Posts Tagged ‘non-fiction’

27th January
2014
written by Steph
End Of Your Life Book Club

The End Of Your Life Book Club

I never expected that traveling would change my reading tastes. All my life I’ve been a devoted reader of fiction and not really much else, and that’s honestly suited me fine. Don’t believe me? Of the 300+ posts that I’ve written about books on this site, less than 10 of them feature non-fiction titles. I’m all for reading broadly and diversifying one’s tastes, but I clearly also know what works for me and don’t stray too far from my literary predilections very frequently. And yet, ever since we’ve been traveling, I’ve found I have the attention span of a gnat, which not only makes it difficult to coherently synthesize and discuss the books that I do read after the fact, but it’s made focusing on my reading material a lot more challenging too. Part of why I failed to read very much last year is because I frequently found my attention waning and shifting whenever I picked up a book, except in the rarest of occasions, and I found that most novels simply did not capture or engage me in any real way. I’d put down books for days at a time without picking them up again, only to find that when I did, the story had pretty much fallen completely out of my brain. I couldn’t just peck at books sporadically, and my memory didn’t seem to have the capacity to retain enough plot to allow me to follow any novel in a lucid manner, and so I’d abandon one book after the next as I hunted (mostly futiley) for things that I could focus on. During this time, I discovered that I often had an easier time with memoirs, as they tended to pull me into their stories quickly and I could dip in and out of them over the course of several weeks and their coherency never suffered despite my haphazard reading schedule. I’d hate to cast aspersions on the memoir genre as a whole having, admittedly, not read much from it, but I think in part, the writing in the average memoir tends to have a lower difficulty threshold, so the cognitive demands placed upon the reader are perhaps less and the barrier to reader engagement is reduced. Or maybe there’s something about the conversational approach that memoirs tend to take, so that you actually feel like the author is speaking directly to you, like a friend would, and you’re just sitting down to a (somewhat) one-sided conversation and can enjoy the ride. (more…)
23rd November
2011
written by Steph

Since Thanksgiving is just around the corner for those of us living in the United States, I feel that talking about a book that takes a trip through the madness industry is apt. Oh come now! I can’t be the only one who finds that large family gatherings are something akin to a trip to the loony bin! If, like me, you tend to find that congregations featuring your nearest and dearest tend to be a bit, well, colorful, OR if you just find yourself interested in mental health issues, I’m sure you’ll find this book enjoyable and educational… Whether it also leads you to mentally evaluate how many of the criteria on Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist every person you meet exhibits, well, that’s just another perk, now isn’t it? Like so much non-fiction, I think that The Psychopath Test is a fun read for those who have a pet interest in a certain subject but aren’t actually experts in that field. Those who have, say, majored in Psychology (as I did at university) will find that there are a lot of tidbits that are already familiar (though certainly I learned some things I didn’t already know), but that there is also a lot of glossing over of material as well as oversimplifications made for the sake of engaging storytelling or enhanced accessibility for the layman. That is why, although I found this book fun and interesting, I also found it exceedingly frustrating. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Jonson states anything that is deliberately false in this book, but there were moments where I felt like many nuances were lost (or counterpoints were omitted), so as someone who is more than passingly familiar with clinical psychology (though I will say straight up that although I am working on my Psychology doctorate, my area of expertise is cognition and perception NOT clinical populations) I found myself arguing with this book quite a lot. Just as a fair warning, after finishing this book, I jotted down some notes in my book spreadsheet, and when I imported those notes into Word, they filled an entire page. So yeah, I have feelings when it comes to this book (and yes, a lot of them are crabby and could likely be written in all-caps, but worry not, I've saved you from Caps Lock Steph... this time...). (more…)
1st November
2011
written by Steph

OK, so I’m a day late when it comes to posting something for Halloween, but I’m going to go ahead and post this anyway. It’s not like it was really all that spooky or holiday appropriate to begin with, but when I started typing this up yesterday, spookiness was in the air. I felt left out as everyone else posted cute pictures of jack-o-lanterns and reviews of spine-chilling reads, and while I have read some pretty scary books in the past few weeks, I’m still dealing with review back-log. So, I decided I would just take the next book on my queue and make it fit with the Halloween theme. But you know what? The Lost City of Z by David Grann was actually not such a bad pick for Halloween! You know why? Because the Amazon is frickin’ terrifying! I am not sure if this book says so explicitly, but the Amazon pretty much has the largest population of weird stuff that can (and will!) kill you. PLUS, all of this stuff really exists, which I think bumps the fear factor up a couple of notches as well. Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain what this book is about for the tiny proportion of people out there who haven’t heard about it. Essentially, The Lost City of Z is the travel memoir of David Grann, who becomes obsessed with British explorer, Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett. During his lifetime, Fawcett was a real trailblazer, traveling fearlessly into the blank spaces on the map in order to chart them. Where other explorers quavered and failed, Fawcett prevailed; if reality tv had been around in Fawcett’s time, he would have handily won Survivor, several times over. Especially if it took place in the wilds of South America, since that was Fawcett’s preferred niche, and it became a bit of an fascination for him. In particular, Fawcett embarked on numerous treks into the heart of the Amazon, determined to find the novel’s namesake, the lost city of Z. More commonly known in legend as El Dorado, Fawcett believed that Z had indeed existed and could still be found, if only one were brave and savvy enough. (more…)
20th January
2011
written by Steph

I recently interviewed Ron Reagan, son of America's 40th president, Ronald Reagan, about his recently released memoir, My Father at 100 over at BookPage. Anyone who knows me knows that politics aren't really my shtick, and certainly not American politics, so I was super nervous going into this interview. I am happy to report that it went swimmingly and that Ron Reagan is a wonderfully nice guy with a great sense of humor and the entire thing wound up being a complete blast! For those of you interested in reading a no-holds bar conversation on Reagan's thoughts on the current state of the nation and what his father was really like, you can read my interview here. It's chock full of lots of juicy tidbits and Reagan doesn't pussyfoot around controversial issues, so it's a pretty fun read if I do say so myself!
9th June
2010
written by Steph

Lately Tony and I have been bitten by the travel bug, and been bitten hard. It’s probably for the best that our Puerto Rican vacation is under a month away (!!!), because these days my productivity has been shot as I spend most of my time daydreaming about hitting the road (or the skies, as the case may be) for far off foreign lands. However, since I still have this thing called grad school to finish up before I can conquer the world, for now travel books and memoirs will have to slake my thirst. One book I’ve been really excited to read for months now has been Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, which has garnered rave reviews all across the book blogging world. Pretty much everything I’d read about this book suggested it was “unputdownable” not to mention shocking and thrilling. (more…)
26th August
2009
written by Steph
Portrait of the Chef as a Young Jackhole

Portrait of the Chef as a Young Jackhole

As self-professed foodies, one of the shows Tony & I enjoyed most this summer was Top Chef Masters.  We were truly sad to see it come to an end, as each week we were dazzled and excited by all these top-of-their-game chefs concocting mouth-watering creations each week.  Sure the new season of Top Chef has started up, but it’s already clear the cooking won’t be nearly up to the same standards we’ve now come to expect, and unfortunately the show will feel the need to add in interpersonal dramas, as if the cooking itself weren’t exciting enough.  With a TCM-sized hole in my life, I found my appetite was whet for a deeper look into all things food.  Thus, I sought out Anthony Bourdain’s memoir of sorts, Kitchen Confidential. Now, Tony and I have tried to watch No Reservations, Bourdain’s tv show.  After all, on paper it combines two of our passions: travel & food.  But unfortunately, we just couldn’t get into it, and this was largely due, I must confess, to Bourdain himself.  I find him really unpalatable, so brash and arrogant… a guy who’s trying way to hard to show how bad-ass he is, that he doesn’t give an eff, who thinks he’s God’s gift and oh so funny and snarky.  I’m sorry, but no.  I don’t need his snipey commentary!  The places he’s visiting and the food he’s eating are interesting enough without all his asides.  But maybe if he were just less of an asshole I wouldn’t mind – after all, we’re fine with Alton Brown’s travel food shows, and we’ve become mildly obsessed with Man v. Food (another Travel Channel show).  So really, the blame lies squarely with Bourdain, I’m afraid.  Still, I figured that maybe if I didn’t have to HEAR him, perhaps I could stomach him on paper. (more…)
7th August
2009
written by Steph
We went all the way to Bon Aventure cemetary to see this famous statue only to find she's no longer there!  Curse you popularity!

We went all the way to Bon Aventure cemetary to see this famous statue only to find she's no longer there! Curse you fame!

In my search to find region-appropriate reading fare for our honeymoon vacation, I had a heck of a time finding books set in Charleston, and the ones that I did find didn’t exactly look like my kind of reading.  But when it came to Savannah, the choice was pretty clear: Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil.  Heck, Savannah has walking tours dedicated to taking tourists round the places made famous throughout the book!  What could be better for our short stay there? I always get a kick out of reading books set in places that I’ve been.  It always gives me such a thrill when an author mentions a street name or a local institution that I actually know; it somehow makes the story feel all that more real to me, as though I’ve entered into a more private sanctum within its folds where a genuine shared experience can blossom. So, it’s no surprise then that it was immensely fun to read about all the scandals and gossip of Savannah after having strolled along Broughton St myself.  Just imagine how cool it was to be lounging out near the old lighthouse on Tybee Island while characters were attending a soirée at the DeSoto Beach Hotel, sharing the same swath of sand as myself! For those not in the know, the basic premise behind the book is that Berendt first visits Savannah on a whim, becomes enamored with the city, and decides to spend some time there living amongst the locals.  The first part of the book is like a series of short stories as he recounts his various experiences in the city and the zany folk he encounters and who more or less embrace him as a native.  In the second-half of the book, things take a turn for the more sinister when one of the more prominent Savannahians is charged with murder.  The rest of the book traces the trials and the ultimate verdict that ensue. (more…)
4th June
2009
written by Tony
I think therefor I... squirrel! Squirrel squirrel!

I think therefore I... squirrel! Squirrel squirrel!

The title pretty much sums up what this book is all about. This is really a book more for someone who wants to deal with the roots of canine behavior as they apply to various research endeavors and some very limited physiology. I’m not sure that this book will make you into a master trainer or give you insight into how to finally get that damn dog to play dead somewhere other than on the bed. I have done quite a bit of studying into the topic of how to make a dog behave the way you want it to and had seen or heard pretty much every approach. This book served to confirm what I had already learned: dogs learn best through positive reinforcement. Punishment, trial and error, training by chance, training by denial, all these methods can work, but are far from the most effective. This also reinforced some other basic points about dogs, among which is the fact that they are social, and want to be near us. This topic did contain some nice insight, mainly that when a dog gets old, and its mobility is compromised, either because of its joints or because it has lost one or more of its senses, it is important to strive to make sure the dog still feels like part of the group to stave off depression. Apart from the above tidbits, there was mostly a litany of evidence pointing to the idea that dogs are probably a lot more cognizant of their surroundings and themselves than we give them credit for. While Coren tiptoes around really coming down for the idea of a self-aware dog,  he certainly presents a string of anecdotes, studies and confirmatory evidence that suggests he wouldn’t be too troubled to say that our dogs are closer mentally to ourselves than many would imagine. Oh, and apparently Descartes was a total bastard who liked to kick pregnant dogs because he believed they didn’t feel pain and any show of distress was a reaction programmed into the clockwork of their brain. Falling short of being truly helpful, this book still managed to be a pretty interesting read, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to figure out what might be going on inside that little nut between their buddy’s ears. Rating: 3 out of 5