Monday, November 24, 2014

Nonfiction November: New to my TBR list

I have really enjoyed participating in Nonfiction November, thanks to the four wonderful bloggers who hosted it (see below for the weekly topics). I think of myself as a fiction reader and have never particularly sought out non-fiction, although I pick it up when something that looks interesting happens to come my way. This month, by being more focused on non-fiction I discovered three terrific reads -- One Summer: America 1927; Empty Mansions; and In the Kingdom of Ice (review coming soon) -- plus countless more recommendations that sound equally compelling. Top on my list are the following, in more or less the order I found them in posts during the month:

Violins of Hope by James A. Grymes
Through the stories of violins played during the Holocaust, now lovingly restored and exhibited, history and music come together in a story of tragedy and hope.
Recommended at A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
I read and enjoyed Wild last summer but wasn't particularly interested in Cheryl Strayed's earlier collection of advice columns, partly put off by the minimalist cover design. Now I know I have to look into it!
Recommended at River City Reading

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Insight into the pre-war Depression years, and a somewhat obscure sport.
Recommended at Musings of a Bookmammal

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
Women and espionage in the American Civil War take center stage in this entertaining yet informative read.
Recommended at Sarah's Book Shelves

Is That a Fish in Your Ear by David Bellos
The problems and necessity of translation fascinate me, and this book sounds like a wonderful way to learn more about it and "why it's an essential part of what makes us human." 
Recommended at Wensend 

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock
Brona recommended this one after I focused on "Unconventional Biographies" in my initial NN post. It sounds extraordinary.
Recommended at Brona's Books 

Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson
I know very little about the profession of archaeology, but Marilyn Johnson can fix that.
Recommended at Reading the End

The Storyteller's Daughter by Saira Shah
A British journalist travels to her father's homeland in Afghanistan, in search of the country found in his stories.
Recommended at Love, Laughter and Insanity

The Color of Water by James McBride
This "black man's tribute to his white mother" sounds like a portrait of a remarkable individual.
Recommended at I'm Lost in Books

1776 by David McCullough
I should know more about this pivotal year in American history, and McCullough's style sounds engaging enough to get me through it.
Recommended at The Well-Read Redhead

I know I'll have a great year with these, and I'm definitely looking forward to next November!

Be sure to check out all the posts being linked this month:

Week One: My Year in Nonfiction
Week Two: Be/Become/Ask the Expert
Week Three: Diversity and Nonfiction
Week Four: New to My TBR List

Friday, November 21, 2014

Empty Mansions (Nonfiction November Review)

Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr., Empty Mansions (Ballantine, 2013)

Dedman Newell Huguette Clark
This is a story about money: about the winning of a great American fortune, its spending on acts of  generosity and selfishness, and its end in the hands of eager lawyers and rapacious relatives. It's also the story of an enigmatic woman, Huguette Clark, who was worth $300 million yet chose to live the last twenty years of her long life in a simple hospital room, even though she owned several uninhabited, impeccably maintained properties. Who was this woman of unbelievable wealth and unusually reclusive habits? Why did she hide from her relatives? Was she, as they claimed, under the influence of unscrupulous employees who benefited from her lavish gifts -- and perhaps mentally imbalanced?

Huguette is gone and cannot speak for herself, but her cousin Paul Clark Newell, Jr. and reporter Bill Dedman give us insight into her world in this absorbing account of a life lived strangely, but with an odd kind of integrity. Huguette's father, copper magnate W.A. Clark, was a contemporary of Rockefeller and Carnegie and his self-made fortune was equal to or greater than theirs. But as well as tarnishing his own reputation during his lifetime with desperate maneuvering for political office, and adopting a flamboyantly ostentatious style that did not admit him to the higher echelons of society, he didn't endow any institutions that would perpetuate his name. Instead, he left his substantial monetary legacy to his children by two marriages, including his youngest daughter, Huguette.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Library Loot: November 19

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire of The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share books they've checked out from the library. 

If you'd like to participate, check out those blogs on Wednesdays to link up your post. This week the linky is here.

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides - I'm planning to finish up my Nonfiction November trio of American history books with this highly acclaimed title. I hope it's as fascinating as everyone says!

Willa Cather novels - Coming up in December, I'm excited for Willa Cather Reading Week. I'm thinking I'll read Sapphira and the Slave Girl, but this omnibus volume gives me options.

The Town House - The idea of this book, the start of a trilogy, is appealing to me: the history of an old English house and the people who lived there. Reminds me of the Green Knowe stories.

 Then, some rather random international fiction: computer science and genies in the quirky fantasy Alif the Unseen, a rich family saga set in Naples in My Brilliant Friend, and the animal fable The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, translated from Korean. 

I'm looking forward to these! What did you pick up this week?

Friday, November 14, 2014

One Summer: America 1927 (Nonfiction November Review)

Bill Bryson, One Summer: America 1927 (Doubleday, 2013)


America 1927 history
A historical timeline entry for May-October, 1927 might read something like this:
  • Floods devastate the Mississippi valley
  • Charles Lindbergh makes first solo flight across the Atlantic
  • Sacco and Vanzetti executed
  • Calvin Coolidge declines to run for another term as president
  • The Jazz Singer filmed
  • Babe Ruth hits a record sixty home runs in a season 
Ho, hum. . . does this list take you back to the droning of your tenth-grade history teacher? In Bryson's latest work of nonfiction, he tries not to numb us with facts but to illumine what it was like to be an American in the summer of 1927, midway between two world wars, enjoying unprecedented prosperity and on the brink of the Great Depression. The summer's events are taken as a starting point for a narrative that ranges forward and backward in time, exploring everything from the development of aviation to the rise and fall of Prohibition to the tribulations of the motion-picture industry. In the process we meet a staggering array of athletes, criminals, actors, politicians, explorers, writers, anarchists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and inventors, with their idiosyncrasies played up to the fullest extent.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Classics Club Spin #8

Over at the Classics Club, every once in a while they like to shake things up by having a "spin." That's when you pick 20 books from your Classics Club list (ideally an assortment of books you really want to read and books you dread), and post them in a numbered list; then a number is chosen and you agree to try to read that book by a certain date. I've never done this before, but I think I need some excitement in my life, so here we go.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nonfiction November
After an intense week of immersion in fantasy fiction for Witch Week, it's time for something different! So this month, I'm joining in Nonfiction November, hosted by I'm Lost in Books, Regular Rumination, Sophisticated Dorkiness, and Doing Dewey. I hope this event will inspire me to read and post more about non-fiction, as well as gather recommendations from other bloggers to help me diversify my TBR list.

Today, I'm combining two of the weekly topics of the event, "My Year in Nonfiction" and "Be the Expert" (i.e., compose a list of recommendations on a particular subject). I think of myself as a fiction junkie, so I was surprised that many of my favorite reads this year so far have been non-fiction. And when I looked more closely, I found that they mostly fell into a category I could call "Unconventional Biographies." Rather than sticking to a traditional cradle-to-grave narrative of a single person's life, told by an author who tries to keep him- or herself out of the story as much as possible, these books shake up the biographical conventions in one way or another, and are all the better for it.