Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Eyes Wide Open

I am a Cybils second round judge. I am currently reading the all the nominated books in a fun "armchair readalong" way with the first round judges. My reviews and opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the work of the committee.

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines Paul Fleischman

Fleischman (who’s probably most known for his Newberry Prize winning Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices) offers a book about the real issues facing us environmentally while, at the same time, teaches teens how to evaluate their sources and be an informed consumer of news. It’s a really great call to action, pointing out how we need to change things, and maybe should have changed them yesterday.

I really liked the design of the book, but I think it would have worked even better in color.

The margins contain a lot of extra reading or watching for more information. It was a great way to recommend some great titles. I also really like what he chose--a good mix of books, articles, movies, and videos. Additionally, a lot of the things he chose are for adults, but are things teens could totally read and understand. It shows a respect for his audience that I really appreciate.

It also has excellent back matter and extensive endnotes--not only are all the sources documented, but many also give further information.

That said, there is a “how-to-think how-to manual” vibe to the book that grates a bit--it seemed condescending. I’m also wondering at who it’s aimed at--are teens no longer cynical about what they’re being told by THE MAN?

Fleischman’s writing often uses many of the same logical fallacies he warns readers against falling for. And, some of his points were interesting, but he didn’t have anything to back them up (like lack of food is what led to the Rwandan genocide and the crisis in Darfur. I think that’s an interesting argument to make, but the argument has to actually be made.)

Two things really irked me though--one is that he really hates think tanks (wonder if he feels the same way about the left wing environmental ones?) and paints them with such a brush that what he describes just doesn’t resemble what they are (and yes, this is personal, and yes, I know a lot about think tanks from the inside.) He tends to equate them with lobbyists (they’re not the same thing) and also all lobbyists are bad (what about the ones who lobby for the environment? According to Fleischman it doesn’t matter, because they’re not as well funded. Um, no. If you have a problem with the tactics, you have a problem with the tactics, if you have a problem with funding imbalance, that’s something else.) He also says that all talking heads on the news are PR flacks. Nope.

The other is the overblown hyperbole he resorts to. According to him, Foundations are a way for think tanks to hide where their money comes from and is the same thing as how drug cartels launder their money. Also, when talking about the psychological phenomenon of regression (trying to make the point that people would rather watch TV, play video games, care about a sports fandom or hang out on social media than face reality and learn about the world around them, which is problematic enough, but wait) he talks about how it regression causes childish reactions--his examples? Credit cards [note: not credit card debt, but credit cards in general] and tax revolts are childish reactions to wanting it now and not being able to save for the future or long term. And shootings are a crazy-people childish reaction to annoying people.*

And then my head exploded.

He makes some great points, but so much of it is undermined by his tone and writing, that it undoes everything that's right about this book.

Exact quotation: “With the daunting issues facing us, it’s easy to see the appeal of retreating to a childlike stage without responsibility. This is the defense mechanism regression. Where can you see it? Credit cards. You haven’t saved enough money but you really want something now? Go ahead and buy it anyway! Tax Revolts. Maturity demands looking beyond our narrow interests. Contributing to the public good from our private pockets causes some adults to throw tantrums. Shootings. Don’t like your boss/ex-wife/gum-chewing coworker? Blowing them away is a childish fantasy with such appeal that some mentally unstable people act it out.” p. 69

Book Provided by... my local library

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