Monday, July 26, 2010

ON BOOKS ~ Because Life Isn't Always Just A Fantasy...

Image courtesy inevernu via Flickr

I am just wrapping up the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men which is a non-fiction account of the tenant farmer's lot in life in the mid-1930's of Alabama. It is like nothing I have ever read style-wise and is at the same time breathtaking prose and mind numbing frustration. Let us now praise the fact that I am almost done! But I am glad for the knowledge and know that the images and moments with the families involved will stay with me forever. That is why I enjoy non-fiction reads - the impact that things just naturally tend to have when they are real. Just like how I always prefer to see the documentary to the fictionalized "based on a true story" portrayal.

My first exposure to non-fiction was in the form of biographies and auto-biographies for book report assignments in grade school. It was much more interesting to learn the details about these people in one of those books as opposed to flipping through the encyclopedia or some made up story featuring a historical figure. I liked to read their words. Their first hand account. See the world through their eyes whenever possible - via quotes, letters and diaries.

I have became especially interested in adventure accounts. People who shared their personal stories of survival, of discovery and of the human spirit. Disaster on snowy peaks or stranded ships. Lost hikers and brave explorers. The more dangerous and incredulous the faster I read them.

I also love books that share the good deeds of the world. The ways people have given of themselves selflessly for the benefit of so many others. Doctors, teachers, caregivers, rescuers, public defenders, counselors. It inspires me and generally sends me seeking out other books about the particular field or location involved.

I am less interested in evaluative research - one writer's collection of facts and their interpretation of how they impact us. Their interpretation makes it subjective rather than objective and it tends to blur the line of non-fiction for me. It makes for entertaining fodder and food for thought, but often times it leaves me annoyed - looking for less words from someone so wrapped up in this topic that they can't stop talking about it ad nauseum.

One of my favorite kinds of non-fiction is the true crime genre. In Cold Blood did that to me. Though it reads so much like a story at times and there is plenty of opinionated observation from the author to blur that non-fiction line again, the subject matter is just too enthralling to pass up. Why do horrific crimes grip us so strongly in books, film and television? Why do we instinctively look at car accidents when we creep past? Who knows. But give me a good true crime accounting and my nose will be buried in that book until it is complete.

Memoirs are my favorite genre of all but I separate them from the non-fiction category. Less clinical, more lyrical.

So many readers get lost in the world of fiction - but non-fiction can pull you in just as strongly and show you parts of the real world you'd likely never get to see otherwise. Here are a few that I've enjoyed. Can you add any suggestions for my to read list?

  • Among Schoolchildren - Tracy Kidder
  • Flags of our Fathers - James Bradley
  • The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea - Sebastian Junger
  • This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men & Women - Jay Allison
  • Midnight In The Garden of Good & Evil - John Berendt
  • Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time - Greg Mortenson
  • In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
  • The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic & Madness at the Fair that Changed America - Erik Larson
  • The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century - Thomas Friedman
  • Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America - Jonathan Kozol
  • Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster - Jon Krakauer
  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place - Aron Ralston
  • Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival - Joe Simpson
  • The Assist: Hoops, Hope & the Game of Their Lives - Neil Swidey
  • The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game - Michael Lewis
  • The Last Best League: One Summer, One Season, One Dream - Jim Collins
  • The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship - David Halberstam

    ds said...

    How about The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, a memoir set in Italy in the years leading up to & I think during WWII? Organized around the actual periodic table, as Levi was a chemist. It's brilliant (you've probably read it). Or The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks (this is completely selfish, as it's been sitting on my pile forever so you'd spur me to read it. Again, if you haven't already.).

    Gotta find me some of the books on your list...

    Midlife Roadtripper said...

    You might try In the Shadow of Memory by Floyd Skloot. A lovely creative non-fiction writer and poet.

    I seem to be following ds around the blogosphere.

    Unknown said...

    Polly Evans writes some hilarious books about her travels.

    Geisha of Gion: The Memoir of Mineko Iwasaki by Mineko Iwasaki was really interesting look at that culture.

    From Bahgdad With Love about a soldier who saves a puppy in Iraq and of course Dewey The Library Cat.

    I dont read alot of non-fiction myself these days. Well unless you count baby books got lots of those I can recomend lol.

    Susan said...

    I'm getting less and less tolerant of fiction these days and seem to prefer nonfiction. Here are a "few" you might want to consider:

    Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. 1930's picture of central Florida as lived by an East Coast transplant. Made special to me because my late sister lived just 3 miles from MKR's home which I toured. Fascinating woman.

    Mostly True: A Memoir of Family, Food and Baseball by Molly O'Neill. Growing up the only girl in a family of five kids in Columbus, OH in the 50's and 60's by future food critic of the NYT who also happens to be the sister of Paul O'Neill, former Yankees right-fielder

    Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. Gives a whole new perspective to the fast food and factory food industries.

    Clear Springs by Bobbie Ann Mason. Picture of life growing up in central Kentucky by the author of In Country.

    Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. Feel-good story about a rescue cat by the town's librarian. It touched my heart.

    Sandy Nawrot said...

    I'm with you, I love non-fiction, particularly true crime and memoirs/biographies. I don't necessarily like regurgitated and analyzed research. But I'm put on the spot for suggestions! Let's see...Dewey the Library Cat is so good. Mary Karr's memoirs are really good if you like dysfunction. So is The Glass Castle. Any of Ann Rule's true crime is stuff that will keep you awake at night, especially the ones about Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer.

    JCB said...

    My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. As the spouse of someone who suffered an aneurism - this book should be a must read for every person who has to live through a stroke or aneurism.. I don't know if everyone would love it though.

    JCB said...

    Oh - I forgot to put "Opening Skinners Box" by Lauren Slater. said...

    The majority of what I read is nonfiction, but I have never been able to separate all of the sub genres as well as you just did above.

    One book that I loved and you just might too is The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It is a mix of true crime and history because it parallels the story of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with a serial killer that was rampant at the time. Even better, it is told in a narrative style, so you don't get bogged down with tons of extraneous stuff. (My review of it will be up on Friday as a guest post at There's a Book)

    Unknown said...

    Most of my reading is non-fiction, so I understand what you mean.

    I'm reading "The Beautiful Cigar Girl" by Daniel Shashower, and really liked "Devil in the White City" and "In Cold Blood." Another interesting one was "The Ghost Map."

    Margot said...

    I have Eat, Pray Love on the brain because I'm looking forward to the movie coming out next month. I loved the book but I guess it would be considered a memoir, wouldn't it.

    I definitely like your list.

    Ally said...

    If you like true crime, you might enjoy Paul Britton's books - 'The Jigsaw Man' and 'Picking Up The Pieces'. The cases he has worked on are fascinating and horrifying at the same time. (His work on the Rachel Nickell case has since been discredited, but it makes for interesting reading knowing that).

    I haven't read it yet, but I recently picked up 'Homicide - A Year on the Killing Streets' by David Simon - I'm really looking forward to starting it, and it might be something you'd like to.

    In terms of memoirs, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison is excellent. You might also like Man's Search for Meaning by Victor E Frankl if you haven't already read it.

    Kathleen said...

    I'm a big non-fiction reader so I could add a lot to your list. I would suggest River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard and A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide by Samantha Powers.

    soleil said...

    I read Three Cups of Tea last summer and loved it. He has a new book out now. I forget what it's called but I am looking forward to reading it. Devil in the White City is my book club's book this month.

    I like to read memoirs, pop science, biographies and sociology. I also love love travelogues, anything related to international adventures.

    I recently read snd enjoyed The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. I am currently re-reading Eat, Pray, Love. I also like Committed by the same author. I could go on and on. I really do enjoy nonfiction and inject a good amount in between my fiction fun.

    Oh, and I also really liked The Trail of Bones, it is related to the true crime realm but from a forensic anthropological viewpoint. I found it fascinating.