Point: "Repeated surveys show that children spend less time reading than did previous generations. They instead devote many hours of their waking lives to electronic screens of one kind or another." Counterpoint: "Generation Y, those born between 1979 and 1989, spent the most money on books in 2011, taking over long-held book-buying leadership from baby boomers...with 43 percent of GenY's purchases going to online channels, they are adding momentum to the industry shift to digital." Conclusion?
Take a break from watching the snowboarding and skating at the Winter Olympics, and read some Russian literature instead. At NPR, Andrew D. Kaufman recommends three books to learn more about the Caucasus. For more on Russian literature, read our own Nick Moran's essay on duels in Russian fiction.
Have you ever wondered why someone doesn't write a really interesting book about shoemakers or Idaho or health inspectors? When I worked at the bookstore I used to get questions like this all the time. Usually, I was forced to stare blankly for a moment before performing a futile search on the computer. But every once in while, someone would ask, "Are there any really good books about the geology of North America?" And my eyes would light up and I would say, "Yes!" The same was true if they asked for books about merchant marines, Alaska, or canoes. John McPhee has the ability - which I prize as a reader - to write engagingly about any subject, and Founding Fish is no exception. In this case, the subject is the American Shad. The fish is prized by anglers and gourmands and pops in and out of American history. But this is not "the cultural history of American Shad" (are we tired of these "cultural history of..." books yet?") Instead he weaves history with science as well as plenty of personal observation. The myriad digressions are like seams of precious metal. McPhee's world is populated with fascinating characters - ichthyologists, shad dart makers, and a seine fisherman from the Bay of Fundy. If you have a taste for non-fiction and would like a book that is diverting and pleasurable (rather than "hard-hitting" and topical) try reading John McPhee.Spotted on the el: The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin ThomasonNew list: The Economist best of the year.