All of the books listed I have either read in the last six months or am working my way through now. I’ve grouped some of them to indicate that they were read for a specific purpose.
For my research and writing:
Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, by Thomas de Zengotita. De Zengotita takes the idea that our lives are thoroughly mediated by technology and explores the consequences. Both brilliant and frustrating in the same way Marshall McLuhan’s writings were. He’s definitely onto something, but more thought provoking than convincing.
Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age, by Michael Bugeja. Another examination of the impact of technology on culture. This one stresses the ways that high technology has distorted and diminished the critical role of community in our lives. Having grown up in Iowa where corporate agriculture has pretty much demolished small town living, I find this an important issue to explore. It’s been done before, but Bugeja’s take on it is worth reading.
Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology, by Albert Borgmann. Anything Borgmann writes is worth reading. I particularly like this book because the contradictions between the teachings of the Gospels and the values inherent in our current relationship with technology are so rarely examined.
Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five, by Lisa Guernsey. Sounds academic but it’s written for parents by a reporter. It’s actually the best compilation of research on the issue that I’ve found. It’s just the lessons she draws from that research that I often disagree with.
In response to a recent wave of advocacy for video games as educational tools, I’ve been asked by the Alliance for Childhood to write a critique of video games that takes those arguments into account. Two of the most thoughtful books promoting this idea come from two University of Wisconsin professors: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, by Paul Gee, and How Computer Games Help Children Learn, by David Williamson Shaffer. In both cases, their diagnosis of what is wrong with American education is pretty good; their prescription for curing it is pretty bad. Their superficial dismissal of the critics of video game violence is deeply disappointing.
Everything that Stephen Talbott writes. Fortunately, much of it can be accessed through the Nature Institute website. See also Netfuture. I think Talbott is the best writer about our relationship with technology today.
For my teaching:
An Ethic of Excellence, by Ron Berger. I’ve been reading this short book with my students every semester for the last two years and constantly find new bits of practical wisdom in the stories told by this veteran sixth grade teacher/carpenter.
The Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer. Another book I read over and over. Every semester I push two profound statements from this book at my beginning teacher education students: “Technique is what a you use until the real teacher shows up;” and “Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.”
Secret Spaces of Children, edited by Elizabeth Goodenough. Wonderful compilation of stories, essays and poetry reminding us of how important it is to provide children with a physical environment that they can make their own. Goodenough helped develop a PBS documentary on this theme that has just been released titled “Where the Children Play.”
Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben. My son (along with every other freshman entering Ohio Wesleyan University) has to read this book before classes start this fall. If only we could demand the same of the rest of our populace.
Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. This one hurts. I’m just working my way through this book. Having lived through the era and in the area when corn became king, this thorough investigation of the source of our food is filling in lots of blanks for me. It’s not a pretty picture so far, but it certainly strikes me as an accurate one.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir, by Bill Bryson. The funniest book I’ve read in a long time. Bryson grew up in Des Moines but his stories about his youth should resonate with anyone who grew up (or wants to know what it was like for many of us to grow up) in the Fifties.