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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5 Signs You’re a Reader

We all know that reading is a dangerous sport and yet many of us persist, despite the very obvious perils. If you are, however, unfamiliar with the hazards, then here they are.

1. You will buy books instead of food. Or clothes, theatre tickets, houses…

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No. Not the important ones like I will become a fountain of gratitude,  meditate everyday and recycle everything. You will slowly start to cut back to afford books, (given that merely borrowing one is a terrible idea) and it not only becomes a question of skimming the grocery shelves for the lowest prices so that you bound over to the book section and splurge (splurge? This is legitimate spending going on here) but also, start asking questions like: do I really need a new jumper? It may have a massive hole in the middle, but £30 could buy me a wonderful new hardback, and a cheeky paperback too if I’m thrifty. Again, it’s won’t really be a choice you’re making, but a predestined path you’re following.

2. You hoard.

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It’s true. After all, once you’d started that Harry Potter series, there was no way that the subsequent 6 other books wouldn’t wriggle their way into your bookshelves too, right? It starts off alright, with the books stacked neatly in the cupboards, and you tell yourself that at the end off every month you will clear them out, but soon you have to face the reality. How could you ever throw something like A Bear Called Paddington away? It squints at you, the corner of the front page a bit jammy from when your 7-year-old self was munching breakfast and reading. Then you remember that happened on holiday in Cornwall, oh memories of Cornwall, and then you realise that to throw away Paddington would practically be blasphemy, because, well, it’s been with you for so long, and what if you might, maybe read it again?

3. You have no social life.

Do I want to go out to a long stuffy dinner to face a mangled crustacean or stay at home with a book and enough ice cream (in my case, granola and yoghurt) to last? It’s a quite simple answer, actually. Soon, you find that you become much better friends with fictional characters than real people. It’s sad, but true- anyway no one has a sense of humour quite like Death from the Discworld series, so why bother looking any further? And you won’t really be in your living room, will you?

(“So what did you get up to on Friday night?” *Looks around, innocently* “Me? I was trekking in the Amazon and got attacked by a crocodile” *Cue other person slowly shuffling away*)

Well, at least books can’t reject you, and to say the least, going out for dinners might become rarity because…

4.You’re TBR is normally waaaaay to long (and an existential crisis ensues).

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You read. Then you begin to read more, start searching novels online and begin chatting to friends (those you have left) not about the weather, (which may be just as well) but this year’s Man Booker shortlist. Stop, before it gets out of hand. But you can’t. Book research is addictive, (as is endlessly perusing the shelves of bookshops when you’ve already bought a book, but are wallowing in the excitement of potentially diving into the tombs around you). Yet, like everything, there becomes a limit and soon it seems perhaps you can’t quite read all 207 books on your TBR that’s you’ve collected that year in the 14 days preceding your TBR deadline. You made the deadline to gently push you in the right direction and pressure you to find enough time to read. Trust me, this tactic becomes stressful, and you start to flail and wonder how, let alone on a time limit, but ordinarily you’re going to finish them all. There’s no consolidation either, no gentle hand willing you to step back, because you have actually wanted to read all them since, forever it seems… and ditching that list would be wasted hours.

5. You show your love for books in weird and strange ways.

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A conversation of praise isn’t enough, oh no. Cue the Pinterest accounts, the Facebook group chats dedicated to books series (I’ve known it happen, that’s all I’m saying) drawing endless pictures of your favourite scenes in the books, and even tattoos.

Reading is a commitment, my friend. Look where we are now; I find myself writing about books in my free time, when I could be doing actual useful stuff, and you are reading this (which I very much appreciate, I have to say). But seriously, people become seriously attached to novels.

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For example, don’t even try to argue against Tris on a forum, unless you want to end up hunted out like a Divergent yourself. Also, you might start finding yourself dressing like the characters and even wearing the same type of clothes. I know. (Having said that, Katniss braids are AWESOME so why wouldn’t you want one? I should have stopped trying to defend myself by now to be honest.) And you know all those fancy book quotes that we see plastering library /bedroom walls / phone cases. Someone had to make them, and normally they were  done by the fanatics themselves.

So you’ve been warned. These are the perils of reading. (Happy April Fools!) Have you personally suffered from any of these traits, or seen something entirely different spring up as a result? Do let me know and have a great (hopefully prank free) day!

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan September Book of the Month

marrr“Marina wouldn’t want to be remembered because she’s dead.” wrote Anne Fadiman, her university professor, “She would want to be remembered because she’s good.”

But she isn’t good. Marina is phenomenal. Her fiction stories, each no longer than twenty pages long, are delicately composed featuring wildly different plots and characters. One is set in the sandy planes of Iraq, relocating Iraqi families and written purely in letter form. Another, prose, revolved around a theatre-set in Cape Cod, paragraphs littered with late night drinks and angst. And so it goes on. They are unique, seemingly revolving in their own literary sphere, untouchable. But there are ties: these characters are not built of marble, they are fallible. Keegan has portrayed them as real people, with true problems, refreshing as, unfortunately, despite it being an important rule of fiction, you often find unrealistic, overly successful characters . As a reader you could sympathise with their fears, relate to their worries. The stories were all ideal lengths too: even if they were only a few pages long, you seeped into the characters’ mindset seamlessly, and I never felt bored or disengaged with the narrative. Fresh, too, with Keegan’s voice gleaming from under the printed words.

‘”Why didn’t I think to rewrite Mrs. Dalloway? I should have thought to chronicle a schizophrenic ballerina. It’s inexcusable. Everyone is so successful, and I hate them.” and “I’m so jealous. Laughable jealousies, of everyone who might get a chance to speak from the dead…I worship the potential for own tangible trace. How presumptuous! To assume specialness in the first place.”

I won’t tell you how Marina Keegan wrote this incredible collection of short stories and essays as part of her graduation piece, and how, only five days after she graduated from Yale in 2012, she died in a car crash. I won’t mention how she was only twenty two, or how she had acted in and wrote numerous plays, was the President of the Yale College Democrats and had already secured her ideal job for her life after Yale. Because, instead I told you how inspiring her collection is. Marina wouldn’t want to be remembered because she’s dead. She would want to be remembered because she’s good.