I made myself a nice little resolution of reading 12 nonfiction books this year. I made (and kept) this resolution last year with the general idea of reading one nonfiction book a month. Last year I had to rush at the end of the year to actually complete the goal so this year I thought I would try to keep myself on top of things a bit better. Now it is April and I have read 10 nonfiction books so far this year and have discovered I have a real love for this stuff (especially if it runs a little more scholarly, well researched, and well written and a little less "this is why I am right and everyone else is wrong"). So what have I read so far? So glad you asked. Here it is:
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff -- a really easy introduction (felt like cheating almost) into my 12 books of nonfiction. It is a collection of letters written back and forth between a writer in New York City and a book shop in London shortly after WWII. Short and charming.
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama -- this is just what it claims to be: thoughts. It doesn't claim to be a plan or any kind of directive for public policy but a collection of thoughts and observations and a somewhat personal attempt to see how he measures up. His University Professor really comes out in the writing of this book (a real positive for me) and I fell absolutely in love with Michelle (even though the book is not about her in any real sense).
A Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney -- Probably not something any of you would ever pick up (and probably rightly so) it is a pretty long account of the peace process in Ireland with obvious focus on the IRA's roll in that process. I found it absolutely fascinating and very readable (but rather long).
A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen -- Already mentioned here, but I'll just say again how much I loved this book (and its pictures).
A Single Voice by Kristen Oaks -- this is LDS (Mormon) nonfiction which is something that, even though I am LDS, I tend to avoid because how do you say I didn't like this book when it is written by a religious leader--even though they all go to great pains to say that these are just personal opinions? Kristen isn't actually a church leader but her husband is so I still did feel a bit guilty saying that I didn't love it. It needed some better editing and a tighter line of reasoning.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell -- This is a must read! I loved it from start to finish and found so many of the ideas so fascinating that I just had to share them with whoever was around (just ask my sisters). It is about the super successful and the many aspects that make them successful. It is not, however, a guide on how to make your kid super successful--although some of the ideas would translate easily into the raising up of a successful adult.
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis -- Yes this is the book that brought us the Sandra Bullock movie of the same title, however the book itself is not just the tale of Michael Oher. It is, as the title suggests, a look at the evolution of a game--that game being football. As such there are long (or perhaps they just felt long) explanations of the game of football and how it has changed over the last 30 years. This was a fascinating story to read after Outliers because the first chapters discuss how story of Michael Oher is a perfect storm of sorts in that he and his body type (a rather rare body type apparently) happen to be around at the precisely right time in history (or the history of football) to turn him into a super success story (this is one of the themes from Outliers). While I'd give the book only 3 out of 5 stars--because of those long chapters on football--I now can wax long on the history of the left tackle and am kind of looking forward to seeing some left tackles in action this fall and I suppose that should count for something. Plus the story of Michael Oher is as interesting as the movie portrays it to be.
The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks -- didn't like this one at all. It lacked compassion and depth and required far more knowledge in neuroscience than I--or pretty much anyone--have.
Almost French: A Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull -- This is about as close as I usually care to get to reading a biography because while I say that I like all book genres, the truth is that I really tend to HATE biographies. This is because the nature of the biography is to do pretty much everything except tell the exclusive truth--I particularly dislike biographies of people who haven't actually done anything. Technically, I suppose, this is a memoir and it did tend to lack some of the me, me, me, and "watch me rise above it all without telling you about my failings," or "now I'm going to shock you so that you will want to talk to me on your talk show" aspects that so many other biographies have and so I let it slide in my twisted little mind. The end result of reading this book: I wanted to visit Paris but never, ever want to move there.
Bonds of Affection: Civic Charity and the Making of America--Winthrop, Jefferson, Lincoln by Matthew Holland -- Very well written and researched academic work by Holland (who is the son of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church and is currently the president of Utah Valley University) was just so enlightening and fascinating. It changed the way I think about charity both personally and politically.