Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Nonfiction Post

Sometimes only nonfiction will do.  Lately I've discovered (the hard way) that if I'm reading at bedtime I will never fall asleep at a decent hour if I read a good fiction book.  There's just too much temptation to see what will happen next; even if I exercise self-control and put aside the book to turn out the light, my mind races as I speculate as to the ending.

Hence my solution:  at bedtime, only read nonfiction.  True, sometimes a nonfiction book acts as a soporific (better than Ambien!) and I drop off with the light on and the book still in my hands.  However, even if it is an interesting book, and I have found many, it's not quite as hard to lay aside when you really must be disciplined and fall asleep.

I'm going to run through a few genres of nonfiction, and save others for another post.  Because this is my blog (ha ha), my selections will obviously favor my interests.  Don't let this deter you -- sometimes, reading a book that you wouldn't have chosen yourself can open up a whole new world of interests.

I love history.  I would have majored in it, but it's slightly less practical than my actual major (psychology).  I especially love European history -- there's so much of it, a lot is really loopy (think the defenestration of Prague), and the characters are so fantastic they could not have been created by any average author's pen.
Some favorites of mine include In Europe, a sort of historical travelogue of the 20th century by Geert Mak.  I own it (okay, I lifted it from my father's library) and it lives permanently in my bedroom.  Lovely to dip into.
Another favorite is Empires of the Sea:  The Siege of Malta, The Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, by Roger Crowley.  This book describes the series of events during the mid-16th century in which the balance of power in the Mediterranean dramatically shifts.  I know, this sounds boring to some of you, but it's written really well, and if you follow current world events it's quite relevant.
I don't as a rule really seek out Holocaust books, but these are exceptional and really too good to miss.  The Third Reich Trilogy, written by Richard J. Evans between 2003-2008, begins with The Coming of the Third Reich, continues in The Third Reich in Power, and concludes with The Third Reich at War.  The books chart the rise and fall of Hitler's regime, and it's a comprehensive work, stunningly researched, which touches on every aspect of life in the Third Reich as it grows, and then implodes.  This takes forever to read, but it is well worth it.

Science and Health:
I'm a little obsessive about The Omnivore's Dilemma; it's probably not well-balanced of me.  This book is by Michael Pollan, who has achieved a certain measure of fame writing about food and how it gets to the table.  (He actually wrote a long article for the New York Times Magazine in which he purchases a steer and follows it to the dinner table).  Pollan can make anything sound interesting, even corn propagation, but this book can definitely hold its own.  He asks, what should we have for dinner? and follows up his question by following the industrial food chain, the organic food chain, and the food we can forage ourselves.  My first reaction to this book was to react hysterically to displays in the supermarket (it's a conspiracy!) and try to buy organic and local, but it didn't last.  In part this didn't work because I live in Connecticut, and if I'm going to buy local produce I'll be eating old potatoes all winter.  In part I calmed down a bit, but I do regress every time I reread the book.  I don't mean to scare you off Pollan's ideas -- I think they have a large degree of merit and a lot can be learned from this book.  Just don't go overboard and start keeping chickens in the backyard (with organic feed).
In Lost in Wonder, Colleen Brooks gives a layperson's tour of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last few centuries.  I don't have much of a science background (I stopped after fulfilling my college requirement, which was not much more sophisticated than what I had done in high school) but I do enjoy it to the extent that my mind can grasp.  This book is so accessible to anyone who has an interest and does not have background or skill, it's a pleasure to read.  It's also written smoothly and with a minimum of jargon.
This weekend I read Seth Mnookin's The Panic Virus, about the autism/vaccination controversy and its effects on the general population.  It was reviewed recently on Slate (how I found out about it) and here's the review:  It was a very good read, and I recommend it to everyone.  Again, you don't need to have any special knowledge to read this.
Other nonfiction genres will have to wait for another post.  Please post your comments and suggestions!

1 comment:

  1. The NYtimes has just posted its review of Seth Mnookin's book --