Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nonfiction Titles I Enjoyed in 2010

Seems like a long reading road in 2010.  My nonfiction reading tends to related to art, and that personal interest is reflected in this year's nonfiction list.

Coop, by Michael Perry
Perry is a Wisconsin native, and writes with both humor and compassion about growing up, living and working in the Badger State. He has been a nurse, an EMT, farmer, musician and writer. He also is a very humorous speaker. This book chronicles some of his experiences in running a small farm, and trying to get a chicken coop built. It's not all humor, so beware.
Coop  A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting

Forbidden Fruit: The History of Women and Books in Art, by Christine Inman
I enjoyed this book on every level. There are four sections: First Steps: From the Cradle of Civilization to the Middle Ages; Piety and Luxury: Women Reading in the Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries; Connecting With Books: The Nineteenth Century; Reading Becomes Art: The Twentieth Century. Each begins with an essay about women's literacy in the time period covered, followed by rich illustrations of paintings featuring women reading. Each plate also is discussed in some detail. It's about reading and it's also about art history. For me, it was very satisfying and enjoyable indeed.
Forbidden Fruit  The History of Women and Books in Art

Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks
I am a person who cannot imagine life without music. I am not musically talented, although I whistle, hum, sing, bang away at my old piano. In the past I have also attempted to play a six string guitar and mountain dulcimer, with limited success. I can make noises on both the jaw harp and note flute, although I hesitate to call that music. In high school and college I sang in large choirs, where my thin soprano would be mostly lost, but I could be in the middle of people passionately making music, could feel the music in my entire body. I no longer sing. These days I mostly listen to music that other people make. I recently splurged on a gift for myself in honor of my sixtieth birthday and bought a Bose sound dock for my studio, and now spend many happy hours there listening while I work. Music serves to at least partially turn off the analytical part of my brain, the part that is ultra-critical, the part that keeps me from taking artistic risks. I work better with music. Oddly, I also am more successful at video games when I have music playing. When I was younger I could read with music playing in the background, but in the past few years have lost my ability to concentrate on words when there is music playing.

I'm sure neurologist and author Oliver Sacks could explain all this. Sacks is an author who I enjoy, although sometimes he goes into more scientific detail than I care to read. I've learned to selectively skip ahead when the science is too technical for my interest level. So far I have enjoyed several of his nonfiction books (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, Island of the Colorblind, An Anthropologist on Mars), all of which tell stories of people with neurological differences cause by strokes, disease, physical trauma, or genetic accident. In Musicophilia Sacks covers a wide range of topics related to music and brain function. He discusses musical hallucinations, tunes that become stuck in your brain and why that happens, perfect pitch, the relationship between music and blindness, people who cannot enjoy or appreciate music, and therapeutic applications for music. I found reading about ways that music can accelerate physical healing and be helpful for aphasic patients and people suffering from various sorts of dementia, to be gripping and thought provoking.
Musicophilia  Tales of Music and the Brain

Picture This, by Lynda Barry
Barry is well known for her comic book creations, especially Marlys and Ernie Pook. She lives just a few miles away from my town, married to a man who re-establishes prairies. She also is very generous with her time, running writing and art-related workshops, giving talks. This book has a new character, the near-sighted monkey, and she uses the character to illustrate why she thinks drawing, even doodling, is good for a person creativity, sanity, and perhaps even soul. I've been drawing Zen monkeys for a month.
Picture This

The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri
On a more serious note, The Art Spirit is a collection of essays and lectures given by the famous painter. I took so many notes that I think I'll just find an old copy and buy it to reread whenever I go into a slump.
The Art Spirit  Notes, Articles, Fragments of Letters and Talks to Students, Bearing on the Concept and Technique of Picture Making, the Study of Art Generally, and on Appreciation (Icon Editions)

Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose
In general I don't have a compelling interest in history, but I wanted an audio book for a driving trip, and this was the only cassette tape set left at the library that interested me at all (my CD played died in the car). To my surprise, I was fascinated by the story Ambrose tells. It didn't hurt that much of it was set in places I have visited, especially Washington and Oregon. At any rate, I enjoyed his writing very much indeed.
Undaunted Courage

The Undressed Art: Why We Draw, by Peter Steinhart
In an effort to improve my drawing from direct observation, I have been attending life drawing sessions at local colleges - at least when the roads are good. I'm a chicken on icy roads, but I digress. This book was being passed hand to hand last summer in one of the weekly sessions, and I finally ordered it inter-library loan. I didn't write a review at the time, but the book is far-ranging, covering topics such as how a child's approach to drawing evolves, how the brain perceives images, what life drawing groups are like, and the role of the model in life drawing classes. I enjoyed the writing and the topic.

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