Non-Fiction

  • Wanderlust

    Rebecca Solnit

    Image of Wanderlust: A History of Walking

    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...more

  • The World Without Us

    Alan Weisman

    Image of The World Without Us

    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...more

  • Print is Dead : Books in our digital age

    Jeff Gomez

    Image of Print Is Dead: Books in our Digital Age (Macmillan Science)

    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...more

  • How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul

    Adrian Shaughnessy

    Image of How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul (New Expanded Edition)

    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

    Image of A Field Guide to Getting Lost

    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...more

  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem

    Joan Didion

    Image of Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (FSG Classics)

    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...more

  • Ex Libris: confessions of a common reader

    Anne Fadiman

    Image of Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

    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...more

  • The Book on the Bookshelf

    Henry Petroski

    Image of The Book on the Bookshelf

    Possibly you’ve read something by Henry Petroski before, as he is quite prolific: writing about the pencil, useful things in general, as well as more abstract concepts like Success through Failure.

    In this book he begins staring at his bookshelves and wondering how much he really sees them or just the books on them, or some combination of the two entities in which they are fully dependent on each other being there to be seen at all. It segues into a history of bookshelves through the book itself, but not just the progression from scroll to codex, but also how books were used and stored and organized. From the earliest scribed volumes to later printed...more

  • My Life in France

    Julia Child

    Image of My Life in France

    I mentioned when I read Julie and Julia that I felt this book might be more up my alley. Indeed, I sped through this in a matter of days. While the book is focused on Julia and Paul’s time in Paris and France and later time spent in Provence, it oversees the entirety of their life together, with just enough background on the non-France parts to give context without detracting from that focus. There isn’t necessarily always a steady narrative flow—things, like her younger sister’s pregnancy for instance, are introduced, but then it isn’t until years later that the child is discussed again. But then seeing as her grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme, collected these stories through interviews and casual conversations...more

  • Geography of Home : writings on where we live

    Akiko Busch

    Image of Geography of Home

    This collection of personal essays dissects the house as home, meandering from room to room while simultaneously shifting between Busch’s personal experiences and more general ideas gleaned from history and literature. She doesn’t really succeed in placing her experiences into a comprehensive context, yet the book isn’t presented entirely in an anecdotal manner.

    At times she seems to suggest some kind of universal Home experience, yet she is pretty much talking about a specific middle-to-upper class, suburban/rural demographic, perhaps more specifically the locales where she herself has lived. One of the few times she talked about urban homes, I felt that she was writing from assumption rather than experiences. From the chapter on porches:

    While stoop sitting continues to be

    ...more

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