2020 Holiday Books (And Music!)

Here’s this year’s holiday book list, which people seem to like, perhaps because it doesn’t include many education books. Or perhaps because we all procrastinate and need last minute gift ideas…anyway there were a lot of good education books this year – Harvard Education Press put out a bunch so check their catalog. Fredrick deBoer’s “Cult of Smart is an argument to engage with even if you disagree – perhaps especially if you disagree. In “A Fine Line Tim DeRoche lays out why the educational choice debate misses so much of the action.

Here’s this year’s list:

Being Heumann. Here’s the one with explicit education implications. Longtime disability advocate Judy Heumann writes up her life and work. It’s a great reminder that on many issues we’ve at once made more progress than many people realize, and have more to do than a different many realize.

Thomas Chatterton Williams’ Self Portrait In Black and White. This book of essays and then the various books arguing race and racism are immutable features of our political DNA are pretty good bookends for much of today’s social and political debate. Williams’ take is not one you hear so much around the education sector, good reason to check it out.

Politics of wolves. American Wolf traces the story of Yellowstone wolf 832AF who was known internationally as “06” her birth year. But it also traces the politics of wolves themselves and the politics that surround them, which are no less vicious. With President Trump delisting some wolves from endangered species protection and  Colorado passing a referendum to formally reintroduce wolves (they don’t recognize borders and are starting to reintroduce themselves) the issue seems likely to flare up again.

The Long Ships. This is a wild story with plenty about the politics of Vikings and, well, stuff Vikings do. Viking tales are not really my thing but the story is so well told, and told with delicious dry humor, it’s captivating. For the easily offended beware – this is a book about Vikings, who rarely found themselves accused of being overwoke.

In Churchill and Orwell The Fight For Freedom Thomas Ricks smartly links the distinct lives of Orwell and Churchill and the brief but world changing moments and ideas of both. If you’re the kind of person who sees Animal Farm as a cautionary tale rather than how-to guide or you just love biographies, this book is for you or someone on your list.

Such a Fun Age. Kiley Reid’s book reads like a first novel, which it is. In places characters are underdeveloped or one-dimensional. But it’s a great story for our times, nesting contemporary issues that are front and center in an engaging story.

The Great Influenza. In the past I’d send this great book to close friends who were sick, that gag wouldn’t play in 2020.  John Barry’s account of the Spanish Flu is obviously timely but in addition to the history of the last catastrophic global pandemic it’s a great primer on the origins of the American medical establishment, which is good background in the education world. 

If you thought it was great that Sarah Fuller scored points in a major conference college football game then I suspect you would enjoy Stefan Fastis’ A Few Seconds of Panic. Fastis is a Plimpton-like character and he convinced an NFL team to let him play during the exhibition season. If you’ve ever kicked it through the uprights on an empty field and wondered ‘how hard can this be?’ then this book will debase you of that and make you appreciate Fuller that much more.

Several of my colleagues do not eat mayonnaise, which seems irresponsible. If you do this Dukes’ Mayonnaise Cookbook is for you though you might want to pick up a Peleton bike along with it. Duke’s is really good mayonnaise if you are choosey, but this year we’ve also been using Blue Plate, but as far as I know they don’t have a cookbook – just some recipes online.

A lot of great music this year, this list won’t steer you wrong. Also, Rhiannon Giddens has a new one, Sturgill Simpson released two bluegrass albums, and Shemekia Copeland’s Uncivil War is fantastic.