So, last week I gave a brief review of American Wife and The Likeness and asked what good novels you’ve been reading. I think I’ve got enough on my list to get me through the end of the year! Thanks for the great suggestions. Now, let’s turn to nonfiction.
I must say, the finest nonfiction book I’ve read this year is Miss Conduct’s Mind over Manners. It’s a quick read, but thought-provoking, empowering, and hilariously funny. Plus, the recipes in the appendix are delicious! It’s a delightful confection: imagine a cross between Malcolm Gladwell and Miss Manners, channeled through Tina Fey.
But there’s a chance–just a slight, off chance–that I might be biased about this.
Fact is, I haven’t read all that much non-fiction this year. I tend to go through phases with that. And I read so much nonfiction to when I was writing MCMoM that I’ve kind of burned out on it for a while. Also, certain kinds of nonfiction can be hard for me to read. Or–that’s not really the best way of putting it–it’s more that I tend to want a particular experience when I read. I want to get swept away into a narrative world. I want to escape. I want, usually, to power down and let go of my self-ness for a while.
Fiction does that for me. Some kinds of nonfiction–narrative nonfiction, like history (The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes) or true crime (Always in Our Hearts by Globe features editor Doug Most)–can do that as well. But nonfiction that is about ideas rather than stories is incredibly stimulating to me. It’s like having a conversation with someone who is finally putting together all those odd thoughts that have been floating around in your brain and you never knew how to connect before, or else like listening to someone who’s flat-out wrong and you are compelled to correct them, or in most cases, a combination of both. Which, for a big ol’ INTJ like me, beats snorting wasabi on a roller coaster next to Robert Downey Jr. for sheer excitement value.
So it can be hard for me to read good philosophy or religious studies or sociology or psychology or any other -ology for more than a couple pages at a time. Then I get so excited I need to go e-mail my friends about the incredibly insightful or incredibly stupid thing the author wrote, or take a walk with Milo and contemplate, or write a blog entry, or clean the kitchen and fume, or pour myself a glass of wine and yell at Mr. Improbable. (He doesn’t mind. He’s a writer, too, and needs to work out his ideas. We both sometimes talk to each other and sometimes talk at each other, and we’ve gotten fairly good at knowing which is which.)
I do have recommendations, though. I pulled together a short bibliography for MCMoM. It’s not everything I read for the book, but it’s everything that I thought someone who liked the book might also like. If you’ve got MCMoM, you’ve got the list–but my 1-2 sentence reviews didn’t make it in to the final version for page-count reasons. (Or, now that I am rereading what I wrote, perhaps because I grotesquely overused the term “classic.”) So, below the jump, are some of the best nonfiction books I’ve read since starting my own book–and why I liked them.
Leave your own fave reads in comments!