Summer reading recommendations No. 3

Editor’s note: Stephen Bates is an assistant professor in the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at UNLV. He is a contributing editor of the Wilson Quarterly, a magazine of ideas published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

By Stephen Bates

Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men by Mara Hvistendahl. A Beijing-based writer for Science, she cites a demographer who estimates that Asia is short 163 million girls and women — more than the total female population of the United States — because of sex-selective abortion. It’s a huge issue in China and India, but it’s happening in the Caucasus and the Balkans too. In nearly every country, people want boys. (The great exception is the United States, where fertility clinics that do sex selection report that parents strongly prefer girls.) It’s a smart and deeply alarming book, the kind of thing that makes you wonder why this isn’t a front-page problem. Part of the answer, the author says, is that it’s entangled in abortion politics here. Christian Right groups hope — and abortion-rights groups fear — that sex-selective abortion may be a wedge for restricting abortion rights in general.

Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground by Jonathan Kay. A book about conspiracy theories and their adherents, by an editor of Canada’s National Post, that manages to be both richly anecdotal and cleverly analytical.

The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting by Rachel Shteir (forthcoming in July). Includes an amusing account of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, which was hugely popular — and frequently stolen — despite the fact that most bookstores wouldn’t carry it and most newspapers would neither review it nor publish ads for it.

Extravagant Expectations: New Ways to Find Romantic Love in America by Paul Hollander. A cultural historian’s mildly crotchety look at today’s ways of wooing. One chapter analyzes the self-inflated personals ads from the New York Review of Books and other upscale American publications, and compares them to the self-deprecating, often hilarious personals that appear in the London Review of Books.

Still ahead are a couple of books from last year:

Hitch-22: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens. When I was literary editor of the Wilson Quarterly, he wrote several reviews for me. He came to a couple of my writing classes in D.C., too, and we went to dinner a half-dozen times there and once in Vegas. The smartest, best-read and most prolific person I’ve ever met.

Freedom at Risk: Reflections on Politics, Liberty, and the State by James L. Buckley. When he was a federal appellate judge in D.C., I clerked for him. Formerly a senator from New York (Moynihan beat him), he’s a conservative environmentalist in the Teddy Roosevelt mold and a principled, courtly, old-fashioned gentleman.

And, for a class I’ll teach in fall 2012 in Prague, I’m reading a lot of travel writing. Suggestions welcome!

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