Just Because It’s True Doesn’t Mean It Can’t Be Interesting

The folks over at The Broke and The Bookish have done it again! They’ve dreamed up another wonderful book list idea for bloggers to share. This week’s list is The Top Ten Books I’d Recommend To Someone Who Doesn’t Read ______________. We can insert anything we want in the gap. (For example, we can recommend ten classics for folks who don’t read literature, young adult reads for those who don’t like the genre, or whatever other list we’d like to design to help introduce someone to unfamiliar verbal territory.)

I was an English major for eight years (including grad school, fool!), and I taught English for just over a decade. However, rather than rehash great works, I thought I’d recommend ten non-fiction books I’ve either enjoyed or plan on reading soon. This genre has grown on me recently because I’ve come to realize that life– with all its glorious messiness, triumph, and tragedy–can be just as compelling as fiction…if not more so. I combed my Goodreads shelf and came up with this list.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond—I read key chapters from this one for an AP Literature class I taught, but what I’ve read is fascinating. Essentially, the author examines how differences in geography and environment shaped world cultures and allowed some to dominate while others withered. It can be a little clinical in places and has ton of footnotes and endnotes, but they don’t really interfere with the text. I enjoyed it in small bites because it contains so much data that, in one sitting, I could get overwhelmed.

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch—I read this one several years ago on a whim, and I fell in love with Lynch’s style. If you don’t know about him, he actually is a mortician who lives in Milford, Michigan. He is also an essayist and poet with several published works to his name. This oddly poetic book is a collection of twelve essays and a poem or two that combine musings of life and death in ways that are humorous, thought-provoking, and altogether real.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach—I’m not morbid, I swear. These two were just next to each other on my shelf. Unlike Lynch’s work, which is more poetic in structure and full of musings, Roach’s work is fact-based, straightforward, and, at times, shocking. She doesn’t embellish; she simply describes the places some folks end up (either by choice or by chance) once they’ve shuffled off their mortal coils. She opens with an interesting chapter about decapitated heads set up in what look like turkey roasters; they are there so plastic surgeons can practice a new procedure. If you’ve ever been curious about how real crash test “dummies” are selected or how the body farm at the University of Tennessee works, this is the read for you. By the way, she also has other books like Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife if you’re interested.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough—I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet. I actually won a copy (along with all of his other books) last year, and this one is autographed! ūüôā I thoroughly enjoyed 1776 and John Adams, and I have no doubt that this one will fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge about Paris as well as the wide range of Americans who traveled there in order to make discoveries that would change the course of our great nation.

God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man: A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on Sapelo Island, Georgia by Cornelia Walker Bailey—I read this book in graduate school and was actually priviledged to visit Sapelo Island and meet Ms. Walker Bailey in person while there. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s probably because the island has been made into a nature preserve by the state. There are two restaurants, a lighthouse, a plantation house, and other structures on the island, but it’s more natural land than anything. It’s a twenty-minute ferry ride from the coast and boasts a gorgeous beach where you can lay out and see every star in the sky at night. We slept there one night and just basked in it. The book focuses on that but also the way of life of the people who live there as well as their roots, both here and in Africa. It’s a fascinating read!

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby—I found excerpts from this slim volume in the literature book for my sophomores and fell in love with the author. This book is poignant and heartbreaking–the quintessential example of bittersweet. If you don’t know his story, Bauby was an editor for Elle¬†magazine in Paris when he had stroke and became a prisoner to something called “Locked In Syndrome.” Basically, his mind worked perfectly, but he could only control his left eyelid. Physically, he was stuck! He wrote this entire book with help from others who recited the alphabet. When they read the letter he wanted, he blinked, and they added it to the text. Letter by letter, word by word, essay by essay—this book was literally blinked into¬†existence. It is 114 pages long and a stunning example of what the human desire to communicate can produce!

Maus (Volumes 1 & 2) by Art Spiegelman—This one is a graphic novel, yes, but it is both autobiographical and biographical. One volume chronicles his father’s Holocaust survival story, and the other is how he “survived” his father’s survival guilt. Simple pages, black and white illustrations, and anthropomorphic characters make this one riveting. It’s like you are reading about the Holocaust for the first time just because of the sheer “otherness” of the presentation. This is the only graphic novel that has ever won the Pulitzer Prize, and it certainly deserved it.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester—You know you’re a nerd when you read a book about the construction of a dictionary, and while it did chronicle how many, many people sending in little strips of paper helped a small team create the first edition of the most definitive dictionary of the English language ever seen. It doesn’t hurt that one of the most prolific contributors happened to be a surgeon who came to England after the Civil War and was imprisoned for killing a prostitute! I hope I’ve¬†sufficiently¬†intrigued you to read this one with that statement alone.

Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood—This is one I picked up when Ms. Atwood came to Atlanta to do a reading, and it is filled with essays about the art of writing—what can be made, what must be released, and what it costs both mentally and culturally. After all, sometimes, the only way and author can find something worth saying is to touch the sore places or poke the scars. It ain’t pleasant, but it is necessary if we’re going to create something worth reading. The few pieces I’ve read have been quite excellent, and I look forward to finishing it soon.

Playing with the Enemy: A Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, and the Long Journey Home by Gary W. Moore—Wayne brought this one home from a business trip. He saw it and thought it would be interesting because it focuses on baseball, my mostest favoritest thing on earth. (Other than Jesus Christ and my family, there is nothing I love more.) This one chronicles Moore’s father and his experiences with German prisoners in World War II. It’s a new perspective on the war from a “minor player” in the global drama we all thought we knew. I will also be reading this one soon.

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4 thoughts on “Just Because It’s True Doesn’t Mean It Can’t Be Interesting

    1. The Broke and the Bookish has a weekly meme, a different top ten list each Tuesday. It’s a lot of fun to do, and it’s helped me to find new books to read and blogs to follow. Several folks I’ve found through there have really been fun to read each week. I bet you can crank out some GREAT lists as a librarian!

  1. Great list, Jamie! I mistakenly thought this was the “freebie” week, so I did not get my act together for this one, but I was thinking of non-fiction, too! My list would have included: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Unbroken, Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts, and . . . that is as far as I got before I decided to post about Blue’s Clues instead. I will definitely check out at least a few from your list!

    1. I’d already listed HeLa in a previous list, and I still have to read it myself. I read Devil in the White City, but I didn’t think about it until after the fact. Man, there’s some great stuff out there in non-fiction land!

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