Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sometimes a non-fiction gal

I always think of myself as a fiction kind of gal, happy to read a few compelling (and generally lightweight) works of non-fiction, but mostly a novel-reader. But I was gathering up books to give away on BookMooch, and I realized I have quite a stack of non-fiction that I’ve either read or started in the last year or so.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Mealsby Michael Pollan
Matt at A Variety of Words posted about this book, reminding me that I had put it down before finishing it. That’s not because it’s not a fascinating book, but because it’s a scary book that was making me overthink every piece of so-called food I put into my mouth. But I am going to finish the book…and probably worry about how industrial farming and high-fructose corn syrup are taking over the world…

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscanyby Bill Buford
A New Yorker writer gives up his day job to enter the crazy but fascinating world of fancy restaurant kitchens and works as a line cook for one of Mario Batalli’s restaurants. Then he goes to Italy to learn the arts of pasta-making and butchery. Buford’s self-deprecating humor and his anecdotes about high-end restaurant kitchens make the book. Hint: don’t order pasta after 9pm—read the book to find out why.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesiaby Elizabeth Gilbert
Another memoir of a writer making life-changing decisions. Gilbert breaks off her marriage and goes on a journey of self-discovery, eating her way through Italy, praying in an ashram in India, and falling in love in Indonesia. At first I found her whiny, but then she grew on me. And I found the stuff about yoga and meditation fascinating.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed Americaby Erik Larson
Larson weaves together the story of the nearly impossible task of building and landscaping the Chicao World’s Fair of 1893, with the story of a serial killer who preyed on women who came to see the fair’s spectacle. I found the stuff about the fair much more interesting than the story of the serial killer, but all in all, it was an entertaining read.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinkingby Malcolm Gladwell
This is one of those books with a great concept—it’s about how quickly people make judgments, and how deeper analysis sometimes leads to worse judgements, not better ones. It’s about how we process information subconsciously—what Gladwell calls “thin slicing”—like how we “read minds” by actually reading tiny changes in people’s facial expressions. Gladwell provides lots of entertaining examples of this from the worlds of art, business, the military, policing, even love. It’s a great read, though I’m not sure what the big picture is—it’s interesting information, but is it really useful?

I also have a few on the pile that I haven’t started, but have heard good things about:
Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56by Rafe Esquith
A memoir about teaching in inner city Los Angeles, sent by my public radio station (KPCC in Pasadena) when I joined their book club—looking forward to their future choices, too!

The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgeryby Wendy Moore
The story of the 18th century Scottish medical innovator, surgeon John Hunter.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeareby Stephen Greenblatt
A well-reviewed biography, with all of the usual speculation and more, that I bought because I liked the writer when I heard him on NPR.

Has anyone read any of the ones I haven’t gotten to yet? What did you think? Have any other good non-fiction suggestions for me?


Matt said...

I think you'll be glad you decided to finish up The Omnivore's Dilemma!

I have The Devil in the White City on my list of books to read in the non-fiction challenge I'm doing. I'm looking forward to that one. I've heard good things about another book on my challenge list, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, you might want to take a look at that one.

Gentle Reader said...

thanks, Matt, for the inspiration on Omnivore, and I think you'll enjoy Devil in the White City.

I'll have to read Stiff--thanks! My husband says he read it and really liked it, so there's another point in its favor :) He read another book of Mary Roach's called Spook, about the search for life after death, that he didn't think was quite as good as Stiff...

iliana said...

I'm not that much of a non-fiction reader but when I do inevitably I end up reading a memoir. If you don't mind adding another memoir to your list I can highly recommend Girls of a Tender Age.
I really want to read The Omnivore's Dilema. That is on my list.

Stefanie said...

I've only read Omnivore's Dilemma and loved it. One of my coworkers read Eat, Pray, Love and really liked it. And my boss raved about The Devil in the White City.

Gentle Reader said...

Iliana--I'm putting Girls of a Tender Age on my list--thanks!!

Stefanie--my architect friend raved about Devil in the White City, so I read it--and the architecture angle was pretty cool. That friend also showed me some amazing pictures she had of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, which was quite a phenomenon.

I'm diving back into Omnivore's Dilemma, so I can obsess even more over all the junk I put in my mouth!

Jen said...

hi -- i just bought hermione lee's biography of edith wharton. it's supposed to be fantastic. will let you know when i finish it!

Gentle Reader said...

jen--ooh, let me know if you like it!