Non-Fiction

  • 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

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  • 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...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

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  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

    Haruki Murakami

    I really loved this memoir, though I have to say that the translation probably isn’t the best. It’s hard for me to be entirely certain since I can’t read the original in Japanese, but I’m guessing it’s no coincidence that Philip Gabriel has translated two of my less favorite Murakami novels (Kafka on the Shore and Sputnik Sweetheart). I kept feeling like there were nuances that I was missing.

    Even still, I found this little memoir inspiring. It’s about running, but it’s also about writing. It’s about finding focus and keeping momentum. I kind of wanted to start running right when I finished it, even though I’ve never been able to figure out how to breathe right. I...more

  • Drops of this Story

    Suheir Hammad

    While I really like the concept of each piece of this book as drops that collectively represent all the challenges of her life as a Palestinian American, it felt like Hammad spent a little too much time talking about writing her story through all the different references to wetness and where it found her compared to actually threading the pieces together. It’s a rather short memoir, largely because she was so young when writing it, so the repetition becomes tiring rather than powerful. But there’s still a lot of strength in the individual parts, even if they don’t all come together so well.more

  • Print is Dead : Books in our digital age

    Jeff Gomez

    A few months ago I listened to some excerpts from this book, and finally got around to actually reading the whole thing.

    There’s something in the way Gomez has written this book that kept eliciting these knee-jerk, argumentative responses, and I’d find myself angrily relating some piece of what I read nearly every day that I was reading this book. I suppose even from the title, it’s apparent that he’s taking an incredibly provocative stance. The crux of his thesis is an analogy between music and books, and he aims to prove that books will inevitably follow music into the purely digital world. The comparison doesn’t sit so cleanly with me — recorded music is so different from books. Music existed for...more

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