Nonfiction Novemer is over 😦 Although I’m sad to see it, and the month, go, I had a wonderful time reading some great books. I read a total of six books this month, five of which were nonfiction: The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City’s Cold Case Squad by Stacy Horn, which was one of the group readalong choices for Nonfiction Novembr; Our Farm: Four Seasons with Five Kids on One Family’s Farm by Michael J. Rosen; Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink; Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson; and Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gaye. I didn’t accomplish everything I said I wanted to do this month, but I did manage a fair few. I read the readalong book, I read one book of nonfiction essays,and I finally got around to reading Five Days at Memorial. I didn’t read Empire of the Summer Moon, but I did start it before getting sidetracked. I also sadly only managed to post on the week 1 topic but I did leave some comments on some blogs, checked out some blogs that were new to me, and read a lot of posts on the topics for all four weeks.
Besides reading, I also added a ton of nonfiction books to my TBR to eventually track down and read. A lot of them came from the first two weeks of the month with ‘Your year in nonfiction’ and ‘Be/Ask/Become the Expert’ posts. I also used this as an opportunity to explore some people’s blogs and so I found a lot of new books to read that way as well. Sadly, I didn’t keep track of which lovely bloggers recommend or talked about these books so I can’t point you to the discussions of them there. But here’s what I added to my every growing TBR, which I hope to get around to someday:
An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie: Tété-Michel Kpomassie was a teenager in Togo when he discovered a book about Greenland—and knew that he must go there. Working his way north over nearly a decade, Kpomassie finally arrived in the country of his dreams. This brilliantly observed and superbly entertaining record of his adventures among the Inuit is a testament both to the wonderful strangeness of the human species and to the surprising sympathies that bind us all (from Goodreads).
Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, andElephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves by Laurel Braitman: Growing up, Laurel had a dog named Oliver who was very unstable. He would eat towels and other things, was extremely anxious, and all around very ill adjusted and unhappy. In college, Laurel studied biology and came to the conclusion that animals can suffer from mental illnesses and other mental conditions just like us humans do; something she realized she had witnessed first hand with Oliver. For three years Braitman delves into the world of animals and mental illness and discovers stories of animal suffering and animal healing and recovery involving all sorts of animals, from polar bears to parrots, and muses on how what we learn from them can in turn help us.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit: I read Solnit’s essay that the title of this book is based on a few months ago when I somehow came across it online and I loved it. This book contains that famous essay on men, women, and conversations, and how men sometimes have that infuriating assumption that women, no matter their age, occupation, or level of education, need to have some things explained to them because they couldn’t possibly know or have knowledge of something based on their own education and experience. Any women who has had this happen to them knows how frustrating and horrible it is! The book also contains eight other essays by Solnit dealing with gender, sexism, and society. I’m super excited about this one, not least because it is a nonfiction book of essays, something which I recently realized I don’t read near enough of.
Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet by Daniella Martin: This book sounds really cool. Martin explores the world of insect eating and how eating bugs might be a way to help end world hunger. Many cultures the world over traditionally eat insects as part of their diet and they are packed with protein and, supposedly, delicious. She also examines Western culture and food bias and argues that, besides being nutritious, insects are a sustainable food source as well. I’ve never eaten a bug in my life, and I’m actually quite a picky eater, but this sounds just like the type of nonfiction book I love- unique, out-there, and thought provoking.
Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West by Ethan Rarick: In late October 1846, the last wagon train of that year’s westward migration stopped overnight before resuming its arduous climb over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, unaware that a fearsome storm was gathering force. After months of grueling travel, the 81 men, women and children would be trapped for a brutal winter with little food and only primitive shelter. The conclusion is known: by spring of the next year, the Donner Party was synonymous with the most harrowing extremes of human survival. Drawing on fresh archeological evidence, recent research on topics ranging from survival rates to snowfall totals, and heartbreaking letters and diaries made public by descendants a century-and-a-half after the tragedy, Ethan Rarick offers an intimate portrait of the Donner party and their unimaginable ordeal(from Goodreads).
Capturing Music: The Story of Notation by Thomas Forrest Kelly: In today s digital landscape, we have the luxury of experiencing music anytime, anywhere. But before this instant accessibility and dizzying array of formats before CDs, the eight-track tape, the radio, and the turntable there was only one recording technology: music notation. It allowed singers and soloists to travel across great distances and perform their work with stunning fidelity, a feat that we now very much take for granted. Thomas Forrest Kelly transports us to the lively and complex world of monks and monasteries, of a dove singing holy chants into the ear of a saint, and of bustling activity in the Cathedral of Notre Dame an era when the only way to share even the simplest song was to learn it by rote, church to church and person to person. With clarity and a sense of wonder, Kelly tells a story that spans five hundred years, leading us on a journey through medieval Europe and showing how we learned to keep track of rhythm, melody, and precise pitch with a degree of accuracy previously unimagined (from Goodreads).
Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett: A tour of the world’s hidden geographies—from disappearing islands to forbidden deserts—and a stunning testament to how mysterious the world remains today. At a time when Google Maps Street View can take you on a virtual tour of Yosemite’s remotest trails and cell phones double as navigational systems, it’s hard to imagine there’s any uncharted ground left on the planet. In Unruly Places, Alastair Bonnett goes to some of the most unexpected, offbeat places in the world to reinspire our geographical imagination.
Bonnett’s remarkable tour includes moving villages, secret cities, no man’s lands, and floating islands. He explores places as disorienting as Sandy Island, an island included on maps until just two years ago despite the fact that it never existed. Or Sealand, an abandoned gun platform off the English coast that a British citizen claimed as his own sovereign nation, issuing passports and crowning his wife as a princess. An intrepid guide down the road much less traveled, Bonnett reveals that the most extraordinary places on earth might be hidden in plain sight, just around the corner from your apartment or underfoot on a wooded path (from Goodreads).
Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow: Written with bracing wit and intelligence, Rachel Maddow’s Drift argues that we’ve drifted away from America’s original ideals and become a nation weirdly at peace with perpetual war, with all the financial and human costs that entails. To understand how we’ve arrived at such a dangerous place, Maddow takes us from the Vietnam War to today’s war in Afghanistan, along the way exploring the disturbing rise of executive authority, the gradual outsourcing of our war-making capabilities to private companies, the plummeting percentage of American families whose children fight our constant wars for us, and even the changing fortunes of G.I. Joe. She offers up a fresh, unsparing appraisal of Reagan’s radical presidency. Ultimately, she shows us just how much we stand to lose by allowing the priorities of the national security state to overpower our political discourse. Sensible yet provocative, dead serious yet seriously funny, Drift will reinvigorate a “loud and jangly” political debate about how, when, and where to apply America’s strength and power–and who gets to make those decisions (from Goodreads).
The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg: In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom (from Goodreads).
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler: In the heart of China’s Sichuan province lies the small city of Fuling. Surrounded by the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, Fuling has long been a place of continuity, far from the bustling political centers of Beijing and Shanghai. But now Fuling is heading down a new path, and gradually, along with scores of other towns in this vast and ever-evolving country, it is becoming a place of change and vitality, tension and reform, disruption and growth. Fuling’s position at the crossroads came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1996, marking the first time in more than half a century that the city had an American resident. As he learns the language and comes to know the people, Hessler begins to see that it is indeed a unique moment for Fuling. Making his way in the city and traveling by boat and train throughout Sichuan province and beyond, Hessler offers vivid descriptions of the people he meets, from priests to prostitutes and peasants to professors, and gives voice to their views. This is both an intimate personal story of his life in Fuling and a colorful, beautifully written account of the surrounding landscape and its history (from Goodreads).
Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte: Out of sight, out of mind … Into our trash cans go dead batteries, dirty diapers, bygone burritos, broken toys, banana peels…. But where do these things go next? In a country that consumes and then casts off more and more, what actually happens to the things we throw away? In Garbage Land, acclaimed science writer Elizabeth Royte leads us on the wild adventure that begins once our trash hits the bottom of the can. Along the way, we meet an odor chemist who explains why trash smells so bad; garbage fairies and recycling gurus; CEOs making fortunes by encouraging waste or encouraging recycling-often both at the same time; fertilizer fanatics and adventurers who kayak amid sewage; paper people, steel people, aluminum people, plastic people, and even a guy who swears by recycling human waste. With a wink and a nod and a tightly clasped nose, Royte takes us on a bizarre cultural tour through slime, stench, and heat-in other words, through the back end of our ever-more supersized lifestyles. By showing us what happens to the things we’ve “disposed of,” Royte reminds us that our decisions about consumption and waste have a very real impact-and that unless we undertake radical change, the garbage we create will always be with us: in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we consume (from Goodreads).
Heroines by Kate Zambreno: On the last day of December, 2009 Kate Zambreno began a blog calledFrances Farmer Is My Sister, arising from her obsession with the female modernists and her recent transplantation to Akron, Ohio, where her husband held a university job. In her blog entries, Zambreno reclaimed the traditionally pathologized biographies of Vivienne Eliot, Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, and Zelda Fitzgerald: writers and artists themselves who served as male writers’ muses only to end their lives silenced, erased, and institutionalized.
In Heroines, Zambreno extends the polemic begun on her blog into a dazzling, original work of literary scholarship. Combing theories that have dictated what literature should be and who is allowed to write it–from T. S. Eliot’s New Criticism to the writings of such mid-century intellectuals as Elizabeth Hardwick and Mary McCarthy to the occasional “girl-on-girl crime” of the Second Wave of feminism–she traces the genesis of a cultural template that consistently exiles female experience to the realm of the “minor,” and diagnoses women for transgressing social bounds. By advancing the Girl-As-Philosopher, Zambreno reinvents feminism for her generation while providing a model for a newly subjectivized criticism (from Goodreads).
The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery by Robert Dunn: The Man Who Touched His Own Heart tells the raucous, gory, mesmerizing story of the heart, from the first “explorers” who dug up cadavers and plumbed their hearts’ chambers, through the first heart surgeries-which had to be completed in three minutes before death arrived-to heart transplants and the latest medical efforts to prolong our hearts’ lives, almost defying nature in the process.
Thought of as the seat of our soul, then as a mysteriously animated object, the heart is still more a mystery than it is understood. Why do most animals only get one billion beats? Why are sufferers of gingivitis more likely to have heart attacks? Why do we often undergo expensive procedures when cheaper ones are just as effective? And what does it really feel like to touch your own heart, or to have someone else’s beating inside your chest?Rob Dunn’s fascinating history of our hearts brings us deep inside the science, history, and stories of the four chambers we depend on most (from Goodreads).
The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Culture edited by Andrew Galloway: The cultural life of England over the long period from the Norman Conquest to the Reformation was rich and varied, in ways that scholars are only now beginning to understand in detail. This Companion introduces a wide range of materials that constitute the culture, or cultures, of medieval England, across fields including political and legal history, archaeology, social history, art history, religion and the history of education. Above all it looks at the literature of medieval England in Latin, French and English, plus post-medieval perspectives on the ‘Middle Ages’. In a linked series of essays experts in these areas show the complex relationships between them, building up a broad account of rich patterns of life and literature in this period. The essays are supplemented by a chronology and guide to further reading, helping students build on the unique access this volume provides to what can seem a very foreign culture (from Goodreads).
The Annals of London: A Year-by-Year Record of a Thousand Years of History by John Richardson: One of the world’s greatest cities, the vast metropolis of twentieth-century London began in ad 43 when Aulius Plautius led the second invasion from Richborough to defeat the local army on the banks of the Thames. The victors then created a Roman settlement and established themselves on the river. The city’s expansion through the invasions of the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings serves as a background for the first of the almanac entries, 1065, which sees the consecration of Edward the Confessor’s Abbey at Westminster, shortly before the king’s own burial in his new church.
The sweep of this book is vast and its detail magnificent. Disasters, innovations, and everyday events relating to politics, society, pageantry, the arts, religion, and industry are revealed to display the wide spectrum of London life. Year by year, from 1065 to the present day, events that have shaped the London we know are brought vividly to life by John Richardson’s informative text, which is supported by an extraordinary and eclectic collection of historical illustrations (from Goodreads).
Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Found by Frances Larson: The human head is exceptional. It accommodates four of our five senses, encases the brain, and boasts the most expressive set of muscles in the body. It is our most distinctive attribute and connects our inner selves to the outer world. Yet there is a dark side to the head s preeminence, one that has, in the course of human history, manifested itself in everything from decapitation to headhunting. So explains anthropologist Frances Larson in this fascinating history of decapitated human heads. From the Western collectors whose demand for shrunken heads spurred massacres to Second World War soldiers who sent the remains of the Japanese home to their girlfriends, from Madame Tussaud modeling the guillotined head of Robespierre to Damien Hirst photographing decapitated heads in city morgues, from grave-robbing phrenologists to skull-obsessed scientists, Larson explores our macabre fixation with severed heads (from Goodreads).