Jan/Feb 2021 ~ What non-fiction books are garnering your attention?

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Jan/Feb 2021 ~ What non-fiction books are garnering your attention?

1Molly3028
Dez 30, 2020, 5:46pm

We welcome 2021 and new book adventures into our lives!

2LynnB
Jan 1, 11:41am

I'm reading The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair. It's a beautiful book as it illustrates all the colours discussed.

3Molly3028
Jan 1, 12:35pm

>2 LynnB:
I enjoyed reading that book last year, LB.

4Helenliz
Jan 2, 6:36am

I'm starting Queens of the Conquest which looks larger in my hands than it did on the shelf...

5SChant
Jan 4, 5:16am

Reading The Prosecutor, a memoir by British-Pakistani Nazir Afzal, former Chief Crown Prosecutor of the CPS, whose mission was to “give a voice to the voiceless” and engage those members of the Black and Asian community who felt a profound distrust of the British justice system. It’s both harrowing and uplifting: harrowing because of the accounts he gives of the human brutality he’s seen in the cases he’s prosecuted, and uplifting to see the work so many people have put in to have crimes such as forced marriage, domestic abuse, and so-called "honour killings" brought into the light. Nazir Afzal and his team fought hard to update laws and to foster understanding of issues abounding in the British-Asian community, and to encourage those communities to place more trust in the legal system. A worthwhile read.

7snash
Jan 7, 11:12am

I finished my first book of 2021, The Library Book, the story of the LA Central Library, history, people, building, and investigation of a devastating fire. Lots of interesting information and great descriptions of places and characters.

8SChant
Jan 7, 1:32pm

Reading The Irrational Ape - an examination of knee-jerk reactions, flawed arguements, and poor analysis, and how we can think critically to save ouselves from falling into some of those traps.

9LynnB
Jan 15, 12:27pm

I'm reading Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo.

10Helenliz
Jan 15, 12:30pm

I finished Help Me!. A journalist aims to try 12 different self help books over the course of a year. It doesn't go terribly well. A salutary lesson really.

11paradoxosalpha
Jan 15, 12:55pm

I can hardly believe that Jean Baudrillard's Transparency of Evil was written in 1989. I'm a little over halfway through it, and so much of it sounds like he's describing 2020.

12Tess_W
Jan 16, 9:34am

I read Life in a Medieval Village by Frances Gies . The university where I teach has suggested it for reading for college freshmen in Western Civ. Personally, boring! I also completed Zoo Nebraska, which while good, would have been better if I had been from that particular area.

13JulieLill
Jan 17, 4:34pm

The Secrets of Lost Cats: One Woman, Twenty Posters, and a New Understanding of Love
Dr. Nancy Davidson
3.5/5 stars
Nancy Davidson explores the unusual topic of missing cats and the posters that people make when their cats go missing. Her exploration of this topic came up when her own orange tabby went missing. She made posters to help find him and discovered a myriad of other missing cat posters in her area. She has a degree in clinical psychology and wanted to know the stories of the people who lost their cats. So whenever she found a lost cat poster, she would try to contact the owners. Some were open to her and some were not. This was such an interesting and usual topic that I sped through this book!

14SChant
Jan 20, 6:12am

Started The Children of Ash and Elm. I'm very keen on both fiction and non-fiction about the Viking era and peoples and this looks very thorough.

15Tess_W
Jan 20, 6:33am

I've just started Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 which even though is setting up the background, appears to be a really good read.

17rocketjk
Jan 21, 1:39pm

I finished Black Power: The Politics of Liberation by Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael) and Charles V. Hamilton. Written more as political and cultural philosophy than as history, this concise and well-written book was first published in 1967 as the Black Power movement and many other historical waves in world and U.S. history were coalescing. I do remember those days, although as young observer, as I turned 12 during the summer of 1967. "Black Power" was a term that made white conservatives angry and white liberals, and some Blacks, nervous. It seemed to speak of separatism, anger and violence. But as Ture and Hamilton described the philosophy, at least from this far historical remove, it seems more common sense than anything else, especially if one allows some--to me--clear fact of the pervasiveness in America of systemic racism, a term the authors here were using in 1967. (I don't know when that term was coined. Maybe it was new then, or maybe it was centuries old. Certainly the condition was centuries old.)

18Tess_W
Jan 24, 11:15pm

20jecarney64
Editado: Jan 27, 2:41pm

I just read The Hidden Life of Trees and I'm looking to check out some of the other titles in this series.

21marell
Jan 27, 9:58am

I’m currently reading Wandering Through Winter by Edwin Way Teale. It is just wonderful. It is the fourth book in his American seasons series. It won the Pulitzer Prize.

22Bookmarque
Jan 27, 10:54am

Just started Empire of the Summer Moon about the rise and fall of the Comanche Empire. Am trying hard not to be outraged, but it’s hard.

23JulieLill
Jan 27, 11:38am

Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff
Michael Nesmith
3.5/5 stars
Probably best known to older generations as one of The Monkees, Nesmith writes about his life which included his stint on The Monkees. After the show ended, he continued to work in the TV and movie industry but he also fought to find meaning in his life. There is also a CD that has some of Nesmith’s music on it called Infinite Tuesday: Autobiographical Riffs The Music but it doesn’t come with the book.

24Tess_W
Editado: Jan 27, 11:55pm

Beginning Tara Westover's memoir, Educated.

25JulieLill
Jan 28, 1:50pm

>24 Tess_W: I loved that book!

26vwinsloe
Jan 29, 9:28am

I'm reading Blowout and gaining a better understanding of global politics.

27Bookmarque
Jan 29, 10:51am

Just started Rob Halford's autobiography Confess - I have long loved Judas Priest and through listening to many interviews with Halford, have come to know he's a sensitive, genuine and humble guy. He reads the audiobook which is why I got it as an audio. Long live the Metal God! 🤘

28paradoxosalpha
Jan 29, 10:54am

I just became aware of David Niewert's Red Pill, Blue Pill: How to Counteract the Conspiracy Theories That Are Killing Us and asked my local public library to order a copy. I've been reading Niewert's journalism about US right-wing movements for decades.

29LynnB
Jan 29, 2:22pm

>28 paradoxosalpha:, that sounds interesting! Let us know what your think of it.

I'm reading Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson.

30Tess_W
Fev 1, 8:19am

Finished The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. A superb book on the "holocaust" in China during WWII.

31rocketjk
Fev 1, 1:32pm

I finished Ways of Escape by Graham Greene. This book is listed as an autobiography, but I really consider it more a memoir, as Greene here provides us memories and insights into his writing career and his fascinating travel experiences, but leaves out pretty much everything about his personal life. We don't really, then, get a full picture of Greene's life. But that's OK, because what is here is extremely interesting and--not surprising considering the author--sharply written. Greene picks his story up here at about age 27, having already chronicled his earlier life in his book, A Sort of Life. This is perfect for me, as I generally find the early, childhood, part of memoirs/autobiographies tedious to a great or lesser degree.

Greene walks us through the writing of his novels, telling us how much he still liked them (or disliked them) as he was writing this memoir at age 75. More usefully, he tells us about the inspirations and real life events/memories that went into each, which characters are based on real life figures, and how he felt about the critical reception to the works. His account of the writing of the screenplay for "The Third Man" is almost worth the price of admission in and of itself.

The details about the various novels will be of real interest to fans of Greene's books. I've only read a few, and those quite some time ago, but now I'm thinking I need to read a few more. The book sings when Greene is discussing the creative process, and also when he is reminiscing about some of the fascinating places he took himself to, basically in an effort to get away from himself, usually after arranging a writing assignment. He tells of being in Dien Bien Phu shortly before the battle that drove the French out of Vietnam for good, with descriptions of how incompetently placed the French forces were, and how inevitable their destruction. He was in Havana during the final months of the Batista regime and in Haiti during the darkest days of Duvalier.

There are certainly unattractive aspects to Greene's character that he makes no effort to hide here, whether from honesty or from a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, it's hard to tell. Either way, he's very matter of fact about them. He speaks often of visiting brothels, mentions (without naming) various mistresses, and describes his foray into opium use in Malaya. His politics were liberal. For instance, after having taken the measure of Batista in Cuba, he gets in trouble with the dictator of Paraguay while on a visit there for speaking highly of Cuba's new revolutionary lead, Fidel Castro.

All in all I found this book a very interesting and valuable reading experience.

32Molly3028
Editado: Fev 2, 6:16pm

>20 jecarney64:

Welcome new administrator ~
After 30+ months, I am happy to pass the task of launching the regular threads over to you.
Enjoy!

33rocketjk
Fev 2, 1:05pm

I finished The Union Reader, edited by Richard B. Harwell. This is a very interesting anthology for those who care about American Civil War history. It’s a collection of letters, newspaper columns and journal entries from people of all sorts who took part in the war or witnessed it the war from the Union side. (Harwell also published a companion collection, The Confederate Reader.)

We get journal entries from Union soldiers in far flung theaters of war like New Mexico, but we are also taken inside Fort Sumter at the very beginning of the war, a diary entry of a woman watching the soldiers of both sides rush back and forth through the streets of her hometown, Gettysburg, first-hand accounts of major engagements like the Battle of Shiloh, letters and telegrams back and forth from an increasingly exasperated Lincoln to his generals during the early years of the conflict. There are accounts of life inside prisoner of war camps and a description of life in New Orleans during the Federal occupation.

34marell
Fev 2, 1:45pm

>33 rocketjk: These anthologies sound like books I would like very much. My library has both, I’m thankful to say.

35rocketjk
Fev 2, 3:49pm

>34 marell: I'll be interested to know how you enjoy them. I don't have The Confederate Reader, though, just the Union collection.

36Helenliz
Fev 3, 4:46pm

I finished Square Haunting a set of biographies of 5 women who all lived in one Bloomsbury square at different times between the wars. I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I've only read 2 of the 5. It was an interesting premise.

37JulieLill
Fev 5, 11:49am

War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden: Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry
Lindy Woodhead
4/5 stars
I have had this on my reading list for a long time and though it was a long book, it was filled with wonderful details about the lives of these two women rivals in the cosmetics/beauty industry. Author Lindy Woodhead meticulously researched Rubenstein and Arden’s histories which included the beginnings of the beauty industry and their effects on it, their friendships with the rich and the famous and their rivals including Charles Revson. But she also she discussed the 20th century history’s effect on their businesses during the two world wars, Prohibition and the new trends that redefined the industry in the 50’s. The book ends with what happened to the industry in the early 60’s after their deaths. I found it fascinating.

38rocketjk
Fev 6, 2:31pm

I finished The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World - and Globalization Began by Valerie Hansen. Hansen here describes the growing interconnectedness between ever wider areas of the world for the purposes of trade, yes, but also the sharing of ideas and innovations. The year 1000 is really used as a sort of central point in time, one that Hansen frequently circles back to, but not one that she slavishly adheres to. She talks, really, about developments over a range of times within a 2- or 3-century time period, from around 900 to around 1200.

Basically, what Hansen does in this book is give us a tour around the world, circa 1000, to describe what an observant traveler then might have found, and both going back in time to illuminate how things got that way and then moving forward. What she wants to emphasize is that the world then was much more interconnected, that trade routes, for example, were much more far flung and markets more sophisticated, than we might imagine via a Western view through which we think of parts of the world as being "discovered" in the 15th and 16th centuries.

With some exceptions, Hansen does a good job of illuminating her overall thesis, showing how trade was common and markets widespread, particularly between China, Southeast Asia, Africa (The chapter on the wide ranging trade throughout the continent and then outward is short but quite interesting.), the Middle East and India. While I would imagine that among historians there is room for debate about some of Hansen's conclusions, I feel that I certainly learned enough and was engaged enough for most of the time, to find this a valuable reading experience.

39JulieLill
Editado: Fev 25, 3:33pm

I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy
Erin Carlson
3.5/5 stars
This is a very interesting look at Nora Ephron’s life and career, in particularly focusing on her three most famous film romances - When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. I have always loved film and this book does a nice job in discussing Ephron’s films and has plenty of juicy facts about each of them and how they came about!

40JulieLill
Fev 11, 5:23pm

Joy in the Morning
Betty Smith
3.5/5 stars
Set in 1927 in the Depression era, Annie and her boyfriend Carl Brown marry. Their parents are not too happy but they take off to the University where Carl will try to earn his degree with little money and much hardship as they settle down building a life for themselves in difficult times. Written by the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, this is a semi-autobiographical novel of her life with her husband in their first few years of marriage. Enjoyable!

41marell
Fev 11, 5:48pm

I’m reading A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barabara Tuchman. Just finished the chapter on the bubonic plage. Ugh.

42LynnB
Fev 12, 9:08am

>41 marell:, Barbara Tuchman is one of my favourite nonfiction writers. I enjoyed that book, but thought it was a bit long.

43marell
Fev 12, 10:45am

>42 LynnB: It has been on my shelf for years and it’s not in very good shape so I decided to read it for My Big Fat Book Challenge. Enjoying it very much. Will try The Guns of August in the future.

44paradoxosalpha
Fev 12, 2:19pm

Having finished my read of The Transparency of Evil and posted my review, I've moved on to Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions. So far I give it high marks for wide scope and lucid treatment of its topic.

46SChant
Fev 18, 7:26am

Raced through We Are Bellingcat by Eliot Higgins. It's a fascinating look at the rise of citizen journalists using open-source channels and tools to uncover some of the worst war atrocities and unmasked state misinformation and lies in the past decade. A well written, lively and optimistic counterblow to the acres of dismal “fake news” we see gushing across social media.

47jhheart
Fev 18, 7:00pm

>10 Helenliz: That reminds me of the podcast "By the Book" with Kristen Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg

48Tess_W
Fev 18, 11:45pm

I've been reading The Diaries of Giacomo Meyerbeer: 1791-1839 (autobiography) for about a year. It wasn't boring, but I felt overwhelmed by such detail that I was not familiar with that I had to take it very slow (576 pages). I'm down to about 5 pages left and whewwwwww! Meyerbeer was a writer of opera, his last, 'L'Africaine' was published and performed posthumously. I've read the libretto, so now I'm going to listen to it on youtube and see if I can follow along.

49rocketjk
Fev 19, 2:36pm

I finished Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism by Patricia Hill Colliins. Collins outlines her views here on the development of gender roles and identification within the Black community in America. In particular, she focuses on the ways in which these roles have been shaped, one might say warped as well, by the histories of slavery and subsequent oppression, and how they have evolved through the lens of popular culture, movies and television in particular. Published in 2004, the book is somewhat dated in that social media is barely mentioned and that constructive Black representation, it seems to me, has improved in our culture over the intervening years. That's not to say that this isn't still an extremely valuable book. I certainly learned a lot about how post-Civil Rights Movement racism (referred to by Collins as "color-blind racism") has continued to affect millions of Americans.

50Meredy
Fev 19, 7:22pm

I'm about to tackle Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, by Merlin Sheldrake, which looks both fascinating and disturbing.

51LynnB
Fev 20, 4:09pm

>50 Meredy: that sounds interesting...let us know what you think!

I'm binge-reading the Canada Reads books, which includes one memoir -- Two Trees Make a Forest: In Search of My Family's Past among Taiwan's Mountains and Coasts by Jessica J. Lee.

52JulieLill
Fev 20, 6:59pm

The Dog Who Could Fly: The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Legged Hero Who Flew At His Side
Damien Lewis
4/5 stars
This is a heartwarming story about Robert Bozdach, a WWII Czechoslovakian pilot who finds a German Shepard puppy on a mission after he was shot down. He refused to leave the dog to his own devices and he soon became a passenger aboard Bozdach’s plane when the airman went on missions and a friend to the other soldiers wherever Bozdach fought. I thought this was wonderfully written.

53Meredy
Fev 20, 10:04pm

>41 marell: I thought that Tuchman book was fascinating. I loved all the detail. That sort of writing had never been my first choice, but I read it as part of a project I was working on. After that book I went on to several others of hers. The Zimmermann Telegram too was a compelling read.

54marell
Fev 22, 10:11am

>53 Meredy: Thank you for the recommendation of The Zimmerman Code. I had not heard of it until now.

56LynnB
Fev 22, 5:21pm

57rocketjk
Fev 24, 5:21pm

I finished Pennant Race by Jim Brosnan

In 1961, Jim Brosnan was a relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, who surprised the baseball world by winning the National League pennant. This book is his diary of that season. In fact, this was Brosnan's second book. His first, The Long Season, was first person account of the 1959 season, during which Brosnan was traded mid-year from the Cardinals to the Reds. That book was considered ground breaking, in that it was the first candid (sort of) look at life on a major league team. Pennant Race is entertaining fare for baseball fans. This book was published several years before Jim Bouton's Ball Four, about the 1969 season, which was really the first baseball memoir to reveal baseball life warts and all. In Pennant Race, Brosnan depicts life in the bullpen, and on the team in general, as a series of wise cracks under which lie the players' real desire to win and to perform well, along with their not always successful attempts to shrug off their day to day failures. Racial issues are dealt with, but not too deeply or often. Personal animosities among teammates seem non-existent. Again, Brosnan's books were a step forward in terms of real life portrayals of the baseball life, but he doesn't bring us all the way there. The descriptions of some players' personalities are perfunctory. For others, even some relatively famous ones, those portrayals are non-existent. We get almost nothing, for example, about Frank Robinson, then a young star (now in the Hall of Fame). Still there is a feel for what the life was like. Brosnan was a good writer with a breezy, self-deprecating style. It helps that the 1961 season was one of Brosnan's best as a professional ballplayer.

So for baseball fans interested in the game's history (or for those with long memories), this book is fun and worth reading, as long as you don't expect too much of it.

58rocketjk
Fev 25, 1:07pm

I finished American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Hutchison was a sitting U.S. Senator from Texas and the Vice Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference when this book was published in 2004. The book is a collection of short biographies (from around 8 to 20 pages in length) of influential women in many different fields and many different time periods throughout American history. The bios are presented by category, with one or two of the bios per section followed by one or two short Q&A conversations with category-appropriate contemporary (as per 2004) women.

All in all, the biographies are well written and interesting. There are a decent number of African American, Latina and Native American women represented, as well. Some of the biographies served as good refresher courses for me, but quite a few were women whose stories and accomplishments were entirely new to me. In the acknowledgements, Howard Cohn is acknowledged as researcher and draft writer. I don't know how much of the actual writing is his and how much is hers. I say that not because I doubt Hutchison's abilities as a writer--why should I?--but only because she was a sitting senator at the time, so I'm wondering where she would have found the time. At any rate, as I said, the book is clearly and informatively written.

So I think this is in fact a valuable and interesting volume. I could see it used in a high school or even a college syllabus.

60snash
Mar 2, 7:46am

I finished Archaeology at the Site of the Museum of the American Revolution which was a short but thorough and engaging look at the archeological investigation of a site in Philadelphia which uncovered artifacts from the early 1700's up to the mid 1900's. Emphasis was placed on what the artifacts along with research in the written record revealed about the people living and working at the site through the ages.