Wednesday, January 2, 2013
I have associated myself with organized book groups a little less often than previously, mostly because of my reluctance to read titles chosen by other people. If what other folks want to read and what I want to read happen to be the same I am delighted to join in a good discussion, but I am beginning to realize that my time on earth is limited, and if I don't get going on those books that are calling out to me, I may never get to them at all. I am not, for example, a big fan of cozy mysteries, a genre that many many other people seem to enjoy very much. I rather like speculative fiction and stories that feature supernatural themes, and I have learned that many other of my reading friends do not share that preference. To paraphrase a poster on the topic of wine that used to be tacked inside one of my cupboard doors, "Life is too short to read uninteresting books." Another reason book clubs are losing their appeal for me is that many of the participants seem primarily focused on general chit chat and food and drink. Even my local library club started bringing plates of treats, something I do not need, though I enjoy. So little by little I find my reading to be a solitary activity.
Here are a few nonfiction titles that I especially enjoyed last year.
Canadian History for Dummies, by Will Ferguson, was just what I wanted to help understand a little more about the political and economic forces that influenced New England ancestors on both sides of my family tree to live in Canada. I was also fascinated by the parallels between US history and Canadian history, and the different spin Will Ferguson puts on events like the War of 1812. The book was clear, and not too detailed for my general level of interest.
Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy, by Caroline Kennedy, was a boxed set of CDs, loaned to me by a friend. I initially took them with little hope of being particularly interested, but both Caroline's introduction and the series of interviews with Jackie soon fascinated me. Listening to her familiar voice, her opinions on living with "Jack" and all those 1960s politicians gave me new insight into her life as First Wife, and as a mother.
I have never spent too much time listening to Patti Smith as a singer, but I was happily engaged reading her memoir Just Kids about her relationship with artist and photographer Robert Mapptlethorpe. Smith is able to recreate time and place in a clear and sometimes poetic way, and I found myself almost unable to put the book down. I found myself making a playlist of music she mentions, just to help set the spirit of the times.
A few years ago, after I read The Orchid Thief, I became a fan of writer Susan Orlean, a woman I am convinced can make anything interesting. Rin Tin Tin did not disappoint. It is as much a portrait of the owner and promoter of the original Tin Tin Tin (there have been many dogs with that name), Lee Duncan, as it is the story of the famous German Shepherd. While my choice of pet these days is a cat, when I was growing up my father owned and adored a series of German Shepherds, so I know how intelligent and loyal they can be. This book keep my happy interest for a long time.
Truck,: A Love Story by Wisconsin author/musician Michael Perry, was another borrowed book. My dad's cousin, a delightful and well read woman, loans me books she enjoyed, and I have the added pleasure of getting to discuss them with her. Perry is also well-read, and alternates between a no nonsense style and a sort of poetic style, especially when discussing things close to his heart - friends and family, gardens, and even an International truck that he and his buddy restored. I find reading Perry to be reliably comfortable and familiar as a favorite flannel shirt. I've been listening to more Iris Dement and Greg Brown lately, too.
My last nonfiction recommendation was a book my husband read, liked, and passed on to me before it had to go back to the library. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, by Barry Estabrook. Probably everyone knows already that winter tomatoes are just red decoration on a plate. They are hard and have no taste - like little alien imposters from a science fiction movies. Estabrook not only explains how and why this happened, but also talks lots about how the agricultural workers who plant, weed, fertilize and harvest these red hockey pucks are often exploited. It reinforced my feeling that the only tomatoes worth eating grows in a pot on my deck, or comes from my sister-in-law's garden.
There were other nonfiction titles I liked too, a biography with lush color reproduction of painting by Wolf Kahn, Just My Type, a book about typeface, who developed it and how it affects our impression of what we read, The Singing Wilderness, Sigurd Olson's essays about the northern wilderness through an entire year. All of them informed and pleased me. Happy reading in 2013 to everyone.