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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction

We writers always talk about fiction- all the stories we write and novels we read. But I really, really like a good bit of non-fiction every now and then.

My favorite non-fiction tends to be memoir and biography. Here's a smattering of books from my list this year:

1. Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

From the dust jacket: Of all our great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt is the only one whose greatness increased out of office. When he toured Europe in 1910 as plain “Colonel Roosevelt,” he was hailed as the most famous man in the world. Crowned heads vied to put him up in their palaces. “If I see another king,” he joked, “I think I shall bite him.”

Had TR won his historic “Bull Moose” campaign in 1912 (when he outpolled the sitting president, William Howard Taft), he might have averted World War I, so great was his international influence. Had he not died in 1919, at the early age of sixty, he would unquestionably have been reelected to a third term in the White House and completed the work he began in 1901 of establishing the United States as a model democracy, militarily strong and socially just.

I LOOOOOOOOOOOOVE Theodore Roosevelt! *swoon*

2. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

From the New Yorker: At the age of thirty-one, Gilbert moved with her husband to the suburbs of New York and began trying to get pregnant, only to realize that she wanted neither a child nor a husband. Three years later, after a protracted divorce, she embarked on a yearlong trip of recovery, with three main stops: Rome, for pleasure (mostly gustatory, with a special emphasis on gelato); an ashram outside of Mumbai, for spiritual searching; and Bali, for "balancing." These destinations are all on the beaten track, but Gilbert's exuberance and her self-deprecating humor enliven the proceedings: recalling the first time she attempted to speak directly to God, she says, "It was all I could do to stop myself from saying, 'I've always been a big fan of your work.'"

I adore Italy- who wouldn't want to read about pasta and gelato? Yum!

3. John Adams by David McCullough

From Publishers Weekly: With a keen eye for telling detail and a master storyteller's instinct for human interest, McCullough (Truman; Mornings on Horseback) resurrects the great Federalist (1735-1826), revealing in particular his restrained, sometimes off-putting disposition, as well as his political guile. The events McCullough recounts are well-known, but with his astute marshaling of facts, the author surpasses previous biographers in depicting Adams's years at Harvard, his early public life in Boston and his role in the first Continental Congress, where he helped shape the philosophical basis for the Revolution. The author is likewise brilliant in portraying Adams's complex relationship with Jefferson, who ousted him from the White House in 1800 and with whom he would share a remarkable death date 26 years later: July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration.

I love that last little fact- reality truly is stranger than fiction!

4. Judgment of the Pharaoh: Crime and Punishment in Ancient Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley

From Publishers Weekly: British Egyptologist Tyldesley (Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen; Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh; etc.), the prolific author of acclaimed books for a general audience, here has all the makings of a bestseller--passion, sex and murder--but she squanders the opportunity with a treatment that is neither comprehensive nor gripping. In the first, and most satisfying, third of the book, Tyldesley aptly examines the administrative structure of the Egyptian judicial system, focusing on the roles of the pharaoh, the vizier and other officers of the law.

This is where I learned how to impale someone on a stake. Pretty awesome.

Did you read any really great non-fiction this year? Do share- I'm always happy to add to my never-ending pile!


VR Barkowski said...

I've read a lot of non-fiction this year as research for my second novel. Most recently, PRICELESS by Robert Wittman, the (now retired)undercover FBI agent behind the agency's Art Crime Team. The memoir focused on recovering stolen art and antiquities. Absolutely fascinating.

Also,THE CHILDREN OF IZIEU: A HUMAN TRAGEDY by Serge Klarsfeld. In 1944, Forty-four children were kidnapped from the French village of Izieu (taken from the "Children's Colony" a safe haven for Jewish Children) by the Gestapo led by Klaus Barbie. They were all liquidated. There are letters and photos. Heartbreaking is an understatement.

Vicki Rocho said...

Someone needs to disguise non-fiction as fiction for me because I have this pre-conceived notion that it's BORING. I know this isn't true. But I just can't seem to bring myself to make that leap.

Amalia T. said...

I don't read a lot of non-fiction at all. I have non-fiction books which I use for reference--textbook-like, but for the most part the only non-fiction I read is primary source stuff. Although, if a primary source is a fictional account I guess that doesn't count as non-fiction either! Soooo, I guess I am pretty lame in this department! ha!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Colonel Roosevelt is my husband's Christmas present this year. He's probably read John Adams three or four times by now.

Susan R. Mills said...

I read a book about Henry VIII. I don't remember what it was called, but it was amazing. I watched most of The Tudor episodes while reading it, so I got a little splatter of fiction along with the facts.

L. T. Host said...

After a trip to Hearst castle this summer, I picked up a copy of a massive biography of WR Hearst. The thing is a BEAST and I think I managed to get most of the way through it before deciding I really didn't like Hearst and putting it down.

I don't read non-fic very often, mostly because stories tend to be more interesting to me when they're made up. Though there are some interesting tidbits in reality, that's for sure-- I was fascinated by the shared death date of Jefferson and Adams, too, when we learned about it recently in my US history class. So I might have to pick that one up!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I read A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. So good! :-)

Nate Wilson said...

Sadly, I've been falling behind in my non-fiction reading. The only one I've read in recent months was an okay Mary Roach book (Bonk), though I did enjoy some works by Sarah Vowell and Bill Bryson earlier in the year.

But to answer the question on #2 in your list: Me. I wouldn't want to read about pasta and gelato. When those two foodstuffs are involved, I'm much more of a hands-on type of person.

Mark Noce said...

Anything with Thomas Jefferson or Caesar usually proves great:)

Liza said...

I loved Eat, Pray, Love so much that I will not, not, not see the movie...I won't have it spoiling the book for me. Thanks for the other recommendations...

Lola Sharp said...

I read a couple books on Marie Antoinette and the french revolution (for fun), a couple on disaster preparedness (for research) and a few biographies. None of which were stellar enough to recommend.

I still prefer well written fiction.

K.M. Weiland said...

Looks like a fun collection! I read probably about a 40:60 ratio of non-fiction to fiction books. I enjoy the occasional memoir, but history is always my favorite. I have a pile of WW2 books next my non-fic list. Yummy!

Melissa said...

Reminder: Be Jolly By Golly Blog fest on Monday! Jen and I can't wait for your entry!

Melissa's blog.

Jen's blog.

KM said...

I'm not usually a nonfiction fan, but there have been a few books I really enjoyed. Typically, they're spiritual in nature (like Lee Strobel's THE CASE FOR FAITH and John Eldredge's WAKING THE DEAD). But I love David Sedaris essays - I find him absolutely hysterical.

Vanessa Morgan said...

Here for the Be Jolly By Golly Blogfest. Happy Holidays!

Avalon Cat Cartoon said...

Christmas purrrs and blogfest headbonks from Avalon the cat!