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Posts Tagged ‘Nonfiction’

Given that I generally prefer fiction to nonfiction, I was somewhat surprised by how many of the books I’d read in the All-Time Best 100 nonfiction books since 1923 — which was when Time  — as in the magazine — began.  http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2088856_2088860,00.html

Naturally, I’d read all the four nonfiction novels, including Capote’s In Cold Blood, although I would have subbed Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff for The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I also found favorites in autiobiography and memoir, biography, essays, history, social history, science, sport, food writing and war. But, where I wonder, are religion and travel? Ah, see history for Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels, memoir for Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.

Mmm.  I’m pretty spotty in culture and politics, weak in ideas and business. I’ve never read Keynes or Chomsky, or Neibhur or Said, or a bunch of others.  And I really doubt these days that I’m ever going to get around to The Nature and Destiny of Man, or What Color is My Parachute?

I read nonfiction for the same reason I read fiction — for entertainment and enlightenment, and for narrative and story. Perusing this list, I note that my favorites in any category are mostly all good stories: All the President’s Men (politics), And the Band Played On (health), The Last Lion (biography), Slouching Towards Bethlehem (essays), Dispatches (war), The Best and the Brightest (history), and so on. Notable exceptions would be Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, which is marvelously written literary criticism/history, and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, which is essential reading, and rereading, for writers.

Rereading is on my mind, because I’m on vacation and I’m immersing myself in old favorites. All novels, so far, although I did recently pick up A Moveable Feast again after reading The Paris Wife.

But there are a couple others, too, I will read again, like John Hersey’s moving Hiroshima and Virginia Woolf’s exhortation to readers, A Room of One’s Own.  I finally made it through William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich several years ago, so I’m not up  for that again. But  I’m not ruling out a rereading of Shelby Foote’s magnificent The Civil War. What a story! Which reminds me. Where is my paperback of Gone With the Wind?

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I’ve been reading a lot more than writing the last couple weeks, not just books but everyone else’s lists of best books, favorite books, recommended reading, etc. Consequently, my own TBR list grows ever longer, and I will be writing to Santa about that.

But it occurs to me as I start wrapping up books for holiday gifts, there’s no way I’m going to be able to blog about all the recent titles I want to recommend before the year’s up. If you follow this blog, you already know many of my 2010 favorites. If you don’t, check the archives. Here, though, are the late arrivals deserving of ribbons and bows.

An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin (Grand Central Publishing): Martin’s artful novel about the art world — auctions, galleries, artists, aesthetes, collectors, dealers — draws on his own experience as an experienced collector. Narrator Daniel relates the rise of the lovely Lacey, as charming as she is ambitious, as she deftly navigates New York’s social circles and art scene from the late 1990s to the present. Photographs of many of the art works in play are embedded in the text, making the hardcover book a most desirable object. 

The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer: Activities and Amusements for the Curious Paper Artist, by Emily Winfield Martin (PotterCraft/Crown Publishing): This one’s for my fellow Caroline Cousins, with whom I played catalog paper dolls for years. Both Meg and Gail are far craftier than I, but we all like playing with scissors and paper, and the whimsical dolls, costumes and nifty projects in this book are ready-made for rainy afternoons and let’s-pretend. We might share with the kids in the family.

Bloody Crimes, by James Swanson (Morrow): This one’s for my brother, who read Swanson’s Manhunt, about the search for President Lincoln’s assassin. Here, he continues the dramatic saga of the closing days of the Civil War, as Confederate Jefferson Davis flees the Yankees and Lincoln’s body is carried home to Illinois on a 13-day funeral train.

I Still Dream About You, by Fannie Flagg (Random House): Mom and I are sharing Flagg’s new novel, a warm-hearted mystery/comedy of manners as the real-estate market collapses in Birmingham, Ala. Maggie, a former beauty queen with a seemingly perfect life, plans to end it all before fellow agents Brenda and Ethel help her battle rival Babs, “the Beast of Birmingham.” Humor, romance, secrets from the past. No wonder’s it’s an “Okra Pick” by Southern booksellers.

It’s a Book, by Lane Smith (Roaring Books Press): For children ages 6-11, and for all of us readers in a digital age, here’s a sweet reminder to the wonder of turning pages. No batteries needed.

The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter (Feiwel and Friends): My inner child has no problem declaring love for a witty, well-written tale for middle-graders. Otto, Clara and Max Hardscrabble know that people think they’re a peculiar trio because of their unusual family history. They also prove irresistible as they have unexpected adventures in London and a seaside village while perhaps solving the puzzle of their missing mother. Think Lemony Snicket meets Joan Aiken. Clever.

Rogue Island, by Bruce DeSilva (Forge/TOR): My sources tell me DeSilva’s debut mystery will hit home for all us ink-stained wretches, especially beat reporters, who have toiled in the newspaper trenches over the years. Liam Mulligan is an investigative reporter for a Rhode Island daily, which means he also covers cops, trend stories and dog tales at the behest of a city editor who makes Lou Grant seem like a cuddly puppy. There’s so much crime and corruption afoot, Mulligan’s reports on a series of neighborhood arsons fight for space above the fold. Read all about it!

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill): In the night silence of her isolated sick room, Bailey can hear the sound something very small crunching celery. It is her new companion, a wild snail, dining on a wilted flower on her bedside table. Bailey, totally bedridden by a mysterious motor neuron disease, becomes enchanted by the gastropod, closely observing its routines as time creeps by, well, like a snail. This small book, thoughtful and eloquent, belongs on the shelf with Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Open Book: Let’s see. I received an ARC of Bloody Crimes, a review copy of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, won the The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer as part of a Facebook promotion, and bought copies of An Object of Beauty, I Still Dream About You, It’s a Book, The Kneebone Boy and Rogue Island. More to come.

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The Winter Olympics come along every four years, just like presidential elections. Both can be great spectator sports, although the Olympics have a higher tone of civility and a lot less mud-slinging, providing it quits raining in Vancouver.

But you know what I mean. Bipartisanship has made Washington politics so downright ugly of late that even cable news junkies — and I’m one — are tuning out.  All this trash talking leaves me cold. Really, I’d rather watch skating and skiing and hockey. (I do hope all the athletes have good health insurance).

So, I wasn’t planning on reading Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (Harper) by veteran journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. I followed it all then — and now — and figured I’d heard or seen everything of interest, and I’m not into poli-porn. But several friends said I was short-changing Game Change, and they thought  I’d like it because — here’s the bait — it reads like a novel!

They were right. With its larger-than-life characters and dramatic who-woulda-thunk-it scenarios, the book is entertaining and edifying. The authors’ sources may be anonymous, but they sure appear to have the inside scoop. Then there’s the writing. Early on, the authors introduce Obama advisor David Axelrod:

“In the trade, Axelrod was known for being interested less in policy than in softer qualties of character and biography. His central gift was a grasp of the power of narrative — his ability to weave his candidate’s beliefs and background into an emotionally compelling bundle.”

Heilemann and Halperin understand the power of narrative. Good story, guys.

Listen Up, Mr. President (Simon & Schuster) by legendary White House journalist Helen Thomas and my friend and Listen Up, Mr. Presidentformer colleague Craig Crawford is a different kind of political book but entertaining and informative as well. It weaves anecdotes and observations into a sort of how-to book on the presidency, as it subtitle suggests: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do.

Thomas and Crawford are in Central Florida this week to “interview” one another as they promote their book. Another friend and former colleague, Joy Wallace Dickinson, has all the details in her Sunday story in the Orlando Sentinel, plus the fascinating tale of a young Craig meeting a president in Orlando.  You can read in full at http://tinyurl.com/ylmy7ls.

Open Book: I bought my copies of both books.

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