Category Archives: Recommendations

Nonfiction November – Week One

This month I am participating in a blog-centric Nonfiction November stream. It’s fun and I have already stumbled upon some new-to-me bloggers that I plan on keeping up with. Anyway… Week One was laid out by Kim over on her blog. So here it goes:

I have read ten non-fiction books so far in 2014, though I have another two in process. I really do enjoy nonfiction books. Get a good one and you’re hooked. It’s like deep diving into a super-compelling NPR story. The trouble is – it’s not always easy to find compelling nonfiction. The author and the book’s editor have to work really hard to take a book beyond simply offering a simple “hmpf, that’s kind of interesting” and “here is one factoid from history you didn’t know” prospect.

I have three favorite nonfiction reads so far this year:

nonficnov_glasscageThe book I’ve recommended most to folks is Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage. It was fascinating. My guess is if you are reading this post then you need to read The Glass Cage. It’s not too long and not hard to understand. But you will look at your computer, phone, car, TV and airplanes in a whole new light after reading this book. So much of our lives and work is automated these days. This shift happened so fast. What are the implications? Does anyone know? Just think about this – the same impulse/feeling you get when you misspell a word, because you know auto-correct will get it, is due to the same mental lull that has been attributed to airline crashes. You need to read this book.

nonficnov_everythingstoreAnother good read is Brad Stone’s The Everything Store. This is about the rise of both Jeff Bezos and Amazon. No matter what your opinion of Amazon, they are impacting the world around you in a major way. There is no better book on the Amazon industry than this one. Stone does a good job of balancing fear-mongering, the company’s relentless innovation and Bezo’s own story.  A very interesting read, even for folks not inclined to pick up a business book.

nonficnov_whatItalkaboutThe only other non-fiction book I gave five stars to this year was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. What a great book. There’s nothing super-sexy about this book, but it’s so thoughtful and real. Parts of it read as if you are just plodding along, one foot in front of the other, having one of life’s best experiences. I’ve never read Murakami as I don’t think “magical realism” is my thing. But I know I am going to pick up one of his fiction books as this one was just so well written.

Kim also posed the question “What one topic have you not read enough of?” Two ways to read this question – what topic are you lacking in and which topic can you not get enough of. I want to learn more in the vein of Brooks’ The Social Animal and Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. I’m not sure what this top is called social science? social psychology? people as guinea pigs? Basically any book that discusses why we do what we do as a people is interesting. But the one thing I can’t get enough of is books – book culture, books as objects, publishing, history of books, writings, authors, books about books – that pretty much sums it up.

Nonfiction November is off to a great start and I am hoping to stumble on some new books to read in areas I haven’t considered before. I’m also logging new bloggers to follow, which is great. So that’s two wins right there. But, man, I underestimated the participation level of these folks! So much to keep up with this month.

Please do let me know, in the comments, if there is a nonfiction book you’ve read that left an impact. I might want to check it out myself.

Bookstore Shopping with Dirda

I  love articles like this one over at The Paris Review where a writer got to go book shopping with Michael Dirda. It is so cool that one of the greatest book reviewers alive and one who has written about “the classics” spends so much time in the SciFi section of used-bookstores. The whole article is worth reading as it shares a love of books, book hunting and the joy of serendipity.

A great quote by the article’s author:

“. . . you don’t get to be the best-read man in America by giving a damn about someone else’s taste.”

Oh to bump into Michael Dirda, who says he has about 10,000 books and is “a sucker for pretty books”,  in a book store aisle. Over the course of the article Dirda declares Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel as “. . . the greatest book ever”. So that one is now on my ‘books to read’ list.

I also took the time to make a list of the books that Dirda recommends or buys throughout the story. So if you’re looking for something worthwhile, these might be worth looking up. What’s fun is that not all of them are “stuffy”. There are spaceships and sailboats too!

Rick Brant’s ‘Electronic Adventure’ series
anything by Tom Swift
Arnold Bennett’s The Card
Pym (the edition edited and annotated by Harold Beaver)
M.F.K. Fisher’s Two Towns in Provence
Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel
Alberto Manguel’s Black Water: The Book of Fantastic Fiction
Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man
Dorothy Sayers’s Omnibus of Crime
Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time
Harry Kemelman’s The Nine-Mile Walk
Ross Thomas’s Chinaman’s Chance


Netflix is Not a Better Librarian

Someone shared Seth Godin’s post The Future of the Library, via Twitter. In it Godin says “Netflix is a better librarian…”. Something that I totally disagree with. I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old at home. Ninety-five percent of what gets streamed to my house is kids’ programming. From which the Netflix-librarian-bot makes the following not-so-helpful recommendations:

I took these screen shots today and stopped halfway through Page 2 of the recommendations. Now, none of these are offensive (Netflix once recommended Teeth to us, based on VeggieTales and Strawberry Shortcake) , but I’m not sure which one of these programs my Dora-loving 2-year-old would want to watch.

To be fair, Netflix-bot has gotten better over the past year. We really enjoy the service. But they are a looooooong ways away from being “a better librarian.” I do hope you all read Godin’s post, he does end up highlighting the need for people to curate and determine selections. Even if he does over reach with his esteem for bot-driven recommendation engines. People are still better.