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? 🙂

Non Fiction November! – Week 2

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Week 2: November 10 to 14 is hosted by Leslie at Regular Rumination

For week two of Non Fiction November, we are tasked with the following: “Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’m afraid I’m going to cheat this week and kind of do two of the three options. I’m a Non Fiction November Rebel! 🙂

Marching under the “Be the Expert” banner, I’d like to recommend a great popular history writer and three of his books. Have you ever heard of Daniel Boorstin? His isn’t a household name, but he served many years as Librarian of Congress, and also wrote several books on history, including maybe my favorite non-fiction book ever, The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination.

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One of the beauties of this book is that it’s really a huge collection of 8-15 page segments on great men and women in the history of the arts and thus can be out down and revisited without “having to start over” again or anything like that. I read it the first time over the course of several month’s worth of lunch hour reading at downtown Indy’s City Market building. This would’ve been in the late ’90s probably, and I can still vividly remember how somedays it was hard to re-enter the “corporate world” after just a brief sojourn with the heroes of the imagination. I learned SO MUCH reading this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

He also wrote the similarly structured books “The Discoverers” and “The Americans” – the latter which I had read as assigned reading in college, the former I read after being won over by The Creators. Another favorite by this author is the oddly titled “Cleopatra’s Nose,” a collection of “essays on the unexpected.” All great, great reading.

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Now for Part II – if you’ve made it this far 🙂 – I’d like to avail myself of the Ask the Expert option too.

I’m one who loves to know “the story behind the story” in regards to some of the great works of literature. This has led me to become a fan of author biographies (or even author autobiographies). I’ve read a handful of both – autobiographies of Asimov, Wells, Trollope, Franklin, e.g., and biographies of Kerouac, Hawthorne, Poe, Dickens et. al. I have a thick biography of Jack London on my bedside table that for some reason I still haven’t read. But I want MORE. 🙂 What are some great author biographies or autobiographies that you have read and would recommend? I’m happy to be guided…

Well that’s me, but what about you? Are you Being, Becoming, or Asking this week?

Below: Daniel Boorstin in 1992 (from Wikipedia)

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Non-Fiction November!

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Non-Fiction November is hosted by Kim at her blog “Sophisticated Dorkiness,” and I learned of it via Katherine’s excellent blog “The Writerly Reader.” I always beat myself up about not including enough non-fiction in my reading, so maybe participating in this meme will help with my focus. For the first week, this is our directive:

“Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?”

And here are my responses. 🙂

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

Probably Richard Storr’s “The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science” I’ve been trying to write a blog post about is one for six months and each time I keep going off on some related tangent. There was just so much fascinating material in this book, and though I didn’t quite trust the author’s own ‘scientific cred’ I learned for the first time about a lot of (apparently common) belief systems that are really out there. Maybe the most interesting parts to me were the physiological reasons often behind why we act and think the way we do. For the goodreads.com summary of this book click here https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18114379-the-unpersuadables

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What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

I honestly don’t get too many requests from non-fiction readers for reading suggestions. One book I’ve recommended to several friends is Bill Polian’s “The Game Plan.” Polian was the President of the Indianapolis Colts for almost fifteen years and as a fanatical (yes, really) fan of that team I’ve been recommending to my fellow crazies that they read this account of how Polian built several championship teams including my Colts. The Buffalo Bills are his other main success story.

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

Probably history or science. I’ve been solicited to review a couple books on our economic future because of a post I wrote some time back about the book “The End of Growth” by Richard Heinberg It was a book about a subject so sobering I’m not sure I want to explore it any further, though. :-). For history, I’ve been chewing on a book about the history of The Ottoman Empire (“Osman’s Dream”) for quite some time now. I just can’t seem to make a sustained effort to stick with it.

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

Just to meet some new book bloggers and to learn about some more great non-fiction books (that will probably also fall victim to my inveterate procrastination)

That’s me. What non-fiction treasures have you encountered in your 2014 reading?