It’s time for more reading recommendations!

I read the June 14, 2021 issue of The New Yorker (I got it from the discard pile of my local library).  I liked:

  • How Nasty Was Nero?, which discusses the legend of the Roman Emperor Nero.  Nero might have been a nasty guy.  Like, a really nasty guy.  But maybe he wasn’t.  Maybe he was smeared after his death for political reasons.  This could form the basis of a decent integrated writing question, or maybe a reading passage.
  • The Classicist Who Killed Homer, which discusses whether Homer (you know, the guy who wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad) actually existed.  This would make for a perfect integrated writing question!

I also read the August 22, 2022 issue of the same magazine.  It had a few relevant articles:

  • Africa’s Cold Rush and the Power of Refrigeration is a dense article about a challenging topic.  It isn’t the most enticing of articles, but it is important that TOEFL test-takers strengthen their ability to pay attention in the face of boredom. 
  • The Untold History of the Biden Family is a fascinating examination of the lives of American President Joe Biden’s father and grandfather.  At that same time it is a compelling examination of the life of Bill Sheene (Biden’s great uncle) and his decedents.  This isn’t a TOEFL-like article, but it is one of the best things I’ve read in this magazine lately. 
  • American Democracy was Never Meant to be Democratic is about the fine art of gerrymandering.  I haven’t highlighted too many political science articles in this column, so do check this one out if you want to strengthen your ability to read stuff in that realm.

Meanwhile, I read a few books this month:

  • Shortchanged, by Annie Abrams is an examination of the Advanced Placement (AP) program which retains an iron grip on American schools.  The book presents a compelling argument against continued use of AP curriculum and tests, but for me the best part was Abrams’ detailed history of the creation and implementation of the AP program.  TOEFL test-takers can find better stuff to practice their reading skills with, but test-obsessed tutors might enjoy this one.
  • Fear of Falling, by Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the better political science texts of the past forty years.  Again, it isn’t great TOEFL practice, but I mention it here since I love it to bits.  Read it if you want an explanation of why America seems so bonkers at times.

Earlier this month I found myself at a library in Canada and finally read a copy of “Collins Cobuild English Usage.”  I think it is a great book for English learners.  Here’s my review from Goodreads:

The book lists thousands of words (or pairs of easily confused words) and attempts to explain their proper use. For each word various possible uses are listed and common errors are also highlighted. This isn’t a dictionary, though – the focus here is on explaining how to use the words in a grammatically correct way.

Rounding out the book are a short “topics” section that highlights words and phrases used in certain contexts (letter writing, talking on the phone, advising someone, etc) and a very short chapter about how language has changed over the past decade.

I like this book a lot. It is a good companion to something like Michael Swan’s “Practical English Usage,” which covers much of the same territory.

More New Yorker articles next month as I continue to work my way through a stack of unread copies from 2022.  And at least one more library find.  Stay tuned!

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