Nonfiction November Week 1: My Year in Nonfiction


I found the lovely banner above at

Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is hosting week 1 of this years “Nonfiction November”  The topic this week is our “Year in Nonfiction,” where participants answer the following questions.  So here goes…

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?


Actually, my answer to this and the next question would be the same, so here I’ll mention that my 2nd most favorite nonfiction read of the year was. “Prisoner of Trebekistan” by Bob Harris, a chronicle of his time appearing on the show, Jeopardy!, returning for the tournament of champions and one other special tournament.  It was a really fun read, and written by someone who shows himself “warts and all” and doesn’t take himself that seriously.  If you watch the show but don’t remember that name, try googling Bob Harris Jeopardy.  I bet you’ll recognize him.  I read this book in Feb-Mar as I was “preparing” for an in-person audition for Jeopardy in Chicago.  I’m now in the contestant pool (which is probably 10 times larger than the number of people they need) but haven’t gotten a call so far.  One guy I auditioned with was on last week and actually won 3 games.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?


“Deep Down Dark” by Hector Tobar.  It’s the story of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days a few years ago.  Coincidentally, a film version of the book is coming out next week I think.  It’s called “The 33” if I’m not mistaken.  Anyway, the book was a great read.  Even though I knew the outcome, I was still on the edge of my seat for most of it.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

I want to read more scientific books for some reason.  I have a fair background in science, but there are vast areas of it I haven’t yet explored.  Also on my to do list is reading more about the history of my state (Indiana).  2016 is our Bicentennial year so I want to “participate” by reading and learning more about it.  🙂

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I’d hope to connect with some new book blogging colleagues that I end up following (and vise-versa of course!) as happened last year.  I always feel like I don’t pay enough attention to my nonfiction reading (is it just because it’s “easier” to read fiction and I’m lazy?  Maybe…)

Anyway, that’s it for the first round.  What are you doing for Nonfiction November??

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar


“Estamos Bien en el Refugio – Los 33”

You probably remember the story in the news from the summer of 2010 – a mine collapse in Chile left 33 miners trapped and, by many, presumed lost. What then unfolded was a dramatic news story that much of the world followed for the next two and a half months. That story is retold expertly by Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Hector Tobar, in his excellent book Deep Down Dark.

It’s remarkable how some dramatic re-tellings of known historical events are able to hold you enthralled despite the fact that you know how the story ends. (One example in cinema is the great film, Apollo 13. Moviegoers already knew the story of the unlucky mission, yet who among them was not still breathlessly waiting for that radio signal near the end of the film when the capsule – with deployed parachutes – appears on the screen.) I had a similar feeling while reading this book. I knew the story, yet in spite of that I was anxious for the trapped miners and kept “forgetting” that “everything would be all right” in the end. An impressive feat for a writer to pull off, I’d say. (at right below: near the end of “Apollo 13”)


The book is logically divided into three parts, 1) the events leading up to the collapse, and the collapse itself, and the agonizing 17 days when the miners waited and hoped, not knowing if a rescue was even possible or, at first, being attempted; 2) the time from after the rescuers’ first (very small) drill hole reached them and offered renewed hope until their rescue; and 3) what happened to “the 33” after they rejoin the world above. Tobar also takes ample time early in the book introducing us on a more personal level to many of the miners who were to become the major players in the ordeal. The early pages of the book also includes something akin to a kind of “class photo” of the 33 miners, with their facial portraits in an array of rows and columns. I found myself frequently turning back to these photos to place faces with the names as events were described. In addition to the miners themselves, Tobar also relates the roles of their families and loved ones on the surface. (Pictures of some of the wives, girlfriends, and sisters of the miners would also have been a welcome addition for this reader) Many of the stories of their efforts are hardly less heroic than those of the men trapped below.

(Below: the message received from the miners when the first drill that broke through to their level was extracted. The miners sprayed red paint on the drill and attached the pictured note, wrapped in plastic and wound around the drill. Disaster procedure dictates that the initial communication should be brief but contain the location, the status, and how many survivors there are.  “The 33” accomplished this in just 7 words…)


The book of the miners’ story left me thinking a lot about human nature. How, for example, when extraneous factors are removed from the equation leaving simply survival as the only goal, the men came together in a brotherhood that likely only those who have suffered together through great hardship can understand. Then how, after contact was re-established with the “civilized” world above, parts of this brotherhood began to break down. How, as the trapped men became celebrities, many began to think how money could be made off of them. How politicians began to want to be associated with them, and how jealousy also began to eat away and the bonds of brotherhood. One pact that the 33 made and kept, however, was that they would tell their story to one, and just one, writer and share equally any financial benefits of their story being told in writing or in film. I am thankful for this as it led to this wonderful book.

This story also recalled to my mind one of my favorite Haruki Murakami’s short stories, “New York Mining Disaster.”

I first learned of this book via My “NPR Addict” app on my iPad. I was scrolling through and listening to recent book-related segments and came upon one discussing a new “NPR Morning Edition Book Club.” The description of this, the club’s first selection, was intriguing and with a scheduled broadcast of 1/20/15 I thought I should be able to read it in time. I did, but I was unable to listen in “live” to the show since I was working. When I listened to the recording later, it was a great disappointment. The segment was less than eight minutes long, with a couple minutes just being a replay of the original announcement. Questions from listeners (via Twitter, FaceBook, or traditional phone message) were aggressively encouraged prior to the broadcast date, but they only shared five or six. The hashtag touted for the project (#morningreads) also appears to have been at least partially hijacked to be used for mundane Morning Edition news items, not just the book club related ones. For information (and a link to the broadcast) about the NPR Morning Edition book club follow this link.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(Above: from a tour inside a coal mine in Beckley, West Virginia. On a personal note, I actually have mining in my family history. My mom is literally a “coal miner’s daughter” from the mountains of West Virginia – although my granddad did “get out” of the mines in his later years, he still worked for the company that owned the mines as an machinist and a kind of engineering factotum. Others on her side of the family have also worked in the mines. I’m claustrophobic myself, and I can’t imagine spending a eight-hour workday underground day after day after day….)

(Below: the “Fenix” capsule via which the trapped men were extricated from the mine.  The trips to the surface took about 30 minutes each. Talk about claustrophobia!)



A Blogoversary, and Reading Plans for the Month and Year

Bibliophilopolis turns five years old tomorrow, January 2nd.

Thanks to all readers and followers/ subscribers and to everyone who has commented over the years. It’s been an enriching experience for me, and I’ll try to stumble through and complete a sixth year… 🙂

January Reading: The Month Ahead

I’ve resolved to cut back on some of my book club involvement in 2015; I just had too many reading commitments last year, many of which resulted in re-reads, which I’ve also resolved to cut down on this year. That said, I have a few existing commitments that I’ll need to honor in January.

I’ll be reading my first graphic novel (if I don’t count all those Classics Illustrated comics I read when I was growing up, that is), the acclaimed “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. This is for a book club I’ve been attending that meets at the Rathskeller Restaurant/Bar in downtown Indianapolis. It’s the club’s first graphic novel as well.


For the Vonnegut Library book club, we’re reading Nelson Algren’s “The Man With the Golden Arm.” (pictured below – of course I picked a picture of an edition that has a spade on the cover – Deal Me In, baby! 🙂 )


And for my Great Books Foundation discussion group, we’re reading Willa Cather‘s excellent novella, “Tom Outland’s Story.” This is technically a re-read for me, as the novella is also encapsulated in her novel, “The Professor’s House,” which I read a couple years ago.


Then, just yesterday, I learned that NPR’s “Morning Edition” program has a book club(!) and they’re now reading Hector Tobar’s “Deep Down Dark” – the story of those 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for so many days a few years back. It sounded so interesting I bought an e-copy (before midnight last night, so I won’t be violating the TBR Double Dog Dare!). The reading is in conjunction with the author’s appearance on their program on 1/20/2015. More info may be found at:

I’ll admit part of my interest in this book is due to my fondness for the ending (or beginning?) of the Murakami story, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.”


That’s four books already, so my January is pretty much spoken for. Oh, I am also about four hundred pages into George R.R. Martin’s “Feast for Crows” which I can hopefully continue to read in the background during the month and finish by month end.

There are also five Saturday’s in January, and Saturday mornings are when I draw my weekly card to determine which story I read for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I have a great line-up of stories to read – in random order – this year. View it here and feel free to suggest a story for my four wild cards. 🙂

2015 Reading: The Year Ahead

The “unofficial” focus of my blog in 2015 is going to be on reading more local authors. There is no shortage of material here both contemporary and classic. One thing I plan to do in the first quarter is read Lew Wallace’s classic “Ben-Hur” which has been on my shelf forever. Of course I’ve seen the movie, but never read the book, even though I lived in the same town as a Lew Wallace Museum for four years of my life(!). There are also books by Booth Tarkington (in addition to The Magnificent Ambersons) that I’d like to explore. James Whitcomb Riley is another classic Indiana author I’ve targeted. Then there’s always Kurt Vonnegut, but I’ve read everything by him already. Seriously.

(below: I own an 1887 copy of this same edition of Ben-Hur – (I think) the oldest book in my personal library)


For contemporaries, there’s the great Indy Writes Books anthology, the short stories in which I’ve assigned to my Deal Me In project, but there is other material besides fiction in that volume. I also want to read some of the local authors in the Midwestern Gothic literary magazine.


I also may revisit my old “Project: Shakespeare” from 2008, which I ended the year without finishing, with roughly 12 more plays to read. That’s one a month. Hmmm….

In general, I also want to read a little more non-fiction this year than I did last year, when I managed only about 25% non fiction reading. I’d prefer something closer to a 60-40 split, or at least 65-35. We’ll see how I do on that one…

But enough about me, What are YOUR reading plans for January and for 2015?

(did you see that Jeopardy! had a contestant this year named “Ben-Hur?” He was pretty good too, winning a game or two I think. Judging by the scores below, this was not one of them)