Showing posts with label nonfiction november 2014. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nonfiction november 2014. Show all posts

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nonfiction TBR Time! #NonFicNov

Ah yes, here we are in the final week of Nonfiction November.  I must say, I have very much enjoyed this event!  It has rekindled my interest in nonfiction, and reminded me of the many, many nonfiction titles that are awaiting me on my shelves.  Definitely looking forward to participating again next year.

Current nonfiction reading status: I finished Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed last week (review coming soon!), and am currently reading The Race Underground by Doug Most.  I likely won't finish it before the end of the month, because it's quite long, but that will be my first nonfic post for December.

Anyway, let's talk about this week's topic!:
New to My TBR: It’s been a week full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

Well, I didn't look at this week's topic until...right now, so I didn't keep very careful track of where I saw all these awesome nonfiction titles this month!  But I will do my best to give credit where credit is due.  Honestly, I don't have a ton of time to peruse other blogs these days anyway, so I will just highlight for you some of top nonfiction titles that are currently on my TBR list:

1. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
I first remember this book being mentioned long ago by Jennifer at The Relentless Reader.  Her review piqued my interest, and I've had this one on my radar ever since.  Tells the story of 5 days in a New Orleans hospital after Katrina.

2. Stiff by Mary Roach
This has been on my TBR almost as long as I've had a Goodreads account (a very long time).  The curious lives of human cadavers, eh?  Color me curious!

3. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This book has been recommended about a billion times by...everyone, but after getting to know Strayed a bit in Tiny Beautiful Things, I really want to pick this one up soon and hear more of her story.

4. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
This one was recommended to me via Twitter by @MsRedPen (of Ms Red Pen's blog).  Goodreads says it "reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist."  Hmmmm.

5. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Another one that's been on my TBR since time immemorial.  I really enjoyed Larson's In The Garden of Beasts, so I am eager to check this one out as well.

I could sit here and write this list forever, so I'll just leave you with the first five that came to mind.

What's on your nonfiction TBRs these days?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: 1776 by David McCullough


Title: 1776
Author: David McCullough
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 24, 2005
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

America's most acclaimed historian presents the intricate story of the year of the birth of the United States of America. 1776 tells two gripping stories: how a group of squabbling, disparate colonies became the United States, and how the British Empire tried to stop them. A story with a cast of amazing characters from George III to George Washington, to soldiers and their families, this exhilarating book is one of the great pieces of historical narrative. 

My Review:

When I was in high school, history was not my favorite subject.  I was more of a science girl, actually.  (A close second: English.  Because READ ALL THE THINGS!)  I got high grades in history, but more because I was very good at memorizing things than because I had any actual interest in it.  I scored a 2 (out of 5) on the AP US History exam, if that gives you any frame of reference.

However, part of me always felt like I should have more interest in history...I mean, it gives us a better understanding of ourselves, doesn't it?  It's important to know from whence we came, yes?  But it was so DRY.  How could I care more about a subject that put me straight to sleep?  Where could I find a history book that would change my tune?

I heard about David McCullough several years ago, and thought that maybe his work could be the ticket.  As a historian, his books are well-researched and extremely detailed, but he also adds more of a human element to his analysis.  This sounded like it would work better for me, but I was still nervous--hence the five-ish years that this book has been on my shelf, untouched.

Thanks to Nonfiction November, I decided that it was time to dive in, and as you may have expected, my initial inclinations were correct.  Despite its high level of detail and dense text, I was engaged with this book from beginning to end.

This book is not, as I had previously thought, a history of the entire American Revolution.  It is, as I should have maybe guessed from the title, specifically focused on the events that took place in 1776 (and a little bit of 1775, for background purposes).  Once I figured that out, I thought, cool, I will get to read about how the Americans won the Revolutionary War!  And then I realized, nope, the war didn't actually end until 1783.  (Reminder: score of 2 on the AP US History test.)

In fact, 1776, despite the whole Declaration of Independence thing, was not a real banner year for Team America.  We lost a lot of battles.  Like, A LOT.  George Washington made a whole slew of bad decisions for the army.  Yet, by the end of the year, things had started to take a little swing--just enough to bring the tide back in our direction.  McCullough describes all this at great length, but rather than just a dull list of dates and places, he provides insight into the hows and whys of each event.  What was Washington thinking in the days before the Battle of Brooklyn?  Who were his most trusted allies?  What were the British expecting of the Americans before each battle--and how were they getting that intelligence?  Who was a raging drunkard, or a traitor, or a dirty coward?  These are all the intriguing little details that may have made history class more fun for me back in the day.  Plus, he tells it from both sides (British and American), so you get a fuller view of the tense situation as it continued to develop.

That's not to say that this book will be for everyone.  You do have to have some interest in the finer particulars of US history if you want to enjoy this book, otherwise you will get bogged down in the density of the text.  But if you're looking for a piece of historical nonfiction that will both educate and entertain you, 1776 is a wonderful start.  I will absolutely be checking out McCullough's backlist for more brain food!

Have you read any of McCullough's work?  Are there any other historian authors out there whose books you've enjoyed?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Diversity and Nonfiction #NonFicNov


Howdy, readers!  It is week 3 of Nonfiction November, and I am moving right along with my nonfic reading.  I'm still working on 1776 by David McCullough...in my defense, it is a very dense book, so it's taking me some extra time to finish.  However, it is worth every bit of the extra effort.  This is such an in-depth look at the American Revolution, and it's hard for me to put it down!  My next book will be Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed...I wanted to read at least one nonfiction book this month that was based solely on recommendations from other readers, and this one has been mentioned a LOT (hiiiiii Shannon from River City Reading!).  Stay tuned for that once I'm done getting my history on.

On to this week's featured nonfiction topic!  Diversity in Nonfiction:
"What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for?"

Hmmmm.  Well, I could give a fairly textbookish answer to what "diversity in books" means, but this is supposed to be what it means to ME.  So if I'm being honest, I consider myself a "diverse" reader if the book I'm reading has a setting or cultural focus outside the US/Canada.  (Oh Canada, I know you're international too, but since it takes me less time to drive to your border than it does to drive to my own parents' house...I'm not considering you very diverse for my own reading purposes.)  I don't often take the author's nationality into account, and I know that that is not necessarily the best way to define diversity--because can a white American author write about, let's say, Peruvian culture in the same way as a Peruvian author?  Likely not.  But when I read books (especially books that I pick up on a whim), I rarely take the time to look into the author's background before I jump in, and so their culture is not usually on my radar while reading.

I don't think this somewhat narrow view of literary diversity necessarily makes me a less-diverse reader, but it probably is something that is worth paying attention to in the future when I read.  Because as I suggested above, two authors with different backgrounds writing about the same culture are probably not going to approach it the same way--which, in turn, will affect my experience as a reader.

However, I should also note that setting alone is not an accurate way to depict diversity.  For example: Mitchell Zuckoff's Frozen in Time is set primarily in Greenland.  But I didn't learn a darn thing about Greenlandic Inuit culture in that book, because it was focused mostly on the rescue of American servicemen in that country, not on the people of the country itself.  Thus, in my eyes, that is not a "diverse" read.  I have to get some actual insight into the inhabitants of that country in order to feel like I've diversified my reading.

As far as the countries/cultures I tend to focus on the most in nonfiction...after looking through my Goodreads lists, it seems that I don't have a particular focus.  I've covered Kiribati (The Sex Lives of Cannibals), Sudan (God Grew Tired of Us), France (Paris, My Sweet), Sweden (Yes, Chef), the UK (Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson) and many more.  No particular focus here, which is as I expected, because I find it interesting to read about pretty much any culture.  That's one of the reasons I love nonfiction--the opportunity to learn something completely new, or at least to learn about a completely new aspect of something that I am already a little familiar with.

As for a location that I'd love to get recommendations for: I have two.  First is the Netherlands.  My stepfather's family is from Holland, and I fell in love with the country after a visit there in 2010.  It would be great to get my hands on some good nonfiction that is based there!  Second is Barcelona, Spain.  Another location that my husband and I have visited and adored, but I have yet to find any books set there.
My husband and I standing by a canal in Amsterdam. Throw in a windmill and some stroopwafels and this would basically be the most Dutch thing ever.
How do you define "diverse" nonfiction?  Have any good Dutch nonfic reads to recommend to me?  And for more on my thoughts about "traveling through reading", check out this post I did last year!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ask The Expert...Nonfiction November Style!


Hello, Nonfiction November-ites!  We are in Week 2 of the event, and it's going well for me so far.  I finished At The Mercy of The Mountains last week, and have moved on to 1776 by David McCullough.  It's been a long time since I delved into historical nonfiction, and I'm enjoying the change of pace.  This is definitely a great event for me!  Nonfiction has been woefully absent from my life in the last year or two.

For week 2, we are tasked with any one of three options...

"Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert)."

With that in mind, I am choosing to "Ask The Expert".  Specifically, I'm looking for recommendations on nonfiction regarding American politics.  Let me explain, because that's a pretty broad category!  I enjoy books that provide an inside view into American politics.  I've tried autobiographies (My Life by Bill Clinton, Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, etc), bipartisan reports (The 9/11 Commission Report), heavily biased political analyses (The Assault on Reason by Al Gore), and books that trended more towards peeping-Tom-expose than behind-the-scenes-informative (In the President's Secret Service by Ronald Kessler).  The list goes on, but that at least illustrates some of the breadth of what I've attempted.

In all that reading, I've realized that I have several desires when I step into this genre.

-Smartly written, analytical writing.  I loved the heavily detailed account of Clinton's presidency in his autobiography; I hated the obviously-pandering-to-the-lowest-common-denominator expose style of Kessler's book.
-Not too dry.  Clinton's book had a lot of detail, but also a human element that kept my interest up (not just Lewinsky, ha).  On the other hand, the 9/11 Report was impressive, but also put me to sleep on several occasions.  It's all detail, no emotion.  Not a bad thing (I mean, consider its purpose), but just not tops on my list of reading options.
-Too heavily partisan.  This is a big one.  It's very hard to write about politics without any sort of partisan bias--I get that.  I'm not asking for every political book to be nonpartisan/bipartisan.  However, I think you can write from a political stance in a way that isn't hateful to the other side.  If you've ever read Gore's Assault on Reason, you know that that is an example of a HEAVILY partisan book...annoyingly so.  And that's coming from a Democrat.  (And since I've mentioned that--yes, I welcome books written from the right as well!  But again, as long as they are not overly hateful to the other side.  Rush Limbaugh suggestions, I can safely assume, will be left at the door.)

Just to give you an idea...without knowing much about them, a few books that have been on my TBR for a while are Pennsylvania Avenue by John Harwood, What Happened by Scott McClellan, and The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi (okay, I admit the title of that one is not promising given the above requirements, but reactions from those who have read it are welcomed!).  Autobiographies and biographies also seem to have worked well for me in the past.

So there it is, experts!  I know I gave you a tough assignment, but give it a try.  Lay it on me.  What political nonfiction should I read next?

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Year in Nonfiction (#NonFicNov)

Hello, reader friends!  In case you haven't heard, November is officially Nonfiction November, as declared by its co-hosts, Becca, Katie, Kim, and Leslie.  I'm very excited to be participating in the event this month (for reasons you will see below).  Nonfiction November includes weekly discussion posts, as well as a nonfiction book readalong, so head on over to any of the hosts' blogs to find out more.

This week's Nonfiction November discussion focuses on your year in nonfiction: take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Here's where the sad admission comes in: I've only read TWO nonfiction books in all of 2014!  I didn't even realize this atrocity until I heard about Nonfiction November and took a look back at my reviews for the year.  I read Sous Chef by Michael Gibney back in March, and Pooja Mottl's The 3 Day Reset in June, and that is IT.  So not only have I not read much nonfic at all, but I've also limited myself to food-related nonfiction.  FOR SHAME, ME.

Therefore, my obvious goal for Nonfiction November is to...read more nonfiction.  I have no real explanation for why I've strayed from it this year.  I do enjoy nonfiction, though I tend to favor fiction overall for the entertainment value.  However, I rarely have an imbalance between the two that is this large.  So I will be doing some work on that this month!  

Even though fiction may win for entertainment value, I love nonfiction because I feel like it feeds my brain.  I have learned some of the most random, fascinating factoids through nonfiction reads.  And some nonfiction authors are so good at their craft that you often feel a level of suspense that is usually reserved for a fiction novel as you're reading their work (examples would be Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff, or In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson).

So, what exactly am I reading this month?  Well, as we know, I'm not a very fast reader these days, so I can't set the bar too high.  However, I am going to try to read a few nonfic titles that have been sitting on my at-home TBR for quite a while.  Possibilities include:
1776 by David McCullough
At the Mercy of the Mountains by Peter Bronski
Chicken Soup for the Traveler's Soul by Jack Canfield, etc
The Road Ahead by Bill Gates
Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster
The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain

That's just what I have on hand though.  I sparked a little Twitter discussion the other night regarding reader's recommendations for the best nonfiction, and I got a TON of great responses!  A library trip may be in order!

What say you, friends?  Will you be participating in Nonfiction November?  What types of nonfiction do you gravitate towards the most?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

BOO! October 2014 in Review

This recap will be short and sweet, because life is just crazy up in here lately.  First, sadly, my aunt passed away on the 31st after a long battle with cancer.  This is obviously very upsetting for our family, and we are in the midst of figuring out all the arrangements, so I may be MIA a bit around here (as I'm sure you understand).

Also crazy for good reasons though.  Of course, Halloween came and went, which was much fun for our kiddos, especially Small Fry.  It's fun to see how trick or treating has progressed with him over the years.  At age 3, he is really starting to get into it, and he had a blast going door to door that night.  I had a blast too, especially when he got to the house giving out full size Snickers bars.  Because that's probably a little too much sugar for a three year old, right?  So Mommy and Daddy might just have to confiscate that...
The firefighter puts out the fires that the dragon starts, of course.
Anyway, let's talk reading!

In October I read 5 books:
Larger Than Life by Jodi Picoult
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Man V. Nature by Diane Cook
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

In addition, we did a little Six Degrees of Separation with 1984, and I gave two thumbs way up to the Gone Girl movie.

November is now upon us, and I am SUPER PUMPED for Nonfiction November!  Post about that coming tomorrow.  Definitely going to get my nonfic groove on this month.

How was your October, friends?  Any fun Halloween costumes to share?
 
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