Non Fiction November – Week 3: Diversity and Non Fiction

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This year, for the first time, I’ve been participating in the annual Non Fiction November (challenge?) where bloggers are encouraged to read more non fiction and post answers to weekly queries posed by our hosts. There are four hosts this year, and this week’s is Becca at I’m Lost in Books. Please consider giving her blog a visit.

This week’s topic is “Diversity and Nonfiction” and we are asked to post about “What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to books’ location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for? What kind of books besides different cultures do you think of as books of diversity?”

Generally speaking, I read fiction for entertainment and to learn about people (or maybe “the human condition”), and I read non fiction to learn about the world. But look around the world and what do you see? People. And people are diverse. How about that? Anyway, to me, I think of reading diversely more in terms of the traditional sense of the word, not in the contemporary, people-focused definition. So to me reading diversely means reading about a lot of topics. I usually fail to achieve this. 🙂 I like history, but maybe not so much American history but history of other parts of the world I am less familiar with. I like biographies and autobiographies and read a good “diverse” one earlier this year in Li Cunxin’s “Mao’s Last Dancer” – about a ballet dancer trained as part of Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution” who later defects to the U.S.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran” was another diverse non fiction read for me this year. If you don’t already know, it’s about a kind of “underground” book club in Iran, where the readers (led by a former university professor) discuss the forbidden classics of western lit. This one brings up a good point too, in that it probably wasn’t a book I would’ve read on my own, but instead read since it was a selection for one of the book clubs I participate in. I have found that books I’m “forced” to read for a book club – particularly a club where members take turns picking books – have been a great source of reading diversity. It only makes sense, right? In fact, a book club I founded many years ago had as one of its stated “terms and conditions” that participants must be willing and hopefully eager to read books outside of their normal comfort zone. We lasted almost six years, which in my experience is not bad for a book club. 🙂

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Other recent non fiction reads that I consider diverse: “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall – more or less about the sport of ultimate marathons and extreme long distance running. I don’t run. I walk a lot, but I’ve never been a runner, so this book was outside of my comfort zone. I still liked it. “Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City” by Robert Rebein was another great one. I’m a Midwesterner, so was unfamiliar with much of what was discussed about a more “western” town (the author even takes a turn working as a cowhand, a topic I knew nothing about and thus a part of the book that I found very interesting). One more was “The Queen of Kaywe” about a young female chess prodigy in the slums of Kampala, Uganda. A part of the world I know very little about and a human condition extreme, I mean EXTREME poverty that thankfully I have never personally experienced.

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Looking back at these titles, I note that almost all, even if they are in a different setting geographically, have at least one topic or component that I am already familiar with (e.g. chess, a love of western lit, etc.) which permits me at least some foothold of familiarity in an unfamiliar setting. Do you find that to be true of your diverse non fiction reading too?

Finally, what countries or cultures I like to read more about? I have a lot of interest in China – as our potential (probable?) future economic overlords – and New Zealand, where I’ve always wanted to visit or maybe retire to… Can you offer any recommendations to help me out here? 🙂

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8 Comments

  1. Heather said,

    November 18, 2014 at 8:49 am

    I liked Born to Run too and I have no interest in being an ultra runner.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dee said,

    November 18, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Hi Jay …… Exciting post. First, off the top of my head so that you can begin reading any of my suggestions about China as soon as possible (!) are 4 books:

    Han Suyin wrote a 5 book memoir …… I’ve only read the first: The Crippled Tree – fabulous – unforgettable description of the gorges of “the Great River, Son of the Ocean” ….. goes back into the 19th c. via her own father’s autobiography.

    Emly Hahn: The Soong Sisters ….. they all married well! (Sun Yat-sin, Chaing Chi Shek -sorry misspelled etc)

    Jung Chang: Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China …….. did not marry well ……

    Serge Michel and Michel Beuvet: China Safari …. “the galloping infiltration of Africa” … translated from the French of 2 French journalists – so without the US version of things ..

    Of course there are many more …..
    (A bit different from my French obsession emailed to you a few days back.)

    Dee

    Like

    • Jay said,

      November 19, 2014 at 8:25 am

      Hi Dee,
      As always, thanks for the recommendations. Of the ones you list, I think Imight try Wild Swans, as I see on goodreads.com that a couple other friends have read it and rated it favorably. China Safari sounds intriguing as well. Hmm…
      -Jay

      Like

  3. Dale said,

    November 18, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    It seems like the books that I love (whether nonfiction or fiction) have a balance or maybe a tension between something that I identify with and a look into a world that’s different from mine.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      November 19, 2014 at 8:26 am

      To me its kind of like the difference between being a tourist alone somewhere and being a tourist with a friend or guide who knows the lay of the land. 🙂

      Like

  4. November 18, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Reading Lolita in Tehran is one of my favorites. It was one of the first “books about the love of books” that I remember reading, and I fell for it hard. Using books we all know something about and seeing them interpreted through an entirely different cultural frame of reference really made sense to me.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      November 19, 2014 at 8:28 am

      I actually ended up being a little disappointed by it, perhaps partially because expectations were so high based on all the acclaim it’s received. I’d read most of the literary works she discusses, but her assumption – that readers already know these very well – must’ve been off-putting to many. Plus she “spoils” the ending of several of them(!), so you better read them before this book. 🙂

      Like


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