I recently got my copy of Jessica Zellers's new nonfiction reading guide, titled Women's Nonfiction: A Guide to Reading Interests, and it's spectacular.
Now, you should know, I am the new series editor of the Libraries Unlimited Real Stories series, of which this book is a part (although Robert Burgin edited this volume, and did a fantastic job of it to boot--thanks ever so, Robert, for leaving such big shoes for me to fill), and I LOVE nonfiction reading guides, so I am probably not ever going to give one of these books a bad review. But I think my appreciation for this volume (and Rick Roche's guide to biographies, Real Lives Revealed) goes beyond mere interest as the series editor. Even if they sometimes have small problems in execution (and all of these types of books do, mine included) I simply love that they are available. They not only make it possible to find great books to read, but I think they make it clear that knowing something about books and authors is a valuable and hard-earned skill. In a world that is increasingly fragmented and which moves too fast and in which people speak endlessly of boring things called "apps," I think it's refreshing to find, gathered in one handy collection, lists of books that are similar in both subject and style.
But I digress. Perhaps the most valuable thing Zellers does is explain what Women's Nonfiction is: "a reading interest comprising titles that speak to women's experiences." Her chapters, therefore, include titles that speak to women's experiences in several genres and formats: Biographies and Memoirs (Life Stories); Personal Growth titles; Health, Wellness, and Beauty; Women's History; Adventure and Travel; Feminism and Activism; Women at Work; and Women and Society. Looking for a book similar to Sue Monk Kidd's The Dance of the Dissident Daughter?* Zellers suggests titles like Judith Duerk's Circle of Stones: Woman's Journey to Herself; and also suggests other memoirs like Deborah Kanafani's Unveiled: A Woman's Journey through Politics, Love, and Obedience.
What I particularly love about this volume is Zellers's writing style; she's witty.** Consider this, from the introduction:
"I dimly recall from my tenth-grade English class that Hercules had to perform twelve impossible labors. If memory serves, one of those twelve labors was to cull through all of the titles that are, or might be, Women's Nonfiction."
Her book annotations are all like that too; of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, her description opens with "It began simply enough, with Eve Ensler chatting with her friends about sex."
What we have here, then, is that rarest of things: a reference book that's fun to read. I highly recommend it--and this, coming from someone who has never met a "goddess narrative" she enjoyed (or would read all the way through, for that matter), should be taken as the highest praise indeed.
*I won't be, as Kidd is not for me, but there's plenty of other books suggested here that I might try.
**I am trying to be the bigger person here and not admit how jealous I am of her ability to turn a phrase.