Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Jay Reads At Or Above An Eighth-Grade Level!

I haven't read a book since college because, well, I have access to a TV and an internet connection. I'm not proud to be an illiterate dunce, but a lot of my friends are the sort of folk who brag that they don't want watch TV, they read books — and I find that absolutely insufferable. Me, I become stymied by the huge selection of merchandise they've got there at Barnes and Noble, wind up choosing some popular mass-market potboiler that has the words now a #1 hit movie! on the cover, and then feel like a vapid bimbo.

A vapid bimbo who can read, but I still feel pretty damn stupid.

But I read an article in the New York Times Magazine about an economist named Steven Levitt, a guy who doesn't deal with the economy as much as the mathematics of cheating in the world of sumo wrestling and why crack dealers live at home with their mothers. The article got expanded into the over-subtitled Freakanomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. I picked up the book last Tuesday and pored over it during my interminable and pointless commute, as well as during the commercials of the most inane episode of Veronica Mars ever. (Personally, I was hoping for some sort of Pynchon-esque/Twin Peaks ending aware that it's not providing closure instead of something that just faked it.) Freakanomics is, in a word, cursory and fascinating.

Wait a second, there...

The fact is that Freakanomics isn't very well written, certainly not up to the standards of the New York Times Magazine. There's long, rather banal descriptions only tangentially related to the freaky study of Freakanomics, such as a story about how a sociology grad student got his hands on a street gang's financial ledgers or lists upon lists of the most popular boys' and girls' names sorted by decade, by race, by socioeconomic status. But then the book gets down to its theme: why the hell the hoi polloi does the crazy-ass things that it does, and Levitt's insights are really amazing. More importantly, it's the kind of book that points out how the conventional wisdom is for fools and if you're not relying on the empirical data, you're only deluding yourself and every other idiot who for some reason thinks you know what you're talking about. Freakanomics, despite being poorly written, is more eloquent than that.

So, if you can't tell, it's been a while since I've written a book report.