Non-Fiction

  • Elegy for Iris

    John Bayley

    I never saw the movie version of Bayley’s recollections of his life with Iris Murdoch. Just like Strange Big Moon, I got halfway through this book before I just didn’t want to pick it up again. In this case, I think only have read Murdoch’s novel The Sea, The Sea so got lost in talk about specific works, many of which was not about that one that I’ve read. But also it’s just exceptionally sad in a way that doesn’t pair well with the dreary end of winter. As much as I hate to say it, I’d almost rather watch the movie because then it will only take me an hour and a half....more

  • Strange Big Moon

    Joanne Kyger

    I got really excited when I first got this book and read this on the first page:

    Confession merely enables you to go on acting like a coward, behavior does not change. As self awareness then condones further actions of the same sort.

    At the time this resonated strongly, but over time I lost interest and the book wound up getting buried on a horizontal surface, half-read. Maybe I’ll come back to it sometime, as Kyger’s day-to-day reactions to life in Japan are definitely interesting on some level, including how it came to be that she married fellow Beat poet Gary Snyder upon their arrival. It might be that it was all too “daily life” for the time being....more

  • The Sweet Life in Paris

    David Lebovitz

    Only recently did I get with the program and start reading David Lebovitz’s blog — I’ve tried to make up for lost time by making his butterscotch pudding several times in the last few weeks. I assumed this book would basically be a printed “best of” the blog (which would further help me catch up on what I’ve been missing), but actually the essays are original to the book, though many of the topics were probably mentioned.. like, most of the list of 15 unlikeable things about Paris shows up in expanded form in the book.

    Following a similar approach as his blog, there’s a lot about food (including many recipes) and insider scoops on places to go...more

  • Art and Fear

    Paul Virilio

    It’s a little ridiculous how long I’ve been reading this book, considering it’s less than 100 pages long. It doesn’t even feel so dense but running at such a blistering pace that it’s a difficult to continually put it down and pick it back up again, as it becomes necessary to constantly backtrack to get back up to speed. I still wound up feeling like I barely maintained the thread throughout and should have done my best to read it in one sitting.

    The thing I love about his writing is that he recognizes the need to emphasize with both all caps and italics:

    To better understand such a heretical point of view about the programmed demise of the VOICES

    ...more
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma

    Michael Pollan

    I read The Botany of Desire years ago and since then it seems like Pollan has been popping up everywhere, both due to this book and last year’s In Defense of Food.

    Like The Botany of Desire, this book looks at four representative categories, this time different food chains: industrial, organic, local, and personal. The trail of corn in the industrial section is perhaps the most compelling part of this book, though the extensive study of Joel Salatin’s method of farming in the local section is the most inspiring. Pollan’s philosophical approach to attempting to answer the question of eating meat in the personal section (during which he goes hunting for wild boar) will likely sound properly...more

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran

    Azar Nafisi

    An intriguing concept, pairing a memoir about living through the Iranian Revolution and the resulting totalitarian regime with literary criticism of Western literature as an attempt to put it all into perspective. Unfortunately Nafisi’s effort fell flat to me, mostly because the writing feels too weak for the task.

    The structure of the book itself is confusing, as she shifts around just enough that it’s hard to follow the sequence of events, plus there are many little digressions within chapters that don’t seem to add to the story. Though the book is ostensibly centered around the reading group she begins with some students after leaving her teaching position at the University of Tehran when the veil is imposed on all female...more

  • Here is New York

    E.B. White

    It was a little funny to read this slim little book directly after Play it as it Lays, as they are both wrapped so much in hot weather and it’s been colder and colder lately.

    Originally written for Holiday Magazine, the extended essay is a nostalgic look at New York City (Manhattan, mostly) from the perspective of White, who had lived and worked in the city years earlier but had since relocated to Maine. He returned one summer to write this piece, observing how much the city had changed. But yet with a few shifted details, one could easily put the same words to the New York of today, still offering its gifts of loneliness and privacy (though I...more

  • Bottomfeeder

    Taras Grescoe

    A few years ago I abandoned my vegetarianism and started adding fish to my diet. Mostly I felt like I needed variety in my protein sources, but also there are a lot of nutritional benefits to eating fish. I’ve looked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Guide many times, but have always found it difficult to consistently remember what to avoid. Reading the stories behind key “avoid” fishes (as well as a few fish that are good eat) should help me navigate the fish world a little easier.

    The core of Grescoe’s international survey of fish is that we have overfished the larger predators (like tuna and cod) and the only way to help the fish come back is...more

  • Make it Bigger

    Paula Scher

    An attractive tight-back bound book with edge-stained pages, Make it Bigger is at its heart a survey of Scher’s work from the 70s through the 90s. Yet it feels more like a memoir or a study of process than just a portfolio of her work. I loved her discussion of discovering how to “sell down” designs at CBS Records (get the highest decision maker on your side and everyone else will fall in line). The various hierarchies of her different positions and the diagram of a meeting are some of my favorite parts of the book.

    I felt she was a little more humble than some in talking about her career — Chip Kidd often sounds a tad self-congratulatory in his,...more

  • Where I Was From

    Joan Didion

    Maybe I’m just a hater this week but I couldn’t find much to latch onto in Didion’s exploration of her history with California, including her pioneering ancestors’ treks to get there. Though it’s kind of a personal history placed within a larger context, even the parts about her family read strangely impersonal. It seems like each chapter starts out interesting and then gets laden down with too many facts without any real narrative structure. One begins looking at the painter Thomas Kincade — and I love her description of his paintings:

    A Kincade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed

    ...more

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