Nonfiction News

AudioFile Magazine's Best Books of 2017!

Last year I was very excited to partner with AudioFile Magazine to draw attention to their Best Audiobooks of the Year (2016). So I was glad that they contacted me again this year to run a similar post!

AudiofileFor those of you who are not aware of AudioFile Magazine, it's a great resource to keep you up-to-date on all the latest audiobook news, complete with reviews that focus both on a book's content and its narrator--because we all know a very important part of how much you enjoy a audiobook is how much you enjoy its narrator's voice and style!

I also love AudioFile Magazine because they're an independent reviewer--too many review sources these days are owned by conglomerates*. So, without further adieu, here are their suggestions for BEST NONFICTION AUDIOBOOKS OF 2017. The links go to the AudioFile reviews of each title. (Want to see their entire list? Go to their AudioFile Best Audiobooks list.)

CAESAR'S LAST BREATH by Sam Kean, read by Ben Sullivan

DRAFT NO. 4 by John McPhee, read by John McPhee

FINISH by Jon Acuff, read by Jon Acuff

I CAN'T BREATHE by Matt Taibbi, read by Dominic Hoffman

LETTERS TO A YOUNG WRITER by Colum McCann, read by Colum McCann

THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE by Meik Wiking, read by Meik Wiking

THE MEANING OF MICHELLE by Veronica Chambers [Ed.], read by January LaVoy, Prentice Onayemi

OPTION B by Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant, read by Elisa Donovan

OWN IT by Sallie Krawcheck, read by Ellen Archer, Sallie Krawcheck


WORD BY WORD by Kory Stamper, read by Kory Stamper

What a list. DO check some of these titles out, and DEFINITELY check out AudioFile Magazine!

*Ahem. I'm looking at you, GoodReads, also known as "Yet another way Amazon collects info on people."

**I look at a lot of nonfiction book news, and nowhere else this year did I see that Poundstone had a new book out. I like Paula Poundstone, so yay on AudioFile Magazine for bringing this title to my attention!

Fiction, nonfiction, and something "in between"?

Last week I came across this headline:

Fiction...Non-Fiction...and Something in Between?

I was completely annoyed by this article. To clarify, I should say I was annoyed by the article that the above link refers to. A post at Forbes by a George Anders suggests that:

When Authors Embellish, Let's Dub Such Books 'Beautiful Stories'

Anders's article is a response to allegations that yet another nonfiction book contains inaccuracies. This time the title in question is Wednesday Martin's memoir/anthropological study Primates of New York. This book, ostensibly about the author's own experiences living on the Upper East Side of New York City and studying the Wives/Mommies living there while living among them as one herself, got a lot of press before publication, but got even more after, with Simon & Schuster finally saying they would include a clarifying note about the facts of the book (or Martin's massaging of them) in its future printings.*

Brother. I take his point--I know more and more "nonfiction" books, especially memoirs, are popping up with inaccuracies, plagiarism issues, and truth-stretches. But still. 'Beautiful stories'? Do we really think that a third genre, whatever we call it, will really cut down on fudges and inaccuracies in whatever is left over as "true" nonfiction? Nah. As long as we exist in an era of "publish it fast, and do a half-assed job doing it," there's going to be shoddy nonfiction turned out. Let's face it. There has always been shoddy nonfiction turned out. I think the trick with nonfiction (and with life, actually),is to read it, learn what you can, and take it all with a grain of salt.** If it turns out later that something you read wasn't completely accurate, well, try to find something else that might be.

And also? For the love of god, everyone, stop thinking of memoirs as "the truth." Or "the absolute truth." You ever tried to get the same account of any one event from different people? Everyone's take--and everyone's memory--is different. I'm not saying calling a book a memoir is an invitation to just make stuff up. What I am saying is to look for the story behind the story--when memoirs were the super-hot publishing category, publishers were knocking themselves out to publish as many as possible, and that sort of thing is always going to lead right back got it...shoddy nonfiction. In fact, that's my vote for the proposed "something in-between" category. "Shoddy Nonfiction."

*Wednesday Martin, by the way, is coming out swinging: “Primates of Park Avenue” author calls out critics as sexist: “I really attribute the backlash to this new kind of misogyny”

**And, by the way, when you're reading nonfiction, search out (and buy the books of) authors like Stacy Horn who knock themselves out fact-checking. And then tell everyone else about those authors, too. Do that instead of wasting time coming up with non-genres like "beautiful stories."

Double blow for nonfiction.

So you've heard that Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show, and Stephen Colbert has already concluded his Colbert Report?

The entire time that Jon Stewart has been on The Daily Show, I have not had cable and have never actually seen him on TV.

And yet, I have seen many episodes of both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.* And many of them have been very, very funny, as well as a better source of news stories than network news or any other online sources. So yes, I will miss Jon Stewart for myself. But I will also miss Jon Stewart for this reason:

Why book publishers will miss Jon Stewart

And the subtitle of that article is "Jon Stewart was known for bringing attention to lower-profile, more obscure books."

You can see why I love Jon Stewart, right? So yes, I think it will be a sad day for nonfiction when Stewart finishes his run--I've gotten a lot of books based on their authors' appearances on his show. So--what do you think? Where can nonfiction readers look for "lower-profile, more obscure" (and often very good) books, and great interviews with nonfiction authors?**

*My brother swears by Colbert and the Report, and I agree with him that Colbert is a genius. But for my lazy brain--I am almost always listening to these programs on my laptop, while doing other work--I find it easier just to enjoy Stewart.

**Well, for a while at least, you can make your way through the backlist by visiting these lists of books and authors featured on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Another snore-worthy list from the ALA.

I have never been a huge fan of the American Library Association.

Each year this opinion is solidified when I check out their lists of Notable Books. It's always one of the least interesting lists I come across, and this year is no exception. Here are the books they suggest:


  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah
  • Kate Atkinson - Life After Life
  • Edwidge Danticat – Claire of the Sea Light
  • Juliann Garey – Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See
  • Paul Harding – Enon
  • Kristopher Jansma – The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards
  • Herman Koch – The Dinner
  • Anthony Marra – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
  • Claire Messud – The Woman Upstairs
  • Ruth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being
  • Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch

No kidding, I find this fiction list so boring my eyes literally started wandering anywhere else across the room by the time I got to Paul Harding.


  • Scott Anderson – Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
  • Nicholas A. Basbanes – On Paper
  • Cris Beam – To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care
  • Daniel James Brown – The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
  • Ian Buruma – Year Zero: A History of 1945
  • Sheri Fink – Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
  • Margalit Fox – The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
  • Simon Garfield – On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
  • Robert Hilburn – Johnny Cash: the Life
  • Brendan I. Koerner – The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking
  • Virginia Morell – Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures
  • Eric Schlosser – Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
  • Rebecca Solnit – The Faraway Nearby

Wow, I'm even worse with this list than I was with the New York Times Notable list. The only one I've read here is Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial.

Has anyone read any of these books? Should I read any more of them, or can I just accept that I will never want to read much of anything that the ALA wants me to?

A few bits of reading news.

Just a few news headline bits and bobs to look at this week:

Off to continue being grouchy about summertime. Don't mind me.

SALE on Real Stories reference books!

Anybody out there going to ALA Annual next week in Chicago?

If you are, please stop by ABC-CLIO's booth* at #1631 to see what they're offering in new reference books and products this year. And while you're there...pick up a sale flyer for ALL the titles in the Real Stories series of readers' guides. (And no worries if you're not going--next week I'll post a PDF for the flyer that you can print out and use when ordering.)

Normally the conference 20% off deal on products refers to books they actually have for sale AT the conference, but this flyer entitles you to 20% off ALL the titles in the series. So if you've been looking to beef up your nonfiction knowledge and RA services, or you simply want a great resource to answer your "what should I read now?" questions for nonfiction, now is the time to shop. With that in mind, let me take you through the titles in the series (in order of publication):

The Real Story: A Guide to Nonfiction Reading Interests** : I wrote this back in 2006, and it's technically part of the Genreflecting series of books, but it's a book that covers eleven different genres and reading interests, such as True Adventure, True Crime, and "Making Sense" (or "Big Think") books. The book is aging, of course, but I did make an effort when writing it to include a lot of "classic" nonfiction titles as well, to increase its long-term usefulness.

The Inside Scoop: A Guide to Nonfiction Investigative Writing and Exposés : The first book published in the series, also written by me. Covers my true love: Investigative nonfiction. Includes titles that would be considered journalism, character profiles, current affairs, exposes, business reporting, and "immersion journalism." I also included lists of documentary movies and magazines which typically publish investigative features.

Real Lives Revealed: A Guide to Reading Interests in Biography : There's only one word for this title, by Rick Roche, and that is mindblowing. Roche provides lists of perhaps the most popular nonfiction books out there, biographies, and puts them in helpful categories (think ready-made booklists and lists for book group consideration!). The book is huge and fascinating reading in its own right, and Rick provided tons of read-alikes for tons of very popular titles. He also wrote beautiful lists of prominent biographers and biography series that readers might not know about otherwise (and which could certainly help you train RA staff members on biographers and biographies with very little effort). When it comes to biographies, he's done all the work for you.

Women's Nonfiction: A Guide to Reading Interests : A superb volume, written by Jessica Zellers, listing nonfiction books that most particularly "speak to women's experiences." This is a valuable grouping, because library catalogs do not do a good job of classifying books as "women's interest." Zellers lists titles that focus on women across biographies, memoirs, personal growth, history, adventure, feminism, and society. This book would be particularly useful for librarians looking for titles for women-themed book groups, or for any academic library focusing on women's history. It's also fun to read--Zellers has a writing style I like to call "sparkly."

Life Stories: A Guide to Reading Interests in Memoirs, Autobiographies, and Diaries : Maureen O'Connor took on the daunting task of listing and classifying memoirs and autobiographies in this volume, and wow, did she know a nice job. I personally know how hard she worked on this title and how comprehensive she made it, taking a rigorous approach to including books that were most likely to show up in the majority of library catalogs. Whatever interests in memoir you have--adventure, celebrities, the creative life, the working life (my favorite), the inner life, history, war stories, and survival (among many more), O'Connor teased out the best titles in every category, and provided tons of "read-alikes" for all of them.*** She also provides very helpful lists of memoir writing awards, titles that have been controversial for their amount of truth and facts (or lack thereof), and classics.

 And now we get to the two newest titles in the series:

Food Lit: A Reader's Guide to Epicurean Nonfiction : By Melissa Stoeger, this is another invaluable reference source because it pulls together all sorts of nonfiction titles it would be VERY HARD to find otherwise. Stoeger identifies all types of books that will appeal to "foodies," across genres such as memoir, biography, travel, adventure, history, science, and investigative writing, as well as including new categories like "narrative cookbooks" and "food essays." Her annotations and read-alike lists will not only make you want to read all these books, they'll make you hungry, too (which shows the skill of her writing). And she provides AWESOME resource lists of popular cooks and their books, other foodie formats like magazines and food documentaries and cooking shows (fantastically helpful for library patrons looking to find new cooking shows to watch), and novels which particularly focus on food.

Going Places: A Reader's Guide to Travel Narrative : Another reference book that should blow your mind, Robert Burgin's guide to travel books (one of the most popular nonfiction genres around) not only lists tons of classic and current travel books (and huge lists of read-alikes), he also assigned each book copious subject headings and all the locations where the authors traveled, meaning you can use the extensive index to look up all the travel narratives that focus on specific locations. Sure, you can look up places in library catalogs, but can you separate out the travel guides, history, and other books with that subject heading from the travel NARRATIVES? Burgin has done all that work for you. This is a book that is a must-have for creating reading lists, and your patrons might also personally love to take and create their own travel reading lists. (Plus, Burgin was the Real Stories series editor before me, so he really knows his stuff about ALL nonfiction, meaning a lot of his read-alike suggestions include other types of nonfiction books and a lot of novels.)

Whew. I kind of forgot myself how many great tools are available in this series. So why buy? Well, sure, you can Google all sorts of book lists for free. But I ask you: is it very easy to search for such lists of NONFICTION titles? Do you always even know where to start? AND: if you're looking for staff training tools to help readers' advisors and library staff learn about nonfiction categories, these might be very useful for that. Not to mention, your patrons might appreciate being able to check these out to create reading lists of their own.

Okay, enough cheerleading. Have a great weekend and a great conference, if you're going to be there.

*Full disclosure: I am the series editor of the Real Stories series (and the author of two books within the series), which is published by ABC-CLIO. So yes, I'm biased, but I still say they're great books!

**I'm taking you to these books' Amazon pages, which also list reviews each book has gotten, so you don't just have to take my word for it about the quality of these books.

***All of these books include comprehensive lists of similar books, or "read-alikes," based on subjects and appeals like characterization and writing style, by design.

To be continued...

I know, I just can't seem to get back on a regular blogging schedule. I feel like I owe you a book review, and I even just read a fantastic book that I want to tell you about, but for the love of all that's holy, I just can't get myself to do it tonight. Soon, I promise.

In the meantime, please do check out a new travel nonfiction blog that is being written by my friend and colleague, Robert Burgin. The blog is called Travel with a Book, and it's a great source for travel book suggestions. Burgin is also the former editor of the Real Stories series (for which I've written a couple of volumes) and also just wrote a travel literature guide himself (titled Going Places). I will make sure to get a link to that blog in my sidebar.

In other news, the American Library Association has announced the shortlist for their Andrew Carnegie Medal awards, and I've got very decided opinions on what should win. Not to be too melodramatic, but if the Quammen book* doesn't win I'm giving up on the ALA forever. So there!

*I'm also pulling for Richard Ford's Canada.

A word about nonfiction.

Ever feel annoyed that "nonfiction" is the best word we have for describing everything that isn't, well, fiction? You might want to check out RickLibrarian's very thoughtful article "Proposing the End of Nonfiction as a Label and Organizing Default." It's way more interesting than the title makes it sound, I promise you.

Personally, I've never been all that bothered by "nonfiction" as a label, but I am terrible at organizing stuff.* I don't hate "nonfiction" the way I hate "creative nonfiction," for instance, or even worse, "narrative nonfiction" (which has always implied to me that NF must have a linear narrative story to be a good recreational read). But Rick raises some really interesting points. Let me know in the comments (or in his) what you think on the subject!

In other nonfiction news, the National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last week, and Swimming Studies (reviewed below) won for Best Autobiography.

*Except for the texts of the books I've indexed. Forcing a book's main concepts into a back-of-the-book index is the only way I've ever successfully imposed my will on anything, which may be why I still enjoy indexing. If I had to title my own (boring) life story I think I'd call it "Confessions of a Largely Failed Control Freak."

Yet another awards list of books I haven't read yet.

This past weekend they held the ALA Midwinter conference in Seattle, and as they typically do at this time, the organization has released their picks for their annual "ALA Notables" (as well as their "Reading List" books, which are notable genre titles).

You can see the entire list over at the Reader's Advisor Online. As per usual (for me, anyway) the list is a combination of books I haven't read (and am not real interested in reading) and books I disliked (I tried to get through Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking THREE times and failed; Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story was just beyond me). I'm left wondering what I do like to read, since both their "genre" and their "notable" (read: literary) picks totally bore me. But then, I'll let you in on a little secret: everything the American Library Association does, pretty much, bores me.* The whole organization always smacked of a really long and worthless work meeting to me: lots of commitees, lots of politics and backstabbing, very little of anything concrete or helpful actually getting done.

*Except their Read posters. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for their Read posters. Mainly because I'm shocked that they actually managed to produce something tangible.

National Book Critic Circle award nominations.

First: one thing that made me laugh this week was the bump in site traffic I got after the Golden Globes. Which one of my posts were readers chancing upon? That would be Tina Fey Is Not Funny, which showed up a lot this past Monday as a search phrase that was leading readers here. By all accounts Poehler and Fey did a good job; but I didn't watch (after all, I just don't find Fey that funny, although I've got no beef with Poehler, perhaps because the media doesn't treat her as God's proof that yes, even women can be funny), so I can't say.

In other book news, the nominations have been announced for the National Book Critic Circle awards. Normally these award lists leave me cold, but this isn't a bad list. I haven't read most of them, of course (still trying to catch up on 2012, frankly, even though it's over), but for a change this is actually a list comprised of more books I'd like to read than not. 

Best nonfiction 2012: my very first podcast!

Many, many thanks to Steve Thomas, who creates the podcast Circulating Ideas ("the librarian interview podcast"). He was nice enough to ask me to participate in his podcast round-up of the best books of 2012 (as well as some sneak previews of 2013 titles), and I had so much fun doing it.

You can find the podcast at his site. In the first installment, he interviewed Liz Burns, Kelly Jensen, Kristi Chadwick, Anna Mickelsen, myself, and Becky Spratford on our "best" picks.

I'll admit I listened to my part first (it starts around the 1 hour 18 minute mark)*, but I went back when I had more time later in the week and listened to the rest and thoroughly enjoyed it. (It was particularly useful for me, as a lot of great fiction and YA titles were discussed.) I particularly enjoyed the fact that many of the lists are presented in a conversational format. And: a second installment is now up as well!

*My apologies: at times I was talking too close to my headset microphone and there's some annoying noises on the hard consonants. I didn't realize that was happening--live and learn!

Authors: In Memoriam, 2012 (the personal version).

Of course, anytime an author dies it makes the baby Jesus cry. But when I was typing up yesterday's list of authors who passed on last year, I must admit there were more than a few that really hit me hard. Which ones?

Well, Ray Bradbury, of course. And Nora Ephron hit pretty hard too. But David Rakoff? Oh, losing David Rakoff broke my heart.

Several of the names surprised me; Jacques Barzun because I really didn't know he was still alive. David Oliver Relin (co-author of Three Cups of Tea, but we can't hold that against him, I think Greg Mortenson is the real problem there) was sad because he committed suicide, and Jeffrey Zaslow (although I think his book, The Last Lecture, co-authored by Randy Pausch, was a crime against the book-buying public) was kind of sad because he died on a snowy road driving around in Michigan promoting his latest book. It's a tough life, being an author.

And then, there were Earl Shorris ("who fought poverty with knowledge," what a beautiful epigraph) and Paul Fussell.* Two of my very favorites. This year please do consider reading a book by either of those authors in tribute; they wrote thoughtful, solid, intelligent nonfiction. They will be missed.

*In fact, I'm thinking I'm making this the Year of Fussell here at CR. Maybe we'll do a Menage with him, or perhaps I'll issue a reading challenge?

Authors: In Memoriam, 2012

I meant to write this post a long time ago, when I noticed during my summer's break from blogging that several authors I loved had died. (And yes, I'm reasonably sure that there is no connection between my stopping blogging and authors dying, but geez, now I'm a little bit nervous about taking any more extended breaks.)

So, as it is now 2013, I thought I'd just go ahead and make a list of authors who died in 2012. I provided a few obituary/tribute links for some of the more well-known names, but was too lazy to do so for everyone. Please let me know who I missed, or let us know in the comments which authors you're really, really going to miss.

Jose Aruego (illustrator)

Jacques Barzun

Nina Bawden

Jan Berenstain

Leila Berg (children's author)

Doris Betts

Maeve Binchy

Ray Bradbury

Christine Brooke-Rose

Helen Gurley Brown

Michael Louis Calvillo

Stephen Covey

Harry Crews

Marion Cunningham

Simin Daneshvar

Henry Denker

Leo Dillon (illustrator)

Nora Ephron

Irvin Faust

Eva Figes

Phillip Finch

Philip Fradkin

Carlos Fuentes

Paul Fussell

William Gay

Jean Craighead George (children's author)

Suzy Gershman

Jack Gilbert (poet)

Dorothy Gilman

Rosa Guy

Harry Harrison (SF author)

Reginald Hill

Eric Hobsbawm

Robert Hughes

Penny Jordan

Erica Kennedy

Charla Krupp

Ellen Levine (children's author)

Kenneth Libo

Thomas Locker

Jean Merrill (children's book author)

William Lee Miller

LeRoy Neiman

Helen Nicoll (UK children's book author)

David Rakoff

David Oliver Relin

Adrienne Rich

Dora Saint (Miss Read)

Maurice Sendak

Anthony Shadid

Earl Shorris

Louis Simpson (poet)

Donald Sobol (creator of Encyclopedia Brown)

Simms Taback (children's author)

Antonio Tabucchi

E. V. Thompson

Barry Unsworth

Gore Vidal

Kathy (K.D.) Wentworth (SF author)

Bill White (cartoonist)

Reed Whittemore (poet)

Tom Wicker

Jake Adam York (poet)

Jim Young

Jeffrey Zaslow

Zig Ziglar

It's New York Times Notables time!

And no, I'm really not that excited about the announcement of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year. I'm mainly amused because every year when this list comes out I like to play a little game I call:

"How Lowbrow Am I?"

This is in honor of the fact that, even though I do a lot of reading, I read very few books that are considered "notables." The top score possible, of course, is 100, which would mean I am, in fact, very highbrow. But what did I score?


Holy cow, that's embarrassing. My score is usually low but that's a new low, even for me. (I should have checked before starting this post!) And what's even more embarrassing? The one book I've read on the list is a novel, Richard Ford's Canada. (And I did enjoy it.)

However, I am going to award myself two half-points (for a grand total of 2!) for two other titles: Paul Tough's How Children Succeed, which I read half of before stopping (I thought it was rather poorly done, frankly, more on this later) and Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist, which I didn't read at all, but which I did note would probably pop up on lots of "Best of" lists this year.

The rest of the list? I've got to tell you: meh. There's like three titles on it about the Obamas, for one thing. After that election year, who could stand to read three more books about the Obamas? Not me. So, I'm sorry, but you'll just have to call me your friendly neighborhood lowbrow (VERY lowbrow) nonfiction book blogger.

Nonfiction is a tangled web, indeed.

Questions surrounding Dave Eggers's bestselling investigative/character portrait Zeitoun just keep coming.

If you'll remember, this was a big title a few years back (it's about a man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who was wrongfully imprisoned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina), and got a lot of good reviews.  The proceeds from it were also supposed to go to the Zeitoun Foundation, whose mission, in part, was to fund Katrina recovery efforts. But recently questions have been asked about where the Foundation has been spending its money, and more disturbingly, Abdulrahman Zeitoun has been charged with plotting to kill his wife, their son, and another man.

And now Dave Eggers, the author of the book, is seemingly trying to run away from questions about it. This makes me sad, as I have always been a Dave Eggers fan (even though I don't get most of the content on his humor/publishing site McSweeney's). Sigh.

It's all a good reminder that nonfiction can be tricky. Even when it's not being actively fabricated (as has been happening, seemingly more and more), what's "true" in nonfiction at one point in time may seem not so "true" (or at least not so unbiased) in light of later events and revelations. Nonfiction is, after all, written by and often focused on people, and people are fallible. This has never particularly bothered me (I have a fairly fluid concept of "truth," maybe from reading a lot of nonfiction?), but it does bother me that Eggers won't even discuss the topic. No harm no foul, Dave, but let's hear more about how this story has developed. THAT would be good nonfiction--recognizing that true stories do not end when you're done writing the book about them.

National Book Award news.

Meant to post this yesterday, and forgot: Katherine Boo's travel/memoir/investigative work Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity has won the National Book Award for Nonfiction (Louise Erdrich won the prize for fiction, for her novel The Round House).

I have no opinion on this, save to say I've had Boo's book home and just couldn't find the interest to read it. It is supposed to be very good, though.

In other hilarious nonfiction book news, Paula Broadwell's biography of David Petraeus, All In, will be available in paperback on 12/24/12. Wonder what all this* will do for sales?

*By the way, I am LOVING this story. It's like my Christmas present, only early. Every day it gets a little stupider: Generals sleeping with their biographers! Generals emailing socialites! FBI agents sending out shirtless photos! Honestly. You couldn't write this stuff.

Jacques Barzun: has died, at age 104.

Historian and "cultural gadfly"* Jacques Barzun has died, at age 104.**

I just suggested his book From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present (which was published when he was 92) to someone, but felt like a bit of a poser because, although I own it, I've never read it. I've read it in bits but what I'd love to do is sit right down and read it through. Sigh. Someday, when I have world enough and time.

My sister also swears by his title Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers,*** which is considerably shorter than Dawn to Decadence's 877 pages, and is a guide (of sorts) to better writing style. I should look into reading the entirety of that one too (clearly, as my writing could use some help).

*What a great epitaph. Who wouldn't want to be described as a "cultural gadfly"?

**I find his obituary somewhat unilluminating on the personal side. If he is survived by a wife and several children and grandchildren, why are none of them his executor? These are always the types of questions that bug me in obituaries, and they're never answered. Note: After I read the New York Times obit, it was later corrected to say Arthur Krystal was his friend and editor, not his executor. This makes more sense, although I still think this obit gave his personal life short shrift.

***This is becoming one messy post. Here's my own correction: my sister (and my own personal fact-checker, clearly) tells me the book she swears by is actually Barzun's title Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning. Let's just split the difference and say I'd like to read all of Mr. Barzun's books, and hopefully someday will have the time to do so.