Category Archives: Book Column

What Makes a Nonfiction Book a Favorite?

We’re in the homestretch of Nonfiction November and Leann from There There Read This is hosting this fourth week’s topic of Nonfiction Favorites. Here is the prompt:

We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorite.

I have to admit that this one took some thought. It’s not an exact science for me. While the subject matter probably is the most important factor, I really enjoy it when an author has a specific lens they are looking through and makes that fact clear up front.

A few examples might be when a serious data scientist writes about romance and dating, in Dataclysm; or an engineer tackles something as mundane as a paper clip, like in The Evolution of Useful Things, or a historical writer tackles all of the insane (sometime literally speaking) details swirling around the birth or the Oxford English Dictionary, in The Professor and the Madman. All of these offer a unique perspective and some fresh light on the topics.

And, while all of the facts and data should be there and correctly referenced to give validity to the nonfiction book, I want to feel like I’m at a dinner party, sipping a drink, listening to someone share their experience and expertise. Non-fiction books get a bad rep because people automatically assume they’re going to be crammed full of stilted writing and beating the reader over the head with supporting facts. The bad ones do and often resemble text books. But put a creative writer in the hands of a good editor and you can get a real gem.

The last thing I really enjoy in a good non-fiction book has to do with page design. There has to be room on the page to make notes! And highlight and underline and circle and argue! As much as I appreciate books, I am of the mindset that to internalize what you’re reading/learning you have to chew it up before you swallow. This just goes better if there’s room for you in the book you’re reading. Plus, it’s just fun to pull a book off the shelf, after a few years, and skim back over your notes and thoughts.

Big maps and a good bibliography go a long way with me as well. Those aren’t ‘must haves’, like the above points, but for a nonfiction book to become a favorite, but they sure are nice. As much as I like a well cross referenced and annotated book, with a strong bibliography, I’m not really a fan of footnotes. I’d rather have all of the notes and “for further reading” information collected at the back of the book. That might seem picky, but it’s nice when you don’t have footnotes tugging at your eyeballs pulling you out of the immediate narrative all the time.

Hope your Nonfiction November is going well. Find a good book and stay warm!

Be the Expert: Books About Bookshelves

It’s hard to believe how quickly this year’s Nonfiction November #nonficnov is blowing past as we’re already posting for Week Three. This week is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey and carries the assignment of – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert.

Here is the prompt:

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).

In the past, I’ve offered up titles for becoming an expert on book covers as well as good reads for becoming an expert on bookshops.

This week’s prompt is always my favorite topic each November. Not only do I enjoy taking a deep dive on whatever I’m doing or reading, this week gives us a glimpse at what else a fellow book blogger is into and thinks about. It’s really fun. In case you can’t tell: I like books. Keeping with that theme, here are three books I’d recommend to help you become an expert on bookshelves.

Three books all about bookshelves

Be An Expert on Bookshelves

Let’s start with the definitive book, on the subject, by Henry Petroski, The Book on the Bookshelf. This book, was published in 1999, and covers it all in a very accessible manner. Petroski is an engineer and it’s useful to see the changing construction of bookshelves and well as the cultural implications of the evolution of bookshelves through an engineer’s lens. There are some really fun and wacky illustrations in the book and is a great place to start.

Lydia Pyne’s 2016 essay-length book, simply titled Bookshelf, is the next book on the list. Pyne approaches the subject with a creative’s and historian’s perspective. So it dovetails nicely with Petroski’s book. In Pyne, you’ll find a kindred bookish spirit who helps explore what a bookshelf says about the owner as well as the impact bookshelves have when displayed for all to see. If you’ve ever been caught scanning a friend’s bookcase, trying to figure out what they like to read, this is a good book for you.

The third book is one of my absolute favorites. At Home with Books by Estelle Ellis, Caroline Seebohm and Christopher Sykes is a visual delight. This is a book you’ll want to leave open on the coffee table all the time. The photography is excellent and all of the interviews, short essays and sidebars deliver on the promise of the subtitle ”How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries”. Inside you’ll find houses crammed with books as well as million dollar lavish libraries. The bookshelves are all full, regardless of who owns them. You’ll meet book collectors that look for everything from fiction, to art books, to books on buildings and toys as well as poetry. It’s so much fun to see how these professional and hobbyist bibliophiles use their shelves and all the nooks and crannies they find to place bookshelves.

Those are the three I’d recommend for becoming an expert on bookshelves. Please, let me know if you know of any other good books on the topic of bookshelves or home libraries. I can never dive deep enough into a pile of books about books. Hope your Nonfiction November is going well.

WEEK 2: BOOK PAIRING #NONFICNOV

This week’s host for Nonfiction November 2019 is Sarah over at Sarah’s Book Shelves. This week all of the participants are are to offer a couple of books that dovetail nicely following Sarah’s directions: “It can be a ‘If you loved this book, read this!’ or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.”

The last time I participated in Nonfiction November I offered up a books-about-books pairing. For 2019, I’d like to pair up two books that talk about change. Specifically the fear of change while standing in the shadow of the rapidly evolving world of technology. It’s all moving so fast!

David Sax’s The Revenge of the Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter is a couple of years old and a very good read. While Sax never gets overly romantic over the things and ideas he covers, he does a good job of highlighting the benefits and uniqueness of vinyl recordings, paper, board games, etc. I recently heard a technologist say something along the lines of “… the better digital tools get at helping us, the more relevant and needed analog tools are.” It almost sounds like a contradiction, but it’s really about what it means to have a worthwhile experience and experience the world your body lives in. These are themes that Sax covers with humor, understanding and critically all at the same time. I highly recommend this book.

A wonderful counter balance to Sax’s book is Laurence Scott’s The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World . This nonfiction book came out in 2015 and is a wonderful (almost philosophical) take on what it means to walk around with a computer in your pocket, with the ability to instantly be connected digitally to anyone on the planet. There’s a ton being thrown at us every day and it can be tough to navigate. Scott’s writing is beautiful and full of empathy and understanding as he shares some of his experiences with an “always on” lifestyle. I mean the technology is here, how do we learn to cope with it and keep it in check while using it to its fullest potential to better our world.

Where David Sax offers up a summary judgement in The Revenge of the Analog Laurence Scott offers a slower “we’re all in this together so let’s try to get it right because I don’t know either” take in The Four-Dimensional Human.

If you ever find yourself wondering or worrying about the phone, music, books, ebooks, Spotify, etc. I think you’d enjoy both of these books.

AND THE FICTION PARING FOR EITHER OF THOSE. . .

If fiction is what you’re in the mood for, then check out Tim Mason’s The Darwin Affair . I’ve been recommending it to friends that enjoy historical fiction. As a thriller/mystery it’s a fair read, but it all centers on the real world release of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and the effect it had on the world at the time. Talk about a world that was afraid of change and newly rapidly evolving ideas! It was crazy times, for sure.

AND AS A NONFICTION NOVEMBER BONUS FOCUSING ON BOOKS AND FEAR OF CULTURAL CHANGE. . .

If podcasts are your current jam, then I’d recommend listening to the Pessimists Archive episode titled The Novel. Click through to their page and check out a couple of the highlights from the show notes:

  • “Too Much Reading is Harmful” by Angelo Patri (1938)
  • Novel Reading: A Cause of Female Depravity, The Monthly Mirror, 1797
  • Thomas Jefferson worries about children reading novels

Can you imagine being scared of the affect “longer books” would have on society? Talk about crazy times!?

Happy Nonfiction November!

New Books I Am Looking Forward To This September

Books about books are my absolute favorite. I love them all and if this batch of new books hitting store shelves this September are any clue, it’s going to be a great fall season. Anyway, I figure, if you’ve happened to land on this blog, these may be books you’d want on your radar as well.

Here are three that I am looking forward to reading. They all come out in September 2018:

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Ann Bogel. This is one I’ve pre-ordered. It officially releases September 4, 2018 in hardcover. I’ve not read Bogel’s other book, but I do keep up with her popular bookish podcast What Should I Read Next. She is a huge lover of books and seems to be an even bigger fan of readers, so I think this short collection centered on “the reading life” will be very interesting.

The Lost Art of Reading: Books and Resistance in a Troubled Time by David Ulin. I LOVE the idea of “reading as a political act”. I honestly believe that if everyone would just sit down, slow down and read more books, the world would be a much better place. I’m anxious to see what Ulin has to say on the matter. This one came out back in 2010, but this new 2018 hardcover edition (releasing September 4, 2018), being published by the cool folks at Sasquatch Books, has a little extra added in reframing the book in light of the current condition of things.

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount. There are a gazillion miscellany books out there about books, reading and the like. But Mount’s new hardcover book will certainly earn a place on the bookshelf due to her unique book-loving artwork. Back in 2012, she did a book with Thessaly La Force titled My Ideal Bookshelf and it remains a fun one to pull down to flip through. It’s a big hit with visitors at the house too.