So a real grab bag in the “You Should Read More” column this  month.  That means it was a good reading month for me… but maybe not a great month for you if you are looking for stuff perfectly suited for TOEFL prep.  In any case, let’s get right to it…

  • First up, I will remind you of the two book reviews I wrote this month. First up, check out my review of the new edition of TOEFL Essential Words.  The book remains a great resource for TOEFL prep, though the new edition has a bunch of errors in its description of the shorter TOEFL test.  Whoops.  Also, it seems to only be available as an ebook right now.  Next up, I reviewed IELTS 17.  Obviously the IELTS is a totally different test, but the articles used in the reading section are great practice if you want to read academic content.
  • Next, I read the September/October 2023 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact.  As always, you won’t be able to read any of its content unless you have a subscription, but I will mention that the issue’s “Guest Editorial” by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Brian Gifford about sacrificing privacy to increase safety inspired the creation of a specific TOEFL academic discussion question for a client.   And a poem called “Object Permanence” by Marissa Lingen inspired the creation of a speaking question about, uh, object permanence. 
  • Later, I finally pulled Stanley Kaplan’s autobiography Test Pilot off my shelf.  If you are into the history of standardized testing in the USA and/or the history of preparation for standardized testing, this one is worth finding.  Here’s what I wrote on Goodreads: “A very short book, but interesting if you are into the history of standardized testing in the USA. You’ll read about Kaplan’s founding, its tussles with ETS and the Princeton Review, and about the sale of the company to the fine folks over at the Washington Post. I wish Kaplan had written more about his interactions with ETS regarding the SAT, as that is still pretty relevant to today’s world.”
  • Following along (but still behind) with the Norton Library Podcast, I read Oedipus the King.  I don’t recommend it, but I mention it here because I enjoy posting updates about this read-along.
  • Finally, I read the September 2023 issue of History Today.  I liked Jane Eyre Goes to the Theatre, about an unauthorized theatrical production of the famous novel that launched shortly after the publication of the famous novel.  Back in the day, it seems, anyone could do anything they wanted with someone else’s intellectual property. Also worth checking out is Signs of the Zodiac: The Dendera Dating Controversy, about the discovery of the Dendera Zodiac in Egypt and its arrival in Paris.  

That’s all for this month, but check back in about 30 days for fresh recommendations.  Keep studying.

As usual, I read a bunch of stuff this week.  I’ll get right to it.

First up, I checked out the January 2023 issue of “History Today.”  A few articles seem relevant to TOEFL test-takers.

  • Hawk this Way describes the street sellers that hawked their wares on the streets of London around 1900.  Apparently there were more than 12,000 hawkers at that time in London alone.  Some great vocabulary in here with bits like: “though they traded without formal sanction and frequently fell foul of the law…”.  The article paints a really vibrant picture of an aspect of the city that disappeared around the time of the first world war.  Plenty of historical background is presented.  This article is somewhat similar in length and reading level as a real TOEFL reading passage.
  • The Madman of the North is a fun article about Charles XII of Sweden and his thirst for war.  Today one doesn’t often think of Sweden when thinking of European military history, but apparently people in the early 1700s sure did.
  • The Cold, Cold War is about rival nations trying to be the first to reach the Arctic.  It touches on the life of explorer Robert L. Peary who appears in a TOEFL integrated writing question I’ve checked hundreds of times.  I can’t remember if it is from an ETS source of a third party source, but it questions whether or not he actually reached the pole.  The best part of this article is its depiction of the schemes of Arctic explorer Henry W. Howgate.
  • Decline and Fall is about concerns throughout history regarding decadence.   I’ve already added “the decadent movement” to my list of TOEFL speaking questions in the works.

Next, I checked out the February 2023 issue of the same magazine.  Here’s what I liked:

  • Vile Verse and Desperate Doggerel is about poet William McGonagall.  Was he the worst poet in history?  Was he a visionary?  You decide.  The article brings to mind an old TOEFl speaking question from ETS about “Outsider Art.”
  • The Land Between Rivers is about efforts to establish a steamship service down the Euphrates River in the 19th century.  It’s a long article.
  • The ‘Lost’ Emperor is about a mystery!  A pair of old coins were found that might depict a previously unknown Roman Emperor.   But maybe they don’t.  These coins have been studied.  People have opinions.  There are disagreements.  This would make a perfect Integrated Writing question!

I think I’ve got one more copy of “History Today” on my shelf.  I’ll probably write about it next month.

Meanwhile, I read the July/August 2023 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  I read every issue of this magazine, but I rarely mention it here because the stories and articles aren’t really available online.  I know it is a bit cliche, but I think the world would be a better place if more people read science fiction now and then.  There are bigger things to think about than the allegiances that divide us.  This month I really enjoyed David Ebenbach‘s “Everybody Needs a Conditions Box” which features the establishment of a colony floating above the surface of Venus.  That’s a topic that has appeared in TOEFL integrated writing questions (and I think I’ve mentioned other stories from the magazine that explore the concept).  This particular story also explores AI in a fun way.  Read it if you can find it.

I also read the October 2023 issue of Apollo.  I suppose it is important to read about art and architecture now and then, as those topics do show up on the TOEFL (and they are often ignored when people seek out “academic reading” material).  A few articles stood out this month:

Finally, I recently discovered a wonderful podcast called The Academic Minute.  This series features very short lectures on various topics by leading academics.  Each episode includes a short introduction and a transcript.  This is perfect practice for the TOEFL speaking section.  I feel like I am the last person to learn about this wonderful resource.  I think I will mine the podcast for topics I can use when writing practice questions.

You know, I’ve been really busy this month.  Last month, too.  I think the “enhanced TOEFL” is a hit.  Traffic to this website is up about 20% (to nearly all-time highs).  I’m getting a lot of requests for tutoring and for my usual writing and consulting services.  Earlier this month I spoke to the owner of a major TOEFL prep company and they told me that their sales are higher than ever.  Go figure.  Good for ETS.

But I have found the time to read a few things.

  • Continuing my read-along with the Norton Library Podcast, I read “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B Du Bois.  This one is hard work so I don’t really recommend it to people just trying to improve their TOEFL reading skills.  That said, Du Bois seems to come up in conversation quite a lot these days.  The freshman students at Columbia University that I work with are all exposed to Du Bois and an archival article by him coincidentally appeared in the issue of “Foreign Affairs” I read this month (see below).  Perhaps America-bound students should check him out at some point.


  • I read the May/June issue of “Foreign Affairs.”  This is the last of the magazines I grabbed from Starbucks.  Sad.  This publication isn’t fantastic for TOEFL preparation either, but a few things might be worth checking out.  The Age of Energy Insecurity describes the desire of some in America to wean their nation off of oil supplied by unfriendly regimes.  This could certainly be the topic of a reading on the TOEFL.  Meanwhile, Iraq and the Pathologies of Primacy describes the flawed thinking that led the United States to war in Iraq, and how the same flawed thinking contributes to yet more war in the Middle East.  Nothing like the TOEFL, but I found it insightful.  Check it out if international relations are in your wheelhouse. 


  • I also read the July/August issue of “Apollo: The International Art Magazine.”  It included a lovely article about a cottage named Munstead Wood. And this is not just any cottage – it is an important historic structure in the UK.  Perhaps you may not be interested in cottages or buildings in general, but the field of architecture could show up when you take the test.  I once wrote a whole reading passage about Frank Lloyd Wright for a major TOEFL publication.  One day you might be able to read it!


That’s all for now, but check back in about 30 days for more recommendations.




I spent much of this month traveling.  On Pacijan Island in the Philippines I stayed at an accomodation called “Camotes Cay Hideaway.”  That’s a one-room property with a really nice view of the sea.  I understand that it was built about thirty years ago as a summer getaway for a chiropractor who practiced in Cebu City for many years.  He passed away recently and his getaway is now used by anyone who needs a quiet escape for a few days.  I think the furniture still in use was all his… and also his books remain.  I snapped a picture:

And another:

Judging from his collection of textbooks, this fellow was the oldest of old school chiropractors.  I not sure I believe in the efficacy of this particular school of thought, but I wish I could have gotten the “flying seven” from him before his passing.

Perhaps after I pass into the next world by collection of books on the history of ETS will be read by strange tourists forevermore.

Not a whole lot of relevant reading this month.  Sorry!  But a few things are worth mentioning:

  • Still following along with the Norton Library Podcast, I read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”  For a fairly old book, it’s still really accessible.  I would recommend it to language learners who want exposure to some classic literature.  It is easy to find, but make sure to get a copy with basic annotations to guide you through the tricky parts (and to explain some of the many literary allusions in the text).  You could even get the super cheap Wordsworth Classics Edition of the book, which probably has enough notes for most readers.
  • I read the August 29, 2023 issue of The New Yorker, which included a reprint of a very long 1979 profile of the silent film star Louise Brooks.  Film fans might enjoy this one.  Others may not.
  • I put in a purchase request at my local library for the 5th edition of They Say, I Say. To my surprise, the library got a copy!  This is a lovely book that can be a lot of help to students beginning their university life who need guidance about writing argumentative essays.  This edition includes a new chapter on revising essays (which is a welcome addition) and a chapter on writing research essays (which should probably be the subject of a whole ‘nother book).  It also includes a couple new sample essays.  I’ve already endorsed the fourth edition of the book in this blog, but I mention the new one here just in case anyone wants to ask me questions about it.  Note that they didn’t get the “with readings” version, so I don’t know about changes to those.

That’s all for now.  But more in September.  Keep reading.  Let me know if you have any recommendations.  I’ll track them down eventually.

A bit of a grab bag of recommendations this month, which is always the best type of column.  So…

  • I read the November 2022 issue of “The Atlantic.”  I got it from the free book exchange at the Starbucks in Carleton Place, Ontario when I was in Canada.  Nice little town, that one.  You should visit if you are ever in eastern Ontario.  In addition to the Starbucks, they have a newly revitalized main street which is home to a variety of shops and services!  From the magazine, you might enjoy Let Puerto Rico Be Free, which is a detailed history of the American territory’s independence movement.  That movement is experiencing something of a rebirth, as some residents of the territory feel neglected and let-down by the US government.  It’s an issue to keep an eye on in the months and years ahead.


  • I also read the May 2023 issue of the same magazine.  I think Vermeer’s Revelation is an absolutely perfect bit of TOEFL reading practice.  It’s longer than a typical TOEFL reading passage, but it has a whole bunch of circuitous paragraphs that you’ll need to chew over before you can understand them.  Art history is a topic that comes up quite frequently on the TOEFL, but which I don’t often write about here.  Check it out right away.


  • Meanwhile, my final discovery at the library back in Canada was Essential Writing Skills for College and Beyond by Charlene Gill.  I liked the book a lot, and actually used a few sections with some students I was preparing for the ALP Essay Exam that incoming students take at Columbia University.  The book resembles “They Say, I Say,” which I recommended here a few months ago.  In addition to teaching students how to place their writing in the context of an ongoing dialog, the also contains great advice about how to use and integrated quotations from assigned readings.  Do check it out if you want to polish your writing skills before heading off to college.


  • Lately, I’ve really been enjoying The Norton Library Podcast. Produced by Norton (an important publisher of literature in English) each episode features a conversation with the editor of one of their recent editions.  Check it out if you want to hone your listening skills with some academic conversation.   Episodes are released every second week, so you can subscribe without feeling overwhelmed.  For bonus points, you could read the discussed works!  I’ve started doing that, and this month I started with The Great Gatsby.  Indeed, that is one of the books I recommend to students who want a taste of classic American literature.  Not only is it a fun and accessible read, but it is quite short.


  • I read the March/April issue of “Analog Science Fiction and Fact.”  Analog doesn’t put its stuff online, so I can’t link to it, but I really enjoyed the guest editorial by Richard A Lovett.  It discusses the problem of unintended consequences and highlights a few situations which could be turned into great integrated writing questions.  Apparently, a number of American states have highway signs that mention how many people have died on particular stretches of road.  They are meant to encourage safe driving, but might actually increase the rate of accidents.  Whoops.  And apparently when we let people know exactly how much energy they’ve consumed some people will consume even more.


I’ll leave it at that.  I’ll spend some time on the road (and away from my bookshelf) in August, so next month’s column might be a little boring.


It is time for the latest “You Should Read More” column.  I spent this month traveling, and did much of the following reading on airplanes.  What a life.

I read the August 15, 2022 issue of “The New Yorker.”  Here’s what I liked:

  • The Reluctant Prophet of Effective Altruism is about the concept of “using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis.”  Practitioners think very carefully about, for instance, how to donate money in ways that help the maximum number of people, even if their choices might raise a few eyebrows.   Others do things like donate every cent they earn (over a certain threshold) to carefully considered charitable causes, a habit called “earning to give.”  I suspect this topic could make a fun TOEFL reading or writing question.
  • Josephine Baker was the Spy France Wanted – And the Spy it Needed is a fascinating biographical sketch of the actress Josephine Baker, with an emphasis on her wartime activities as a spy for the allies.

I also read the October 10, 2022 issue of the same magazine. A few articles stood out:

  • Are You the Same Person You Used to Be?” looks into the topic of whether or not our personality is set in stone when we are young.  We change over time, of course, but our childhoods have a profound impact on the adults we eventually become.  I know mine did.
  • The Bodies in the Cave” discusses the pillaging of Native American artifacts and human remains by amateur collectors.  Grave robbers, basically.  America is one of the few places in the world where people are legally able to keep whatever they can dig up on their property, including human remains.  It is a fascinating (but unsettling) article.
  • Bertrand Piccard’s Laps Around the World is about Bertrand Piccard’s 2014 circumnavigation of the world in his solar powered plane Solar Impulse.  But it is also about his father and grandfather, both very famous explorers.  The Star Trek character Jean-Luc Picard was apparently named after this family.

Lastly, I reach the October 24 issue of the same magazine.  Yeah, I spent this month traveling and only  had access to a stack of New Yorkers.  There might be more variety next month.  I liked:

  • What We’ve Lost Playing the Lottery, which is a history of lotteries in the United States, with a particular emphasis on scratch tickets.  Turns out that public lotteries aren’t as lucrative as we might think they are.  It also turns out that they have as many victims as we think they do.

Since I spent most of the month in Canada, I spent some time at my local public library and found a copy of Collins COBUILD Phrasal Verbs Dictionary.  I really liked it.  Basically, it’s a dictionary of words which highlights their use in various phrasal verbs.  Some words are accompanied by many phrasal verbs (“go” is followed by 12 pages listing everything from “go about” to “go without.”  Meanwhile, others have just a handful (“grind” includes just six phrasal verbs in total).  A supplement at the end lists “new phrasal verbs” that might be of interest to both learners and students.  The middle of the book includes some useless “exercises” that probably look good on an Amazon listing, but seem a bit out of place in this resource.


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!

This month I finished reading They Say, I Say (with readings).  If you are seeking a book that will help you get started along the path to better academic writing, I highly recommend it.  In about 200 pages, it introduces some effective methods of presenting your ideas as part of an ongoing dialog with other relevant scholars.    I’ve recently used the book in my own lessons on academic writing and it has been popular with my students.   Also included is a selection of readings to stimulate discussion and writing.  Fortunately, some of those readings can be found online.  A few of them are especially relevant to readers who are taking the TOEFL for college admission.  They include:

  • Should Everyone go to College? by Stephanie Owen and Isabel Sawhill argues that attending college is often a path to future prosperity, but not in every circumstance.  Think carefully, kids!
  • The New Liberal Arts by Sanford Ungar hit close to home for me.  Now, more than ever, the people who have the ability to “participate in, and help shape, civil discourse.”  That’s an ability that a liberal arts education might empart.  One of the brightest students I have worked with recently is majoring in architecture at a very prestigious school and is minoring in…. sociology.  She knows what up.  She’ll be able to move comfortably in so-called “elite” circles.  Be like her, kids!
  • Shut Up About Harvard by Ben Casselman offers some food for thought.  I totally understand why people want to go to Harvard.  Those people want to not just make money, but they want to be part of the meritocracy.  They want to be part of the elite group that shapes their society.  I get that.  But maybe we need to stop thinking so much about those particular kids and those particular schools.

Anyway.  There are many more articles in the book, and most of them aren’t about education.  I’ll let you find them on your own (but feel free to ask if you want me to highlight a few more options).

I also read the December 2022 issue of “History Today.”  A few things grabbed my interest:

  • Are the Dark Ages Inevitable? is the issue’s “head to head” column, wherein a group of professors discuss a particular historical question.  Do you see what I mean about presenting your ideas as part of an ongoing dialog?  Get the writing book I mentioned above!  This particular column inspired me to create an integrated writing question about the Late Bronze Age Collapse.
  • Clean Sheets, about the history of paper, could be adapted into a perfect TOEFL reading passage.  It is almost the right length, too.  Best of all, the article is fascinating.  I didn’t realize that papermaking used to be such a difficult process.

The magazine also contains a few really wonderful long-form articles, but since they are all behind a paywall I won’t cite them here.  But, hey, if you love history this is the magazine for you.  It is the best of its category.

Finally, I read the August 8, 2022 issue of “The New Yorker.”  I absolutely loved The Hard Sell, a long article about the door-to-door sales profession.  Yes, that is still an occupation… and yes, it is weird.  The article is at once an investigation of how the job works in 2022 and a character study of one particularly effective salesman.  It’s the best thing I’ve read in this magazine all year.  It isn’t really TOEFL adjacent, but it is a fascinating read.

More of this in 30 days.

Alright, so there is a bit more variety in this week’s “You Should Read More” column!  

First up, I read the February 2023 issue of National Geographic.  A few stories stood out:

  • Why these colorful fish engage in mouth-to-mouth showdowns is a short article about some weird and wonderful fish.  The sarcastic fringefish has a unique way of fighting, but also of avoiding fights with others of its species.  This is an example what I think it called agonistic behavior, which I am 100% sure has been used as type three speaking question.

  • Origami is revolutionizing technology, from medicine to space is the month’s title story.  It is about practical and high-tech uses of techniques inspired by origami.  It isn’t exactly the sort of thing that would appear on the TOEFL, but it is a lengthy academic-level passage that will probably hold your attention.

  • The extraordinary benefits of a house made of mud is about the use of mud in construction.  Mud is actually a traditional building material in parts of Africa.  The article discusses some of its advantages.  There is plenty of good science in here, and I can picture a TOEFL reading passage about this construction material!

Meanwhile, I read the February 27/March 6 issue of Time Magazine.  A couple of things are worth mentioning:

For a recent project I read Did we get the ‘old-age dependency’ of aging countries all wrong?  It’s about the way we think about the productiveness of “old” people in society.  Traditionally, societies have considered those above the age of 65 to be “dependent” on the rest of society, and therefore when those people make up a greater and greater proportion of the overall population, alarm bells are sounded.  But maybe it doesn’t have to be like that.

Finally, I’ve been plugging away at a large textbook called “They Say, I Say.”  It’s a guide to essay writing for freshman students, but also contains a huge number of academic readings meant to stimulate critical thought and written discussion.  I am not quite finished with it, so I think I’ll save it for next month, when I will discuss it both as a source of writing advice and as a source of academic reading material.

Someone posted a recommendation last month.  Don’t worry.  I haven’t forgotten you, and I’m going to hunt around for a copy of the recommended text.  I’m always open to recommendations!

I spent most of this month traveling, so just a short column this month.  Sorry!

I read the August 2021 issue of Scientific American, and spotted a few relevant articles:

  • I enjoyed “Play is Serious Business for Elephants,” a long piece about the importance of play for elephants (and many other animal species).  ETS loves to include content on the test about animals.  I can imagine a reading passage about animal play, or a type four speaking question about “two ways that play is beneficial to animals.”  Read this one!
  • I also liked “Stuttering Stems from Problems in Brain Wiring, Not Personalities.” Obviously ETS will never include this sort of topic on the real test, but it is interesting reading for anyone studying for a test that requires rapid delivery of speech without any disfluencies.
  • Also interesting was “The Forgotten History of the World’s First Trans Clinic.”  Again, ETS would never touch this topic with a 20-foot pole but the article is a great read.  It is a short look at the “Institute for Sexual Research” that existed for a short time in Germany before World War Two.  It is a reminder that progress does not always come in a continuous line.  Sometimes we move forward and backward as time marches on.  Perhaps, in some cases, our forefathers were more progressive than we are today.

At the Labuan Bajo airport, I found a copy of the May 2019 issue of National Geographic.  What a find!  Sadly, most of the content from that issue is now behind a paywall, but here’s an interesting Wikipedia article about a feature of some insects discussed in one article – ballooning.   It describes a way that spiders (and some other small invertebrates)  soar through the air.  Sometimes for very long distances.  That could certainly be the subject of a type three speaking question!  

I also read “Lizard” by Banana Yoshimoto.  This collection of short stories won’t improve your academic reading skills, but I liked it.  These stories from the early 1990s are about young urban sophisticates in Japan trying to figure out how to be young urban sophisticates in Japan.  I don’t think Gen-X in Japan had a road map.

More next month!


A short entry this month as I’m traveling now and am far away from my stack of unread magazines.

I’m in Labuan Bajo, by the way.  Wikipedia describes it as a “fishing town located at the western end of the large island of Flores in the Nusa Tenggara region of east Indonesia.”  It is often used by visitors as a gateway to Komodo National Park.

Here is a National Geographic article about the Komodo Dragon.  ETS loves to include content about animals on the test, so that’s a perfect bit of academic reading practice!

I’m in a small hotel in a more rural part of the town. The atmosphere here is peaceful and quiet.  Well, mostly quiet.  A few months ago kids in Indonesia discovered the old “clackers” toy so every ten minutes the silence is broken by the toy’s signature clack-clack-clack-clack.  It’s the weirdest thing.  Why clackers?  Why now?

I read a few things this month, though.

First up, I read Colin Thubron’s “To a Mountain in Tibet.”  Part travelogue, part history lesson, it describes the author’s visit to Mt. Kailas in the early 2000s.  Thubron is my favorite travel writer (as regular readers of this column already know) and this is one of his strongest and most personal works.  You can get it on Amazon

I have visited Tibet a few times.  The last was around 2012, I think.  I remember how a police car was waiting for my partner and myself when we arrived at one town with a recent history of protests.  Someone, probably the driver, had called ahead to let local officials know that some outsiders were coming.  The Chinese state is impressive, to say the least.

I also read the July 2021 issue of Scientific American.  A few things caught my attention:

This short article about new ways to grow coral cells might be a bit boring, but I’ve been snorkeling on this trip.  It’s relevant!

The month’s cover story about human evolution and why we are more dependent on water that other species is perfect!  On trips to tropical destinations like Indonesia I’m dehydrated pretty much all the time, so reading about why I have this problem is perfectly relevant.  The article is actually quite interesting, and I can imagine ETS creating a reading passage about a similar topic some day.

The issue also contains a long story about how we might solve the climate change crisis by pulling carbon from the air and sequestering it deep underground.  The article is a bit technical… but so is the TOEFL reading section.

So there you go.  Four articles and a book.  I think I’ll leave it at that.  I’ll check in again next month with more notes from the road, and a few more articles.

I read a couple of non-fiction books this month which I liked a lot.

First up, I reread my favorite travel book, “Shadow of the Silk Road” by Colin Thubron.  Followers of this column will note that I’ve spent the past few years slowly working my way through his expansive bibliography.  I think I will finish that journey in 2023.  I do recommend this particular book to anyone who enjoys travel, or who wants some challenging academic reading material.  The book, like everything by Thubron, functions as both a travelog and a collection of short historical sketches of the regions he moves though.  You can find it on Amazon or in the Open Library.

I also read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed,” in which she describes her experiences holding a series of low-wage jobs in the United States in the late 1990s.  Though the world has changed quite a lot in the decades since the book was published, it seems as timely as ever given the inflation we went through in 2022 and the recession that seems to be looming.  The book is mostly descriptive, but if you stick around for the final couple of chapters you’ll find some really insightful analysis.  Find it on Amazon or in the Open Library.

Meanwhile, I stumbled upon an article in Science News about the private sale of fossils in the United States.  Experienced TOEFLers will recognize this very topic from one of the three ETS books.  As I’ve said before in this column, dinosaur-related topics seem to show up on the TOEFL (and in prep materials) quite often.

Lastly, I read the May 2021 issue of Scientific American (this one came from the discard bin at my local library) and a few things stood out:

That’s all for this month.  I will travel in January so expect an early column next month.  I’ll probably start with notes from my last two issues of “Scientific American.”

I’ve had trouble reading for the past few weeks.  I don’t know what it is – I’ve just had difficult maintaining my concentration.  I’ve been plugging away at the same book since October, and have only read a couple hundred pages.

But I did read a few other things this month.  Of note:

  • While doing research for a professional writing assignment, I read this great article about paleolithic art in The Guardian.  It covers potential purposes of ancient cave art left behind by our ancestors.  That’s definitely the sort of thing that might show up on the TOEFL.
  • I also read a scholarly article about Seneca Village in the Journal of Urban History, a predominantly African American community that was destroyed to make room for New York’s Central Park.  That isn’t the sort of thing that will appear in a TOEFL reading passage, but it is a really well-written article that will appeal to anyone with an interest  in the development and consequences of urban green spaces.  I went down a Central Park rabbit hole as a result of a special work assignment I had this month… so I guess I did read some stuff.
  • Actually, I’m happy to have some work assignments outside of my usual TOEFL wheelhouse, as it does encourage me to read some stuff I wouldn’t otherwise read.  I didn’t mention it last month’s column, but in October I found myself going down a Frank Lloyd Wright rabbit hole. He is one of the best-known American architects, and since architecture is one of the subjects that appears in the TOEFL reading section (albeit somewhat infrequently), here’s a nice article about his most famous design, from Travel + Leisure Magazine.  If you want to improve your academic reading skills, folks, keep on reading!  Don’t be picky.

I also read a couple more issues of “Science News” I picked up from the discard pile of my local library in Canada.  A few articles seem relevant.  First up, from the October 9/23, 2021 issue:

Next, I read the December 4, 2001 issue of the same magazine.  A few things stood out:

That’s all for now, but come back next month for more articles.  I’ve run out of “Science News” issues, but I have a few issues of “Scientific American” to go through.