’t need to suffer anybody else’s. Think of it this way- compared to the classic cult film Mean Girls if I may. Reading someone else’s poorly written book doesn’t make mine any better, just as making Regina gain weight didn’t make the girls any skinnier.

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I’m guessing it’s Wednesday too…

It just gave Lindsay Lohan the high school epiphany that trying to sabotage other people would not make her a more welcoming person, whilst it’ll give you the epiphany- as your thoughts wander again- that actually you still have 6 different preps to do, it’s nearly 1AM and you’d probably be better off watching Narcos with your roommate in Spanish (even though you can’t speak it) instead of forcing your writing synapses to cry.

“But how will I know if I like it?” Obviously, if you haven’t started reading it, you won’t. Yet I think sometimes skirting the blurb is enough- and here’s why: I, with the extreme caution of one handling an unsanitary item (even though I was looking at images online,) read the back of Fifty Shades of Grey. Whilst I’m not going to plague my blog with an image of the book, needless to say, you can get a sufficient idea of the type of story it is simply by the type of audience they’re trying to appeal to. If you don’t see yourself as the type of half-ravaged person who is going to be lured into buying some ink on paper simply because the blurb used copious amounts of alliteration and the rule of three, then don’t be. It’s as simple as that.

Also, I find that I read some rather displeasing items enough as it is, without even trying to go out of my way. I was going to write a book review of What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murkami, true to Ink Cloud form, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Thanks to the wildly successful poll I ran a few weeks ago, I was recommended to tone down the reviews a bit and ramp up the opinion pieces, so here we are. Anyway; it was such a self-indulgent book, simply going on about how the author had building work done to house in Boston and about how he had a connection with Olympic athletes because he saw them on his daily morning run. I know that his running habits are the basic premise of this book, but I was hoping for something more generalised, like how Japanese culture has ingrained running into it, but on the contrary it simply included regurgitations of articles written for running magazines. If I wanted them, I’d look in the archives! It was simply a long, dull (I would say vomit, but that would be unfair) mass of words which have struck precisely zero sympathetic chords in me. Which is strange, because I’m a runner. And Murakami is one of the greatest writers of the 21st century (according to other people).

Unlike you, however, I had to stick it out, because unlike you (well, who knows, maybe I’m wrong), I have a blog where I write about books. That means reading the entirety of it before I can ‘write it off’. I’m not completely cruel. I will give the book a chance to redeem itself after a shoddy start before eloquently reminding the world how awful it is. So, reader, consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to finish terrible books and suffer through to the end. Why? Because I do all the hard work for you.

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

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Even a battered, £2.50 book can fill me with delight. In the spare moments of my ‘very busy’ summer holiday, I found time to read Du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca. Which is just as well, because ten years ago, skirt askew and blazer crumpled,  I was in a house at school called Du Maurier. We all got little green pin with a gold lined book and a pen engraved into the  enamel. Along with various other inspirational women whom the houses were named after, the name meant nothing more to me than that it signified the colour shirt I wore on Sports Day. Now, sufficiently literate, I have decided to finally pay attention to Du Maurier, and pick up one of her greatest pieces (although, admittedly, not enough to buy a copy at full price)!

There is the magnificent setting itself, Manderely House, where the protagonist a Mrs de Winter and Max de Winter live. Although it’s precise location is never revealed, in the author’s note I read that Du Maurier’s old home Mandabilly was the main inspiration. It’s a brooding place, full of complexities and has such an animate character that if the plot was set in a cottage, or some other half-hearted building, it would simply be an awful reading experience. Much like pathetic fallacy with the weather, it is seen with the house and that is what makes the novel so impactful. Also, the description reminds me rather a lot of somewhere I go often, Endsleigh House so the nostalgia and memories of that trip trickled perfectly into the narrative:

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The Endsleigh hotel, or Manderely? There’s even a dog and roses!

There is something so dark about the narrative, so wonderfully obscene about the twist of events that I cannot help but find myself, like a child drawn to the trigger of a gun, mesmerised by it. It’s an oddly comforting storyline, in all honesty; after all, it confirms humanity’s vulnerability, that no relationships can be idealised, except perhaps when you are judging other peoples’. That’s precisely what the second wife, Mrs de Winter, did. She was swept away by the façade, daunted by the expectations following Maxim’s previous marriage, that it choked her potential. It’s needless to say how to many teenagers can find this book liberating; think of Instagram accounts of the rich and famous as one huge Rebecca and Maxim marriage, except without the honesty and the murder trial. Agreed, that a minority of famous bloggers unveil the reality behind the laborious process and their undying emotional instability even though millions of people comment about how much they want to look like them, but it’s just that those that don’t, lead us to believe that the images are their true nature, therefore forcing our own standards higher.

So, the novel’s called Rebecca. But what is the name of our protagonist, the young school girl? It’s one of the best plot devices of all; how du-Maurier neglected to mention her name, left us hanging on a string of anticipation. In the end, though, we aren’t troubled by this absence, but are riddled with speculation, with the sheer curiosity of this. After perusing the internet, some thought that she was called Daphne, after all it was cited early in the book that Maxim said she had an unusual name, and many believe this story was written to reflect the author’s own experiences. Others think that du Maurier merely forgot. But if you’re composing such a masterpiece, sifting day upon day on material, now stale from being constantly looked scanned for improvements, then of course you simply wouldn’t have forgetten. It’s almost farcical to suggest such a notion. Personally, I believe that it’s a reflection of Mrs de Winter’s own shyness, own timidity that she couldn’t even draw that much attention to herself to speak up on the number of occasions where it could have been mentioned.

So, reader, give it a try. I had put off reading Rebecca long enough, unexcited by the drab premise, but I have to say it’s now officially my favourite book (yay! Finally something to say at dinner parties… well, not dinner parties, but you know what I mean). It has affected me so much I have even named one of my bonsai trees (I have a few) Maxim. Yes, the level of adoration is serious.