Non-Fiction

  • The Year of Magical Thinking

    Joan Didion

    Image of The Year of Magical Thinking

    Not having it in front of me now, I can’t skim through and remember the precise points that caught me when I was reading this. I can recall that I appreciated the elements that returned throughout the book, waves washing back over, appropriate for a memoir of grief. I poke through a few reviews to jog the memories, noticing that a few describe a lack of “inwardness” or distance from emotions; this one in particular critiques it as “oddly lacking.” I would argue it’s not odd at all. Didion herself describes the hospital social worker’s declaration of her as a “cool customer” with what I felt was full awareness of this distance.

    They took me into the curtained cubicle

    ...more
  • By Its Cover

    Ned Drew & Paul Sternberger

    Image of By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design

    Looking back through all the covers reproduced in this book, subtitled Modern American Book Cover Design, I love Alvin Lustig and Paul Rand’s covers from the 1950s, a few things here and there from the 1960s, and then nothing much else until the last chapter, looking at the late 1990s with a section focusing on various Knopf designers.more

  • American Pie

    Pascale Le Draoulec

    Image of American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads

    A roadtrip centered around a pie quest, Le Draoulec and her travel partners stay off the interstates and hit mostly small towns, asking the locals, “Where do you go for pie around here?” Worth reading if anything for all the recipes. Maybe it’s because I know so many people who enjoy baking and cooking, but I found the direness of the homemade pie situation a bit overstated. I don’t think we are (yet) witnessing the death of pie, though it’s true our culture in general doesn’t leave time for learning the art of pie dough.more

  • Penguin by Design

    Phil Baines

    Image of Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005

    This is an image-rich overview of Penguin cover designs from 1935–2005. I’ve been thinking a lot about book design lately, and there is something oddly fresh about some of the older cover designs. Or perhaps it is just refreshing to see a limited palette when compared to the attention-getting standards of today.more

  • The Devil in the White City

    Erik Larson

    Image of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

    There’s something a little uneven about this story which simultaneously travels behind architect Daniel Burnham as he works towards organizing the realization of the Chicago World’s Fair and Dr. H H Holmes as he murders a potentially great number of people in a creepy hotel built just a few blocks from the fair (estimates run up to about 200). Most times such dual storylines are used, there is a point of convergence. Here, it is more a plane of comparison, how two people similar in background can end up in such different endplaces.

    The Holmes chapters are centered around his ability to entrance people into his power, with speculations about the exact nature of his murders. The Burnham...more

  • Savage Inequalities

    Jonathan Kozol

    Image of Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools

    I’ve been meaning to read this for several years and finally managed to get my reminder of it and a gap in reading prospects at the same time. Kozol spent a few years in the late 1980s visiting urban schools across the US, observing students, their schools and districts, and the disparities between them — centered around race and class lines. While schools have officially been desegregated since Brown v. Board of Education, the reality is that new, sneakier forms of segregation have arose in their place. Between rich districts isolated from the poorer areas around them through private incorporation and largely race-based tracking within one school and magnet schools that essentially act as publicly-funded private schools for those accepted...more

  • Julie and Julia

    Julie Powell

    Image of Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

    I was fairly excited about this book when I first heard about it. I never read the blog that started it all, but I went through a month or two of entries on a slow day at work. It seemed pretty entertaining. I have a certain affinity for Julia Child since we shared the same birthday; I like the idea of projects like making all the recipes in one cookbook; plus the book has a cute cover.

    Unfortunately my expectations floundered early on, as Julie Powell delves in further than just Julia Child and her groundbreaking cookbook; more often it’s a memoir of a frustrated, going-on-30 secretary at a government agency in New York City, including sidetracks...more

  • Time’s Magpie

    Myla Goldberg

    Image of Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague (Crown Journeys)

    I haven’t spent much time exploring the world of travel essays, but after reading Wickett’s Remedy a couple of months ago, I happened to notice this book mentioned and hadn’t heard about it before. It turns out Myla Goldberg is a former Prague expat, and this book of essays was written on the occasion of returning there ten years later.

    The thing I like about Myla Goldberg is she has an eye for quirks and charming details that I can relate to, so I get the feeling reading these capsules that this is the sort of Prague I’d see if I ever got myself there. The essays touch largely on the experience of Prague in its post-Communist era but...more

  • The Mother Tongue

    Bill Bryson

    Image of The Mother Tongue - English And How It Got That Way

    Just after I finished Eats, Shoots & Leaves a friend recommended this book, as another take on the funny grammar book. It’s more about linguistics than grammar and namely how English came to be such a world dominant language. The history of how English evolved is certainly the best part, especially learning why there are so many inconsistent spellings and pronunciations. It gets a little less hilarious and interesting in the late chapters of the book, but it must have been better than The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, as it was due a few days ago at the library and I’ve been racking up a fine while I finished it up....more

  • The Botany of Desire

    Michael Pollan

    Image of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

    Starting off with the question of whether gardeners could be “human bumblebees,” essentially goaded into spreading plants around much like bees assist in pollination, Pollan continues on to examine the histories of four key cultivated plants under the shadow of this question. He organizes them into categories of desire: sweetness (the apple), beauty (the tulip), intoxication (marijuana), and control (the potato). In the face of the sheer enormity of plants in the world, his choices can seem arbitrary to the degree where he could have picked the plants that most readily prove his point, but at the same time they seem fairly representative of the extensive different motivations for growing plants.

    His arguments and questions are persuasive, and he has plenty...more

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