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November 2015

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 30 November 2015

A weekly series, published each Monday, sharing a selected list of new nonfiction titles to be published during the week. List originally published at The Reader's Advisor Online. Text in bold is commentary.

Coppins, McKay – The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House. I don't want to go deep inside the Republican Party's anything.
Crabapple, Molly – Drawing Blood. Here's the ad copy at Amazon: "From a young age, Molly Crabapple had the eye of an artist and the spirit of a radical. After a restless childhood on New York’s Long Island, she left America to see Europe and the Near East, a young artist plunging into unfamiliar cultures, notebook always in hand, drawing what she observed." I have no idea who she is, and that description didn't really turn me on, but she also has a blurb from Matt Taibbi, who I love. I suppose I should check it out.
David, Saul – Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History
Eicher, David J. – The New Cosmos: Answering Astronomy’s Big Questions
Hall, Donald – The Selected Poems of Donald Hall
Martha Stewart Wedding editors – Martha Stewart Weddings: Ideas and Inspiration. My favorite thing about being married is knowing I'll never have to plan another wedding.
Meyer, Joyce – Power Words: What You Say Can Change Your Life. I already know this, since I swore in front of CRjr last month and he has spent most of this month screaming the word (in context and with perfect inflection, mind you, even when used differently) I let slip out. But really: Joyce Meyer is a popular inspirational writer so this will probably be a big title.
Southern Living editors: Southern Living 2015 Annual Recipes
Von Teese, Dita – Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour. Celebrity beauty guide. Here's her Wikipedia bio: "Dita Von Teese (born Heather Renée Sweet; September 28, 1972) is an American burlesque dancer, model, costume designer, entrepreneur and occasional actress She is thought to have helped repopularize burlesque performance, and was formerly married to Marilyn Manson."

So. What do you think? Anything look good there?

The best nonfiction I read all year...

...was the 1978 desk calendar diary written by my grandmother-in-law.

I'm very sorry to tell you this, because this diary is not a nonfiction book you can buy. (And I'm never giving it up.) Earlier this year my mother-in-law gave it to me, saying it was one of the few diaries that her mother wrote or kept, and she thought I would enjoy it because there were some stories in it about when Mr. CR was little. And I did enjoy those bits. But what I enjoyed more was getting to know my grandmother-in-law a little better (she died shortly before after Mr. CR and I were married), learning about her relationship with my mother-in-law, and learning about day-to-day life in 1978 (grocery prices, etc.).

But I'm not lying about it being great nonfiction. What was especially interesting was seeing how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Various family members I know have certain identifying hallmarks of behavior and personalities, and to a large extent, those personalities were already obviously set way back in 1978.* And all the seasonal details of the work people did, the never-ending laundry and canning and work, as well as many causes for celebration, well, it was quite the year.

So what I'm really getting at today is that you might want to think about writing a diary. Even if you just put a few notes in a day book or calendar. Really. Forty years from now, you never know who might get a real kick out of it. And feel closer to you and yours as a result of it. So today I'm thankful for getting to know family better, and thankful that my mother-in-law was generous with her mother's diary.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to say that I am thankful for you, fellow readers. Solidarity! I hope all of you had much to be thankful for this year, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your week.

*Which is appalling and comforting in equal measures. I've always been of the opinion that people don't really change, myself included, but I don't mean that in a damning sort of way. I also believe that our strengths are also our weaknesses, and vice versa, so you don't really have to change a whole lot if you just try and be aware of what you're working with.

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 23 November 2015

A weekly series, published each Monday, sharing a selected list of new nonfiction titles to be published during the week. List originally published at The Reader's Advisor Online. Text in bold is commentary.

Hamsley, David – To Disco, with Love: The Records that Defined an Era
Jones, Tom – Over the Top and Back: The Autobiography – 100,000 first printing.
McNally, Dennis – Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews. I'm totally uninterested in Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.
Munroe, Randall – Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. Someone just recommended this to me! (Thanks, Lynne.) Wasn't a huge fan of Munroe's book What If?, but might still try this one.
Palin, Michael – Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988-1998. I have yet to read a Michael Palin (yes, the Michael Palin who was part of Monty Python) travel book, which is ridiculous, as I claim to be an Anglophile. Maybe I'll get to this one.
Pogue, David – Pogue’s Basics: Life: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying Your Day. David Pogue is a hugely prolific "technology writer and science presenter" - he launched the "Missing Manual" series. Huh. Glad I looked that guy up. I had this idea he was a member of the band The Pogues.
Rove, Karl – The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters. Just seeing the name "Karl Rove" makes me throw up in my mouth a little. Or, a lot, actually.
Sacks, Oliver – Gratitude. Oliver Sacks was a hugely popular science/medicine author (and practicing neurologist) who died at the end of August. This is a collection of essays he wrote on the subjects of gratitude for life and impending death.
Simon, Carly - Boys in the Trees: A Memoir. From the ad copy: "Simon's memoir reveals her remarkable life, beginning with her storied childhood as the third daughter of Richard L. Simon, the co-founder of publishing giant Simon & Schuster, her musical debut as half of The Simon Sisters performing folk songs with her sister Lucy in Greenwich Village, to a meteoric solo career that would result in 13 top 40 hits, including the #1 song "You're So Vain." She was the first artist in history to win a Grammy Award, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award, for her song "Let the River Run" from the movie Working Girl." Huh. I didn't know any of that about Carly Simon. And that "Working Girl" song? It's awesome. Just hearing it makes me want to watch the movie again. The 80s! Big Hair! Young Harrison Ford!
Theoharis, Jeanne – The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
Various – Catwoman: A Celebration of 75 Years (graphic novel)

So. What do you think? Anything look good there?

Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

Again: so sorry to be coming late to the Nonfiction November. The hosts of this event have just been doing such a great job.

The second topic for Nonfiction November was hosted at a site called Regular Ruminations, and asked the question:

The original intention of this week’s theme was put together a fiction book and a nonfiction book that go well together. If you decide to pair two nonfiction books together, that works too!

So: a book pairing. For any reasons whatsoever.

I just thought about this a little bit, and realized, again, that I am not very good at book pairings. Or any book partnerings, really. I don't admit that very often, because I have worked as a librarian doing readers' advisory work, and I have written reference books pointing people to related and similar reads, and I have even given trainings and webinars on how to match readers up with books they might enjoy (based, often, on books they already have enjoyed). I try, and I can do a credible job of it, particularly with nonfiction (it always helped me that librarians are often better read in fiction than they are in nonfiction, so I had the edge there), but I don't even really particularly like doing it.

Why not? Well, it's not the way I read. I'm as likely as not to want my next book to be something completely different, in style, tone, subject, and genre, as my previous book. Sure I have subjects that I return to again and again, but I really do very little reading in the same subject across fiction and nonfiction lines. For example: I do like reading about British history, but I don't very often read (or enjoy) Historical Fiction*. I read a lot of True Crime but I hate most Thrillers and Mysteries (except for Agatha Christie, of course). Anyway.

But after a bit of thought, here's what I'd like to suggest. Have you read Helene Hanff's classic 84, Charing Cross Road?** Then you might enjoy Julie Schumacher's strange and funny little novel written entirely in letters, Dear Committee Members. A nice take on the ridiculousness of recommendation letters on all sides, from begging for, to writing, to receiving. I really enjoyed both these books, on completely different levels (the Hanff made me feel warm and fuzzy; the Schumacher decidedly less so), but they did both involve letters, so I'm calling it close enough.

Thanks again to everyone hosting Nonfiction November. And have a nice weekend, all.

*Okay, well, Poldark notwithstanding.

*And if you haven't, what are you waiting for? I can't BELIEVE I didn't find Helene until I was in my early thirties.

Nonfiction November

I was just working on a post about how I have gone on a fiction bender for the last month or so, and how distressed I am that my writing about my nonfiction reading has been lackluster of late (when it has been posted at all). I don't know if it's general emotional and physical fatigue, blog fatigue, or nonfiction fatigue, but lately I just haven't been having strong, writable opinions about nonfiction.

How lucky, then, that other bloggers have been all over the month of November by dedicating it specifically to nonfiction!

First, there's Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. She started off the hosting duties with a post titled "My Year in Nonfiction," explaining what she had been reading, and asking a few basic questions about other people's reading experiences thus far this year. I'm so sorry I haven't participated more in this event--and in coming posts I'll highlight posts from the month's other Nonfiction November hosts--but I wanted to answer her questions (good ones) here:*

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

I just looked at my reading spreadsheet for 2015, and honestly, it's not really been a great year for me and nonfiction. That said, there are a few nonfiction books that made me THINK, even if they didn't make me particularly HAPPY. These were: Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, Catherine Bailey's Black Diamonds: The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years that Changed England, Robert Putnam's Our Kids, and John Brockman's What Should We Be Worried About? I probably most enjoyed, on the most basic level, Amber Dusick's humor books Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures and Marriage: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. The best book I read, although, again, it was a major downer, was probably Robert Kolker's Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Most likely the Kolker, although let me tell you, getting anyone interested in that one is tough. True Crime is an uncomfortable sell. Get over it. There is some True Crime you just must read.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

Actually, and I'll talk about this in a future post, I'm a little burned out on nonfiction. What I read the most of are what Mr. CR calls "Downer Books," investigative or historical nonfiction on dreary topics--poverty, crime, war--but I'm starting to wonder if maybe I haven't read enough of that.

Her follow-up post, listing readers' recommendations, was also very enlightening. I can't tell you how much good it did my soul to see that someone recommended Carl Zimmer's superlative science book, Parasite Rex.

Thanks to Kim (and others; hopefully I'll get to post about them later) for hosting Nonfiction November.

*One reason I'm very bad at participating in these things is that my schedule is never really my own, so I never really end up participating in time. Also, although it seems hilarious in view of the fact that I write a blog, I cannot really think in the online environment. Trying to keep track of who is hosting what, what the Twitter tag** is, and what I'm supposed to do where to participate, is actually beyond my current befuddled-by-two-small-children-and-life-in-general brain.

**And I just completely have never figured out Twitter. I never will, it's starting to look like. #WhoTheFuckIsSayingWhatNow?

Deanna Fei's Girl in Glass: Some good stuff here.

Girl in Glass
by Deanna FeiHardcover

Periodically I get emails from authors or publicists asking if I will review certain books here. I keep my review policy pretty simple: I don't accept books for review. I do this for several reasons: 1. I cannot handle the thought of more mail coming into my house that I have to open and try to organize, and 2. I really want to be free to say what I don't like about books, and I am often uncomfortable doing that when someone has sent me a free book. I also really don't like feeling like I "have" to read something, and my local public library is excellent. I never have any problem finding things I want to read and I never have any shortage of reading material.*

That paragraph got away from me a bit, but the point is, sometimes authors or their publicists contact me to read certain books, and that happened with Deanna Fei's Girl in Glass: How My "Distressed Baby" Defied the Odds, Shamed a CEO, and Taught Me the Essence of Love, Heartbreak, and Miracles. When I receive those emails I often do let the author know that I will read the book, if I can get it at the library and if I feel like it, and this was one of those books. It also got quite a bit of press attention when it was published.

And it was okay that it did; it's a fairly interesting book. The glimpse inside a natal intensive care unit, and the feeling of how utterly horrifying it must be to give birth at roughly 5-and-a-half months pregnant, makes it a worthwhile read on any level. (Although I wouldn't recommend it if you're expecting yourself, or have just had a baby and are still worrying about anything that can go horribly wrong at any second.) Sometimes it got a little melodramatic for me (the author is a graduate of the Iowa Writer' Workshop, after all), but one thing I really appreciated was the author's bravery in sharing how she often wondered if it wouldn't be better for her daughter (and easier for her) if her daughter simply didn't make it. That's a horrifying thought, but it's an honest one, and I appreciate the author's willingness to share it.

Where I feel the book struggled a bit was in organization. The first half is about the premature delivery and the author's time with her daughter in the NICU; suddenly the author shifts in tone and narrative to the story of her struggles with their health insurance and her husband's employer's (he worked for AOL and the CEO at the time was Tim Armstrong) blaming of "distressed babies" like hers for running up the costs of health care. Again, this story is told well. But the two halves of the book seemed so distinct and so different, it was like they were different books. Personally I would have preferred a bit more integration of the stories. But perhaps that's not the way it went: I can certainly picture if your baby is in the NICU, that would blot out all other concerns.

Speaking of being all over the shop, I'm sorry for the disjointed nature of this review. I'm disjointed lately. This was an interesting book; do give it a try if you can handle the sometimes gut-wrenching details of helping tiny, tiny little babies live.

*TIME to read, on the other hand, I still find distressingly hard to come by.

New Nonfiction: 16 November 2015

Time to get back on the horse, huh?*

A weekly series, published each Monday, sharing a selected list of new nonfiction titles to be published during that week. List originally published at The Reader's Advisor Online.

  • Alther, Lisa & Françoise Gilot – About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter An American and a French women talk about making a living doing creative work, while making lives doing everything else. I'd like to get this one; I love nonfiction written as the result of conversations.
  • Browder, Bill – Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice Business saga, set in Russia.
  • D’Souza, Dinesh – Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party – 200,000 print run. Check out that title. Conservative commentator D'Souza will clearly stop at nothing to sell books. The story in brief: D'Souza was convicted in 2014 of one felony count of making illegal campaign contributions. He was sentenced to probation and eight months in a facility, referred to in his Amazon blurb as a "state-run confinement center," and at Wikipedia as a "halfway house."
  • Franklin, Jonathan – 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea
  • Galaxy, Jackson and Kate Benjamin – Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home
  • Horne, Alistair – Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century
  • Kershaw, Ian – To Hell and Back: Europe 1914–1949 Kershaw is an extremely popular writer on all things WWII and Hitler
  • McGilligan, Patrick – Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane
  • Metcalf, Gabriel – Democratic by Design: How Carsharing, Co-ops and Community Land Trusts Are Reinventing America
  • Reynolds, Burt – But Enough About Me – 250,000 print run. Actually, I kind of like Burt Reynolds, but instead of reading this, I might just watch "Smokey and the Bandit," which I don't think I've ever actually seen all the way through.
  • Seibert, Brian – What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing - A while back I lived my dream and took some tap lessons. Boy, was I bad. That'll show me for trying to do physical activity voluntarily.
  • Stein, Lorin, ed. – The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from the Paris Review
  • Strand, Ginger – The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic About Kurt and his older brother Bernard. I must have it.
  • Timbaland – The Emperor of Sound: A Memoir – 50,000 first printing. Even if you think you don't know Timbaland, he's probably worked on music you've heard of. He's worked with Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, Brandy, LL Cool J, Nelly Furtado, Madonna, and a ton of others.
  • Vecchione, Michael – Crooked Brooklyn: Taking Down Corrupt Judges, Dirty Politicians, Killers and Body Snatchers Ah, a nice light read. This will fit my current mood well.

So. What do you think? Anything look good there?

*Incidentally, thank you to everyone who checked in in the comments or on email. Not sure how regular posting will be right now but I did miss writing here, and chatting with you.