Non-Fiction

  • 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

  • Wanderlust

    Rebecca Solnit

    I loved A Field Guide to Getting Lost, so it was only a matter of time before something else by Rebecca Solnit wound up on my hold list. This one is a pretty impressive history of walking, which has a rather left-leaning gait at times.

    For whatever reason the second section, covering “From the Garden to the Wild” kept making me doze off on the train. Maybe I was just really tired or something, but those chapters all felt a little too academic and detailed, especially the entire chapter about William Wordsworth (who was an important walker no doubt), but so many quotes of his poetry? Were they really all necessary? I kept skipping around looking for something to latch...more

  • The World Without Us

    Alan Weisman

    I feel as if I’ve been reading this book forever but it’s actually just been a month or so. The scope of Weisman’s imagining of the entire world suddenly depopulated of humans is so broad that inevitably some parts feel leggy. But the scenario may give the best look at our overall impact on the planet.

    There are moments where nature seems so incredibly resilient that you might get lulled into thinking maybe we haven’t done so bad. Even the Panama Canal wouldn’t last long; a lock superintendent describes it as “a wound that humans inflicted on the Earth — one that nature is trying to heal.” But then there is all the nuclear waste, the petrochemical plants in Texas, and all the...more

  • Print is Dead : Books in our digital age

    Jeff Gomez

    I have to preface this by saying that I haven’t actually read this whole book yet, but rather listened to some excerpts. I will appreciate the irony (noted by Gomez) that I will be reading a book about how reading paper books is dead when the time comes, but I wanted to put down some thoughts before I lost them.

    Gomez submits here that the debate over the coming demise of printed books is moot, as print is already dead, much in the way that global warming may have already been tipped too far to be corrected. Basically, we are all just waiting for the technology that will free us from bound paper.

    Part of his proof is that we already read...more

  • How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul

    Adrian Shaughnessy

    Another working title for this book was How to be a graphic designer without losing your shirt, and that one actually reads a bit more accurate than this one. This is more about good business practices for finding a job, being freelance, and setting up & running a studio than the more philosophical practices I thought I might find here. It’s still useful for starting designers in terms of understanding the industry and potential employers a little more, though those looking for more specific info on pricing and legal info may be better served by The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook.

    The design is really attractive, but it was interesting when I would read at night under moderate (not...more

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost

    Rebecca Solnit

    Two good friends gave this the highest of ratings, so I took notice. A copy came through at the library just in time for a short trip down to the bay area, and it was pretty much the perfect reading for traveling, both in the subject matter and in the length of the essays. Every other one is called “The Blue of Distance,” and I love all the different ways Solnit explores this concept.

    It occurred to me while reading that this exactly how I wish The Future of Nostalgia was written: not just fluffy ideas on being lost but contextual and personal. Many of the essays seem to progress through haphazardly connected stream-of-consciousness, seeming to get lost themselves in...more

  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem

    Joan Didion

    Sometime in the spring, I was looking for used copies of Didion’s books and instead impulsively bought the Everyman’s Library volume of her collected nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. It’s taken only brief journeys off the shelf since it’s so darn unwieldy, and I tend to grab something else for on-the-go reading, get caught up in that, put this one back on the shelf, etc.

    I had only a passing awareness of Didion before The Year of Magical Thinking. As this is a collection of works written for different publications, it’s less of the “Book” Magical Thinking is. Yet the pieces sit together really well, or they are all interesting in their own right that...more

  • Ex Libris: confessions of a common reader

    Anne Fadiman

    I got this book out from the library the same day as The Book of the Bookshelf, and Petroski makes several references to this book, so that was a kind of odd coincidence. I can’t remember now what made me seek out these two books specifically. Then I was also thinking about “books about books” and whether I should integrate it as a category. This one ends with a short chapter of recommending reading that begins, “Most good secondhand bookstores have a shelf labeled ‘Books About Books.’” Not particularly earth-shattering, but it’s always interesting when synchronicity abounds, especially around a common locus.

    Fadiman’s collection of personal essays about reading were originally published in the Library of Congress magazine Civilization—which...more

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