Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Salon 18 - Non-Fiction Reading

Feels like a long time since I've done a Sunday Salon. In reality it hasn't, but I guess time is just moving so quickly! I've been tossing around ideas for SS lately, and since the Non-Fiction Five Challenge just ended earlier this week, I thought I'd focus on non-fiction.

It's always a little funny to me when people say that they don't like non-fiction. Seems so long ago when I first signed up for Joy's NFF Challenge and was scared out of my wits. I told my husband, "well, I just committed to reading *five* non-fiction books. Ugh!" That was two years ago. This year 25% of my reads have been comprised of non-fiction titles. When I think of non-fiction I still sometimes think of the dry and arduous reads of my grad school days, but there is so much more out there! So many fascinating stories and histories to learn about. These are my non-fiction reads of 2009 (so far):

Walking Through Walls by Philips Smith is the author's memoir of growing up with a father who became involved with mystic healing and psychic experiences during the 1960s in Miami. A fascinating and absorbing coming of age story that will have even the non-believers sitting on the edge of his seat.

The Hot House The Hot House by Pete Earley is about Leavenworth Federal Penitentary in Kansas. Following the lives of six inmates, Earley provides details about what life is like inside the prison. Definitely not something I would have picked up on my own, but a coworker assured me that I would quickly be engrossed in the intimate details of these six prisoners' lives.

A Year in ProvenceA Year in Provence by Peter Mayle is a travel memoir about the author's buying and renovating a home in Provencial France. For travel and food junkies, this is a great pick, although I'll admit that I felt the author was too removed from the story. Even though it wasn't one of my favorites, it was an interesting read and my book club members all really enjoyed it.

The Glass Castle The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is one of my favorite books of the year. Walls' memoir about growing up poor with more or less absent parents was an incredible read. You'll want to cry for Jeannette and laugh with her and ultimately cheer her on through all of her struggles. The writing is also fantastic--not a dry spell in the entire book. Definitely one to pick up if timid about non-fiction!

Catch Me If You Can Catch Me if You Can by Frank W. Abagnale was such a fun read! I'm sure most of you have seen the movie and are familiar with the premise, but if not Abagnale's story is about how he became a con man which made him a millionaire by the time he was in his early twenties. I couldn't believe the cons Frank pulled off, and this one had me quickly turning the pages to see what he'd get into next.

Fun HomeFun Home by Alison Bechdel is another favorite of the year (still haven't reviewed it, though). Bechdel shares her story of growing up in a home with a father who was incredibly particular and difficult to please. As she enters adulthood, she also comes to terms with her own sexuality as well as finding out that her father is gay. Both a sad and moving story of father/daughter relationships.

The Lost City of Z The Lost City of Z by David Grann is riveting book about Percy Fawcett, an early twentieth century British explorer, and his obsession with finding the city of Z in the Amazon. Fawcett went missing during his last exploration and Grann makes some interesting posits about what might have gone wrong. Also fascinating tidbits about the Amazon--the world's largest jungle.

The Complete Maus The Complete Maus by Art Speigelman. Are you tired of hearing me talk about this one? Another favorite of the year and all time, Maus is in part a biography of Art's father and his survival of Auschwitz during WWII and in part a memoir of Art's struggles to write his father's story. Can't recommend this one enough--mom just read my copy and loved it, too.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt is a travel expose with a murder twist. I liked this one so much that I've read it twice! The characters in Midnight are unparalleled and with a setting of Savannah, Georgia, there is so much to be entranced by in this book. The courtroom details can get a little wearing, but with twists and turns you won't believe this is non-fiction.

The Impostor's Daughter The Impostor's Daughter by Laurie Sandell (no review yet) is another graphic memoir about father/daughter relationships. Sandell idolized her father growing up and for good reason--he was everything and more. But as she starts to piece together her father's shady past, she realizes he might not be the man she thought he was. Not my favorite of the year but others have really enjoyed it.

Under the Tuscan SunUnder the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes is in many ways similar to the above A Year in Provence. Mayes' travel memoir about buying and restoring a house in Tuscany, Italy also delves into the finer things in life--history, culture, food, and life. Where AYP was lacking personality, Mayes makes up tenfold. A sumptuous read for those looking to slowly enjoy the simpler things in life.

So there you have it. I've come to realize that I prefer the sub-genre of memoir, but even memoirs aside I've discovered some fascinating non-fiction books this year.

Sunday's Questions:
Do you like to read non-fiction books or does it make you want to crawl in a hole and hide? Have you tried some that you absolutely loved or didn't like at all? Do you think that non-fiction sometimes gets a bad wrap as being dry and boring (and yes, some of it is!!)? If you had to recommend a non-fiction book to someone who was timid of the genre, what would you recommend?

Hope everyone is having a great Sunday!

On the Homefront:
I start the second session of cake decorating course tomorrow, so it should be interesting/yummy. I didn't get pictures of Europe finished like I planned, but I hope to have those up soon as well. If only blogger didn't take so dang long to upload! And a surprise--hubby, who had planned to travel Europe for a few more weeks, came home yesterday. I guess travelling without me just isn't as fun. :P

Also, on a crazy whim I started a 100 Mile Fitness Challenge. I'm so excited to have about 15 others doing the challenge with me (yes, even my mom!!). I'd love if you joined us!


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm jealous of everyone who feels they can do the 100 mile fitness challenge! (not jealous enough to join in, needless to say!)

I really prefer nonfiction. Amazingly enough, nonfiction is often less depressing! It seems like to get a good fiction plot going, you've got to have abuse or abduction or adultery or alcoholism - hmm, they all start with A... Anyway, this year, because of books I've found through blogs, is the first time I've really gotten into fiction in a long time. And I'm enjoying it in spite of many tears!


Wendy said...

My reading is about 90% fiction, but I do love a good non fiction ... usually memoirs, adventure tales, books about animals or true crime. My favorite book of non fiction is Winterdance by Gary is about his year training and then competing in the Iditarod...and it is funny and wonderful.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I go on a non fiction binge from time to time. I loved The Class Castle, and want to read Walking Through Walls.

A great non fiction story is Alex and Me; Pepperburg--highly recommended.

Have a great week.

Kailana said...

All those books look really good! Some I have read, but the ones that I haven't now I want to in many cases. :)

Trisha said...

I very much enjoy non-fiction, particularly personal essayists like Sedaris, Burroughs, Didion, and McCarthy. This is an awesome list of books btw; every time I come over here I add to my reading pile. :)

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Rhapsody - 100 miles isn't as horrible as it sounds. It works out to be about 25 hours of working out in 3 months. Totally manageable! And glad to find another non-fiction lover--wish I could convince some people that it isn't as horrible as they think it is!

*Wendy - I really enjoy true crime as well, which is weird since I don't like that type of story in fiction. Winterdance sounds really fascinating!

*Diane - Walking Through Walls is an interesting one--definitely covers a lot of things outside of my personal belief system. Will you be reading Walls' next book?

*Kailana - Some of them are better than others, but definitely add The Glass Castle, Maus, and Fun Home if you haven't already read them!

*Trisha - I'm not familiar with McCarthy's essays but I love his fiction so I'll have to seek something out--do you have a title? I've been meaning to read more Sedaris!

Jeane said...

I really liked The Glass Castle, but haven't read any of the others. I'm finding myself reading more and more non-fiction these days- mostly of the genres Wendy mentioned (except for true crime)

Trisha said...

Trish - Mary McCarthy actually; she has a really interesting collection called Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. You should check her out! And Sedaris' Naked is an awesome read.

bermudaonion said...

I do enjoy some non-fiction books - I am a total memoir junkie and have read quite a few of those you highlighted.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

You've read some wonderful nonfiction this year!

I love nonfiction and I find, as I get older, that I am reading it more than fiction.

Children's nonfiction is especially wonderful. I read three today---One Beetle Too Many (Charles Darwin), You've Never Heard of Sandy Koufax, and Ron's Big Mission (astronaut)---and all three were excellent.

samantha.1020 said...

This was a great post for adding to my TBR list :) I read nonfiction occasionally but not as often as I would like. I did read The Glass Castle as well and really enjoyed it...I just need to review it :P

Paperback Reader said...

I normally shy away from non-fiction (preferring fiction) but I have a couple lined up in the coming weeks; coincidentally they are both Persephone Books, one the journal of Katherine Mansfield and the other a Fabian study of poverty in South London at the turn of the last century. I also have Marie Stopes' Married Love on the to-be-read pile.

I didn't know that The Complete Maus was biographical and now I definitely want to read it (recent comments of yours and Nymeth's had already persuaded me but now I am convinced).

Bellezza said...

I was going to say that I loathe nonfiction books, and then I looked at your list (and thought of the Bible, which to me is true!) and I thought, "Hmmm, I guess there are a few I like!" For example, Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil was fascinating, as was Under The Tuscan Sun and all the Peter Mayle books. So, to answer your question, I guess I like them! Some of the time. ;)

Ana S. said...

My appreciation for non-fiction has really increased over the past few years, and I have bloggers to thank/blame. I do think it's unfair to say it's all dry. There's such diversity that there has to be something for everyone's taste! I'd recommend graphic memoirs to those who shy away from non-fiction. Books like Fun Home, Maus and Persepolis would hopefully show them not only that non-fiction is not necessarily boring, but also that comics can be awesome :P

You know, I think that one of my problems with The Impostor's Daughter is that I kept unconsciously comparing it to Fun Home, and it just didn't live up.

serendipity_viv said...

I have definitely read more non fiction this year and I would definitely thank you for that. After joining your challenge, it made me really appreciate the non fiction books that were out there. I have recently picked up Catch Me if You Can to read, so looking forward to that. I also need to hunt out my copy of Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil to read.

I have added Walking Through Walls to my list as it sounds fabulous.

I have started the 100 mile challenge today and managed to cycle for 45 minutes, so that is three miles to start me. I shall put a post up this week and try and keep a counter going in my side bar. I am very determined, so thanks again for another fabulous challenge.

Anonymous said...

I usually enjoy some non-fiction sprinkled into my reading. I actually used to read non-fiction much more than I do now. In fact, there was a time when non-fiction probably comprised over half of my reading!

Amanda said...

I am one of those crazy people who just don't like nonfiction very much. I've read 13 nonfiction titles this year (out of 150ish books), most were diaries or memories, and probably half were graphic novels. The only ones outside that comfort zone were the geography book from Yemen (which I loved) and Harry, a History (journalism). I've tried reading others and they just don't work very well. For instance, I recently tried ot read Ghost Hunters and the whole time I just wished there would be a tv documentary instead. I just have a hard time with nonfic.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I have about half the list that you have here,and I think the only thing that I have read is The Glass Castle, which I enjoyed. I saw Jeannete Walls while I was at the DC Book Festival and she was so great.

Literary Feline said...

I do enjoy nonfiction. There is such a variety out there--it can be educational, entertaining, inspiring, thought provoking . . . I do tend to gravitate more towards fiction though and sometimes have to give myself an extra kick to pick up that nonfiction book.

If I was recommending a book to someone timid of nonfiction, I would probably recommend a memoir. Many of them flow just like a fiction novel that I don't think it would be a huge transition to make.

I hope you have a great week, Trish!

Suzanne Yester said...

I never really thought I liked nonfiction that much, but more and more I'm adding a lot of nonfiction in my reading! And what a great list you put up on your Sunday Salon! I absolutely loved The Impostor's Daughter, Loved Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, enjoyed the Glass Castle, bought The Lost City of Z and just ordered Fun Home! Memoirs actually have infiltrated my reading so much I devote my monday postings on my blog to memoirs, and call it Memoir Mondays!

If I were to recommend a nonfiction book to someone who doesn't really read nonfiction I think I would recommend The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartelett. A great book and if you enjoy books that's an added benefit!


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

Hi there. I found your blog through TakeMeAway and saw that you were currently reading Fingersmith. I LOVE Sarah Waters, all of her books , especially Fingersmith.
Can't wait for your review. Great blog you have too!

Red Headed Book Child

Gavin said...

I go through phases when all I read is nonfiction! I loved the Lost City of Z.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Jeane - When I think of non-fiction I think of you--you do read it a lot! Have you read Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? I'm thinking of reading it for your challenge.

*Trisha - Ahhhh--I was thinking of Cormac McCarthy. :) Off to check her out!

*Bermuda - I love memoirs, too. Fascinating and usually read more like fiction (the flow).

*Debnance - Wow, you've had a busy day! One Beetle Too Many sounds like a good one especially.

*Samantha - I can't wait to hear what you thougth of The Glass Castle! I'm really looking forward to Walls' new book.

*Paperback Reader - Yes, yes! Read Maus! It's a really beautiful/heartbreaking story.

*Bellezza - LOL! Non-fiction isn't so bad--at least not all the time! :)

*Nymeth - I've definitely come to realize the diversity in non-fiction since blogging as well. And yes, comics are a great way break into non-fiction. Yes, I compared Fun Home to The Impostor's Daughter, too.

*Vivienne - Ahhh! :) I'm beaming! I hope you enjoy the ones that you've picked up. Catch Me If You Can is just so unbelievable! And yay for 3 miles! I need to get on that. :-/

*ReviewsbyLola - Were there any particular sub-genres of non-fiction that you liked?

*Amanda - I much more perfer memoirs to more historical/political types of non-fiction. Much easier to read and relate to!

*Nicole - I bet it was amazing to see Jeannette Walls. I'm really looking forward to her new book.

*Lit Feline - I agree that memoirs are the easiest transition from fiction and those are the ones that I usually recommend, too. And I hope you have a great week, too.

*Suzanne - I hope you like Fun Home--it was one of my favorite reads this year. And I'll have to check out The Man Who Loved Books Too Much!

*Michelle - I'm not sure what TakeMeAway is, but welcome! :) I'm really liking Fingersmith so far and will be eager to read more Waters.

*Gavin - Wasn't Lost City of Z fascinating? I really loved all of the details and wanted more more more! Thanks for visiting.

Lisa said...

I love non-fiction, which is why I'm shocked I didn't finish five. In particular I love things like The Tipping Point, A Year of Living Biblically, memoirs and travel. I really enjoy books about religion, which is weird since I myself am not religious.

Fun House sounds interesting.

Jeane said...

Yes! Animal, Vegetable Miracle is now one of my favorite books. I finally bought my own copy just a few days ago.

Debi said...

Yay! How happy you must be to have Scott home! :D

I LOVE non-fiction! I can't imagine not reading it. I've definitely read a lot more since starting blogging, but also since starting homeschooling...which happened around the same time, and I think they both have to share in the blame. I don't really get why non-fiction tends to get a bad rap either. Seriously, there's just so much to choose from!!!

JoAnn said...

I really enjoy nonfiction, but haven't read nearly as much as I usually do this year (should have joined the challenge). My book club has read A Year in Provence, Under the Tuscan Sun, and The Glass Castle. I also really liked Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Have a great week!

Darlene said...

I don't normally read non-fiction but I have to admit most of these sound good. I've read Glass Castle and Under the Tuscan Sun and loved both of those. Have a great week!

Melody said...

I think I read more non-fiction in the past as compared to today... I still have one or two in my pile which I hope to read one of these days, but as you know it all depends on my mood and my mind tells me to get over my fiction books first because they're towering so high, LOL.

tanabata said...

I'm impressed that 25% of the books you've read this year have been non-fiction! I do enjoy NF when I read them but I still tend to look to fiction most of the time.

As a recommendation to someone new to NF, like others have said, definitely memoirs, especially graphic memoirs like Persepolis or Maus. Plus those have the added bonus of introducing not only NF but also graphic novels themselves.

Gavin said...

Trish - You might give "Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes" by Daniel L. Everett a try. It's about a linguist living with a tribe of natives in the Amazon jungle!

joanna said...

So true about the rep that non-fiction has! Also thanks to the non-fiction five challenge, I started reading all sorts of non-fiction, not only dry history books, which can be interesting but are hard going... If I had to recommend one, it would be Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - wonderful book!

Paxton said...

The only one on your list I read was Catch Me If You Can and I really liked it.

I want to read Lost City of Z as it looks to be a really cool story. I also want to read Hot House. I'd never heard of it until I saw it on your list here. It looks fascinating.

Terri B. said...

So glad you like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I agree with you about the characters! I read the book some years ago, but I still have images float up in my memory sometimes; images of both the characters and the setting. In fact, the setting seems very much like a character to me. I also have to remind myself that it is non-fiction since it was written in a way that is very appealing to fiction readers.

Lesley said...

I read quite a bit of nonfiction although it tends to be mainly books from the memoir genre - in fact, some of my favorite showed up on your list (Glass Castle and Fun Home among them). Those are usually the type I recommend to people who are iffy on reading non-fiction, or else I try to find out what things interest them and then find a non-fiction book written in a narrative style that will match up.

Belle said...

It's funny, I don't usually think of memoirs when I think of nonfiction. I normally think of self-development books (I used to be a real self-help book junkie!). I read a lot of memoirs, so I guess I do read a lot of nonfiction.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Lisa - I really hope to read My Year of Living Biblically soon! Fun Home was a really good book--have you read any graphic novels yet?

*Jeane - I'm pretty sure I remember seeing a post from you about AVM, but I wasn't sure.

*Debi - Very happy to have Scott home! :) I think non-fiction gets a bad rap because people don't realize the range to choose from!

*JoAnn - There's always next year for the challenge! :) Sounds like your book club reads a fair amount of non-fiction--ours too.

*Dar - I've been lucky to find pretty good non-fiction titles this year--hope it continues!

*Melody - With so many fiction books being reviewed on the blogosphere, it's easy to see how those are the ones being added to TBR!

*Tanabata - Persepolis and Maus are great non-fiction books--and excellent graphic novel choices. And I think most bloggers lean towards fiction than non-fiction.

*Gavin - Linguistics! Love it! Definitely checking out the book. :)

*Joanna - Persepolis is definitely a non-fiction one that I recommend as well--and I especially love that it is about a culture/country many might not be as familiar with.

*Paxton - The Hot House is one that has been passed around our entire office at work--definitely a fascinating read!

*Terri B - I had to laugh when I posted my Midnight review when everyone kept exclaiming that they thought it was fiction. With those characters it certainly could be! Have you read his City of Fallen Angels?

*Lesley - Memoirs are my favorite subgenre of non-fiction as well. I find many of them have similiar narrative patterns to fiction and they just so dang interesting!

*Belle - Memoir seems to be the cross-over from fiction to non-fiction. Definitely easier to dive into than self-development books!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE non-fiction and my fav sub-genre is memoir too. I have read a lot of memoirs too, I think travellogues come second.

Thanks for your list, a couple of these are on my TBR, I'll add the rest.

I loved a Long way gone, Not without my daughter, Mayada and so many others. I could go on and on.

Rebecca Reid said...

I love nonfiction and Maus and Glass Castle are excellent, I agree. I actually dislike memoirs normally -- they have to be very good to get me. I prefer the more informative nonfiction (i.e., factually based).

I wonder what percent of my reading has been nonfiction this year? I'll have to figure out the stats.

Bonnie said...

I do enjoy reading nonfiction and memoirs but find that if I read several back to back it gets too intense. I need a balance to my reading and it helps to work them in between fiction books.

You are tempting me with the exercise challenge! I have been sick for the past month as my limited blog posts and comments have shown. I need to build my immune system and get healthy, lose weight and watching Biggest Loser can be motivating to get moving. I'm going to give it some serious thought!

Michelle Fluttering Butterflies said...

Wow. I don't often read non-fiction books because I'm not always sure where to start. But that's an interesting list of books right there.. maybe I'll be inspired the next time I head out to the library!

Terri B. said...

I haven't read City of Fallen Angels yet, but it is on my TBR pile!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Violet - I really like travelogues as well and have read a few this year. Long Way Gone was really good--really sad.

*Rebecca Reid - I like factual non-fiction as well but find it can sometimes be a little drier than more subjective kinds of non-fiction. Any titles you'd recommend?

*Bonnie - I like to have my non-fiction spread out as well--just like anything else! I do hope you'll join the challenge. It's definitely helpful to have a concrete goal in mind.

*Michelle - My recommendation would be to start with memoirs. The Glass Castle is a great one and reads a lot like fiction does.

*Terri B - I hope you like City of Fallen Angels! The characters are almost as colorful as in Midnight.