What I Read in 2014: Nonfiction
What I Read in 2014: Nonfiction
I actually read a lot of nonfiction books that were published this year. Amazing, huh?
Here’s a list of ones that I particularly enjoyed:
Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Charles M. Blow. Being interested in male bisexuality, learning that Charles Blow deals with this issue in his memoir drew me to it (book #3 deals with male sexual fluidity). But the book is so much more than that. It’s about growing up in the South and growing up Black in the South and learning about what it means to be a man, navigating definitions of masculinity. A beautiful story.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. A 2014 National Book Award Winner. Totally sucked into Ms. Chast’s comics about her aging parents in issues of the New Yorker, I was thrilled to get my mitts on the book itself. My sister and I both read it in like two days. Chast doesn’t hold back on what it’s like to have aging parents; as an only child, she must contend with these decisions on her own, which was something that wasn’t easy for me to read, being the mother of just one child myself. In spite of this heaviness – which is good, important heaviness we all must face – the book was super funny. I related to a ton of it, especially having Old Country Anxious Parents who are Set In Their Ways.
When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 by Ronald C. Rosbottom. I’m kind of shakey on history when it comes to WWI and WWII and had only heard about the Vichy regime in passing. So when I saw a review of this, I snatched it up. It kind of makes me want to saunter around Paris again, looking at it in this sinister perspective, when every building concierge could be a savior or a traitor, and the notion of “collaboration” still reverberates today. And I don’t particularly like France. So, there.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I bite my nails in a fairly disgusting, inconvenient way. I’ve done so since I was a little kid. I heard about this book on the Book Riot podcast and decided to see if I could connect the dots about my various bad habits. Pretty illuminating, in how it unpacks how habits accrete and the reason why they endure. Though I’m still wreaking havoc on my sad nubby fingernails.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I’ve never read any of his fiction, but I’ve wanted to read this book for a while now; running and being a writer seem to be common habits, as it were, and I’ve found running to help me be a better writer, so I figured this book would give me insight. It did…and it didn’t, either. But that was okay; there’s a mystery there, in why we write, why we run and I ended the book feeling kind of coy and sly and comfortable with that puzzle.
Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I’ve meant to read this for years; it’s a title bandied about in lots of academic circles. Though I suppose it’s chiefly about art, the book connects art history with philosophy and gender and psychology and class and a whole slough of other things. I picked it up because book #3 had some themes concerned with how things are “seen” (isn’t that vague) and then I wrote this, which kind of gobsmacked me and has kept me in that gobsmacked place for a while now.
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Here’s a book nonreligious people like me might enjoy. Here are the religious people that I can listen to and relate to, even if we don’t agree when it comes to teleological arguments.
Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. This might come in handy for book #4. I don’t stay in many hotels because I loathe traveling in general. But when I do stay in hotels, it’s kind of delicious, so it was nice to pull back the curtain and see how the hospitality stage-hands manage the experience for guests. Not pretty. But also, quite amusing.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. Just finished today and what a find. Ward is the 2011 National Book Award Winner for her novel Salvage The Bones, which I can’t wait to crack into next. What a beautiful, sorrowful, insightful book to read in this year where we’ve got to remind everyone that Black Lives Matter. Ward has written a memoir about the deaths of five men in her life, including her brother, and how our culture works to tear down Black lives, especially Black male lives. While it’s heart-breaking, it’s also a story of a family that looks a lot like mine, but a lot different too. Ward examines all the angles – economics, psychology, sociology, the very geography of life on the Gulf coast – and how the people in Ward’s life in DeLisle, Mississippi are connected, what connects them, what breaks them apart. What endures. Beautifully written.