Nonfiction November Week 3: Expertise

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

This prompt took me down a few rabbit holes (in a good way) and forced me to take a good objective look at what I’ve been reading in terms of POC-related authors, topics and titles. To that end, I’ve collected many of the POC titles that I’ve read and reviewed on my blog over the past few years, certainly not as a method of boasting or as positioning me as any sort of expert, but more as a reference for others who may also be interested in digging a little deeper into this subject. 

I’m also rather hoping that others may also have lists of related titles that they might want to share… There’s always room for more books on the TBR, don’t you agree? 

Enjoy!

COMPLETED AFRICAN-AMERICAN RELATED NF TITLES (from last couple of years): 

AFRICAN NF:

(Now, I know this is NF November, but sometimes I think that fiction reads can really complement some NF reading so here are some recommendations that you might try…) 

COMPLETED AFRICAN-AMERICAN FICTION:

COMPLETED AFRICA FICTION:

TBR AFRICAN-AMERICAN NON-FICTION:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
  • The Education of a WASP – Lois Stalvey
  • Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the new First Lady – Barbara A. Seals Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram (eds)
  • The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color in a New Millennium – Kathy Russell-Cole
  • Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America  – Charisse Jones
  • The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed America – Nicholas Lemann
  • Human Cargo – Matthew Crampton
  • Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press – James McGrath Morris
  • We Gon Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation – Jeff Chang
  • In the Land of Jim Crow – Ray Sprigle (1949 – earlier version of “Black Like Me”)
  • Writing from the Underground Railway – William Still (ed.) 

TBR AFRICAN (AND OTHER COUNTRIES’) NON-FICTION:

  • They Poured Fire on Us: The Story of Three Lost Boys from the Sudan – Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, Benjamin Ajak (with Judy A. Bernstein)
  • Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-1945 – Stephen Bourne
  • My Traitor’s Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face his Country, his Tribe and his Conscience – Rian Malan
  • A Walk around the West Indies – Hunter Davies 
  • Mr. Loverman – Bernardine Everisto
  • White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism – Robin DiAngelo

TBR AFRICAN-AMERICAN FICTION:

  • Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

TBR AFRICAN FICTION:

  • The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears – Dinaw Mengestu (F)

FOR FUTURE READING:

For the other nonfiction November posts, check out these:

Many thanks to the hosts:

Nonfiction November Week 1: The reading so far…

Intro by What’s Nonfiction?:

Nonfiction November, that time of year to celebrate stories filled with facts and footnotes, truth being stranger than fiction, and very, very long subtitles begins today!

This week, a look at your year in nonfiction:

Week 1: (Oct. 28 to Nov. 1) – Your Year in Nonfiction (Julie @ Julz Reads): Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

My year has included a big increase (+170 percent!) in the numbers of NF titles that I’ve chosen and completed, related (I think) to a growing need from recognizing that there is still so much for me to learn in the world out there. That, and I seem to be interested in almost EVERYTHING so there is always a good book waiting for me to pick it up. (Additionally, this trend may or may not be related to the political nonsense happening across the globe in terms of truth (or the lack of it).)

What has been your favorite NF read so far this year?
In terms of being influential, I think my favorite NF title so far has been “Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston (written in 1931 but published more recently). It really underscored just how recent slavery was; before I had read this book, slavery had rather seemed like some “long-ago” historical event, but the fact that Neale Hurston actually met and interviewed a man who had lived through it was amazing and really brought the fact home that it wasn’t really that long ago when it occurred. It also overlaps with the focus on most of my NF reading this year. (See below for more deets.)

What particular topic have I been attracted to more this year?
Oh, the African-American experience for sure. No doubt about it. As part of my ongoing focus, I’ve been choosing book titles that are either by a POC author and/or about a POC experience. Since February was Black History Month (at least here in the U.S.), I’ve maintained my emphasis of reading more African-American authors and/or related topics, and looking back at the numbers, I can see that just over one in every three titles falls under that category (and this number includes all the POC titles – not just those from African-American writers.) 

This also aligns with the fact that the university where I work now has a vice-president who is focused on diversity, and in so doing, has brought (and is bringing) some powerful voices to campus to bring more awareness of diversity issues: bias, privilege, protest, history… It’s been eye-opening to say the least and I’ve learned a lot. I have a lot more to learn, but I know a lot more than I did this time last year.

That would be the topic-of-choice for this year (and ongoing), but another focus has been reading from my TBR shelves as well. When those two goals overlap, even better!

Which NF book have I recommended the most this year?
Despite what I’ve just said in the section before this one, this most-recommended title would have to be the tried-and-true “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. I reread it each year as a reminder of effective writing and I mention it a lot in class to students. I’m also pretty sure that I mention it to my poor patient friends more than they’d prefer, but what can I say? It’s good!

What am I hoping to get out of NF November?

I’m hoping to find more excellent titles that overlap with my current interests, and – fingers crossed – introduce me to more subjects of which I am woefully uninformed right now. I do seem to have a growing craze on animals so perhaps some new titles there?

I’d also love to be introduced to more non-fiction readers!

ETA: People have asked which particular NF titles I’ve read this year. Here you go. (Links where available):

For the other nonfiction November posts, check out these: 

Many thanks to the hosts:

The Emperor of All Maladies – Siddhartha Mukherjee (2010)

Subtitle: A Biography of Cancer. 

I’d noticed that my recent reads were rather slacking on the diversity side of things, so wanting to address that along with maintaining with my push to read more TBR, this nonfiction read was put into the sights. Wow. Mukherjee can write (as evidenced by the oodles of literary prizes and recognitions that have been piled onto this book). 

Like many others, I’ve had a brush or two up against cancer and when a recent visit to my dermatologist led to a diagnosis of melanoma for a recalcitrant mole, I wanted to learn a bit more about this disease. What better way to do that than learn from the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction winner? 

Now, I must admit that this wasn’t the easiest read in the whole world – not because the idea of cancer is scary, but because I am not that well versed in molecular chemistry and there are quite a few chapters that talk about cancer cells and how they work. 

So there were some patches in this book that were a little above my paygrade and science knowledge, but Mukherjee does an excellent (and patient) job of explaining this really complex topic in a way that a non-science person can follow without too much trouble, and I would argue that this is what won him all the awards. 

He makes the world of cancer approachable for a lot of people, and when a life-threatening subject such as cancer enters a patient’s world, the more you can understand something, the less scary it will be. 

As the subtitle reports, this is a “biography” of cancer and Mukherjee has organized this massive subject into a logical and well-organized read. It’s a solid mix of personal (Mukherjee is a practicing oncologist) and the professional, and sources range from patients dealing with the diagnosis to researchers in labs across the world furthering their understanding of cancer, but however (and wherever) the author travels, he makes sure to include you as the reader and allows you to follow his trails. It’s a really impressive achievement to be able to reach both the science reader and the lay reader at the same time without alienating one or the other. 

At the end of this, I have to say that I have only admiration for all the players involved in this world: the cancer itself is an amazing disease – even more amazing once you learn how it adapts and reacts to any attempts to control it.

I was going to say that cancer is almost a living entity, but then thought about it again, and of course, it is a living entity (thus this book has the perfect subtitle: a biography). It’s adaptable, it’s ever-evolving, it learns from its environment… Is it curable? I don’t know if it is, but if anything, this read brings a renewed spotlight on the importance of cancer prevention. That’s where the focus will need to be for future generations. 

So, not the easiest read in the entire world, technically speaking, but a fantastic journey. 

Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities – Alexandra Robbins (2005)

Trying to be a little more focused on reading from the TBR, I pulled off this title which, interestingly, was another reread for me*, and covers one year in the life of four composite college women who had pledged to be in one of the bigger sororities at a fairly typical American university.

I work on a university campus for my real job and I am usually surrounded by 36,000 undergraduates, a large group of whom are firmly entrenched in the Greek system of sororities and fraternities. My personal experience of these social groups is limited, at best, but I was still curious about how life might be for those who choose (and then are chosen!) to enter into this different world.

Additionally, Rush is just in the process of happening this week and so quite a few of the students who have arrived already are here for that process. Being a curious cat (with only having vague memories of the early read), I dove in.

Robbins has the chops of a serious journalist (with the pubs to prove it in her background), and her titles tend to be that of the immersive journalism where she actually takes part in whatever she is writing about – the “I did this for a year and here is what happened” type of writing.  

Robbins took this project on when she was still young enough to pass for a sorority girl/college student and so this book is from the POV of an anthropology/ sociology approach. However, it’s not academic by any means (despite its topic) but to be fair, doesn’t really claim otherwise. Her embedded approach meant that she was able to experience some of the sorority world without any filters and this gave a useful veneer of authenticity to the work.

For this project, Robbins trails a small group of four students who were selected for one particular sorority (again a composite identity) so it’s got quite an addictive “fly on the wall” feel about it, but the book has a few patches when it veers away from the journalist POV and into (pretty annoying) assumptions about what happened: “she must have felt x at this point” and making up pieces of imagined dialogue about various situations.

Technically speaking, she’s a good writer, and she has sifted through what must have been a lot of material to put this volume together to end up with an enjoyable read, but the areas where Robbins assumes actions/motivations for the individuals in the story were a little annoying, so I’m wondering why she started to write in that fashion.

Curiously, this writing approach (where she assumed that her subjects were feeling this or that) doesn’t crop up until the last third of the book when it’s Spring Break in the college calendar, so perhaps Robbins was faced with writing fatigue. (I can only imagine what’s it like to spend a year with a sorority when you’re older than their general membership. I would expect nerves were more-than-fraying at this point of the year after that amount of close proximity.)

By the end of the book, Robbins draws some general conclusions about the sorority experience overall, mostly negative and in opposition to what the sorority national orgs claim, but she had wisely kept her opinions out of her writing before this epilogue.

I know that sororities and fraternities are a big tradition across college campuses throughout the U.S. (especially here in Texas), but I could never understand their appeal – not when I was an actual undergrad on campus and not now. They seem to be anachronistic on the campuses of today, and yet every semester, I know that quite a few of my students are either in that selection process or in charge of that for someone else.

It’s definitely not something that I was ever drawn to and I have my doubts about how useful the system is in the modern age for our newest graduates, but it’s a critical part of the college experience for some students (and for their parents). This was an interesting read and now I’m curious to find out a little more about they operate on our campus. (I’m particularly curious about how segregated the groups are…) :-}

  • It might only be interesting to me, but I’m not typically a big rereader. I think I was a little brain-dead from teaching summer school and wanted to find a fairly guaranteed good and non-complicated end-of-summer read.

The Lady and the Panda – Vicki Constantine Croke (2005)

Subtitle: The true adventures of the first American explorer to bring back China’s most exotic animal.

Strolling around the library bookshelves, I happened upon the biography section and then within that, the biographies-which-include-animals-somehow section. Oh happy times. I’m always up for an animal read, but combine that with the life story of an interesting woman doing exploring during 1930s Shanghai? You had me at hello.

This is the joy of browsing at the library. I had no idea this book (or topic combination even existed)… I’m psyched to go and dig around and find more treasures the next time I visit there.

So – about this title. As the subtitle briefly mentions, it’s a biography of American Ruth Harkness, who went to China to bring back to the U.S. its first live baby giant panda. At this time in the world, giant pandas were just being brought to the fore for the general public across the world, but the few pandas who had been brought to the West by (male) explorers had been killed for their skins. No one had even considered the possibility of bringing a live giant panda, let alone a live baby one. Add to that, the story of a neophyte female explorer traveling through bamboo forests without much support, financial or otherwise. There lies a fascinating tale…

Harkness with two of the young giant pandas she traveled with. (Credit: Mary Labisco.)

Some background: Harkness, quite a wealthy socialite, had met her husband at parties in NYC and he had been swept up in the exploring craze of the time. The hubby had planned several long trips to faraway places, including China, but on one of those trips, he became ill and then died.

Harkness had only been married a couple of years by then, but with her money, newly widowed and rather at a loss for something to do, Harkness picked up the exploring reins left behind by her husband – much to the horror and disbelief of her well-heeled friends and family. (Plus – she was a woman! Who had ever heard of such a thing?)

This tracks Harkness’s preparations (what little there were) for her first exploration trip. China at that time, was not that well-known by a lot of the West and so Harkness’s choice to travel to this mostly-unknown destination by herself to finish up what her husband had started was hard to believe for many people.

It’s really a fascinating story. Harkness doesn’t really seem like such a likable person, but she was determined, she didn’t know what she didn’t know yet and so in her view, this was just another adventure to a new place. This lack of knowledge really helped her, I think, as she wasn’t aware of some of the major difficulties that would lie ahead. Ignorance is bliss.

And she wasn’t the only Western explorer racing to bring back a live giant panda to worldwide zoos. There were other more-experienced and more well-funded men who were also in the race, so not only was this a project running against time and resources, it was also a gender-based race as well. The odds were heavily against Harkness.

Harkness appears to have been one of the few Western explorers who truly respected China and its people. Once she was there, she felt as though she had arrived home, and this connection pulled her through some of the more-challenging parts of the months-long journey. She also really cared about the well-being of the actual giant pandas that she found (compared with the other explorers who saw them only as a product, dead or alive).

It’s a fascinating read since it covers so much: the Jazz Age, Shanghai (from both the expat and the native perspective), the cultural mores of the time, and the numerous moving pieces that make up a lengthy exploring venture.

Croke is a sympathetic author and has done her research. She uses a lot of primary sources as reference material along with interviewing various Harkness relatives, even traveling with some back to China to retrace Harkness’ travels and to walk some of the same paths.

There are a few patches when Croke crosses over into FanGirl territory, but to be honest, Harkness was an admirable person in many ways so there’s not much wrong with that. Besides, the enthusiasm is well-balanced with less-savory aspects of Harkness so it worked for me.

This was such a good read about an interesting person at a time when much was changing across the globe. Add baby giant pandas to the mix, and it was a fun title to dig into this summer.

Recommend it.

Random note: I happened to be using a bookmark from the World Wildlife Fund, and their logo is a panda. Worlds colliding! 🙂

Reading Review: May 2019

The reads for May 2019 included:

So — to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in May 2019: 10. (Hooray for summer break.)
  • Total number of pages read 3,330 pages (av. 333). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • DiversityPOC. 4+ books by women. (The + is because I read an anthology which included both male and female authors.) 
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books and e-books.

Plans for June include continuing the POC author/topic focus and my focus on my own TBR.  And a trip to Vancouver… 🙂

Reading Review – October 2015

october

In the past month, work has slowed down (thank goodness), and thus my head space has expanded so that I can read things that aren’t work-related. This is a big relief in many ways, and I’m happy to report that I’ve been really enjoying what I’ve been reading over the past few months. 🙂

Future plans: Work on completing my so-far under-the-radar Century of Books project. This is an on-going reading focus where I am reading a different book/different author (no repeats) published in each year of the twentieth century (so any titles published within 1900-2000). It’s very casual and rather fun – it’s also expanded my reading as there are some years which are not as bountiful as others, publishing-wise so I have been stretching my reading muscles. I’ve pretty much done 1900-1940, but then have quite a few gaps in the later years. Anyway, quite a fun reading casual thing…)

Anyway, back to reviewing. In October 2015, I read the following:

Total number of books read in October: 8 (hooray! Reading slump over and more free time to boot.)

Total number of pages read: 1837 pages (av. 230 pages)

Fiction/Non-Fiction: 4 F and 4 NF.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 5 library books and 3 owned books. 1 e-books this month. (Total of 26 books off TBR this year.)

Speaking of the TBR pile, I had started a low-key book buying ban a few weeks ago, but I’ve fallen way off that track lately. I have got some new corkers though – expect a post of my new titles to come in the near future.

“I shall read all night and day. I’m a book-drunkard, sad to say.” – L. M. Montgomery.

February Reading Plans – one idea…

black-history-month_2

Reading across the interwebs, there have been loads of bloggie book people who have joined in with reading-related challenges and similar goals at various times. I’m not usually a challenge kinda person (although the TBR Challenge is always an appealing one, informal though my own personal one maybe).

So, I was perusing my own TBR when I realized that I had quite a few books on the topic of POC (specifically those of African descent) or by POCs. Add to that the fact that February is Black History Month in the U.S., and I realized that I could, in fact, do my own themed reading month (all very unofficial and flexible though it may be).

With this in mind, I’ve gathered up some titles from my own shelves and thus have collected a small shelf of recommended reading for the next few weeks or so. Seeing as the month is recognizing the history of African-Americans, I’ve limited this themed reading project to books by or about people who are linked with the African continent (and its numerous countries) in one way or another. So – as I tend to get a bit skittish about tackling reading lists and such (even if it is one that I myself have devised), this is a very laid-back (almost falling over) type of project so it may or may not work. We will see. I’m thinking that this will be a rather cool way to spend the next few weeks, and I’m hoping on learning quite a bit along the way.

Here’s the book list that I gathered up from my TBR shelves:

  • Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life – Alice Childress (1956) F
  • Saturday is for Funerals – Unity Dow and Max Essex (2010) NF
  • The Known World – Edward P. Jones (2003) F
  • Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-1945 – Stephen Bourne (2010) – NF
  • Kaffir Boy – Mark Mathabane (1986) NF autobio
  • My Traitor’s Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face his Country, his Tribe, and his Conscience – Rian Malan (2000) NF
  • The Girl who Married a Lion and Other Tales from Africa – Alexander McCall Smith (2004) F
  • 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northrup (1853) NF
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker (1982) F – and it’s epistolary!! Be still my heart.
  • Merle and Other Stories – Paule Marshall (1985) F-short stories
  • The Other Side of Truth – Beverley Naidoo (2000) F-YA
  • Native Son – Richard Wright (1940) F
  • They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of three Lost Boys from the Sudan – Benjamin Ajak, Alephonsion Deng, Judy A. Bernstein (2005) NF – autobio
  • Little Bee – Chris Cleave (2008) F
  • Rules of the Wild: A Novel of Africa – Francesco Marciano (1998) F
  • So Long a Letter – Mariama Bâ (1979) F – and it’s epistolary. Be still my heart!
  • A Walk Around the West Indies – Hunter Davies (2001) NF-travel

Other potential titles – these I’ll have to get from the library:

  • Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson (poetry)
  • Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi F
  • A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry Play
  • Poetry – Alice Walker? Gwendolyn Brooks? Langston Hughes? Songs of Jamaica – Claude McKay?
  • The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden – Jonas Jonasson (F) “charming”

If you have a title to recommend for me, please let me know. Happy to add to the list!

 

New TBR Pile for Summer Days

TBR_summer2013

  • Dancing Girls – Margaret Atwood (short stories) (F)DNF
  • Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome (F)
  • The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (F)
  • August – Gerard Woodward (F)Read. (Updated 06/19/2013.)
  • Bitchfest – anthology (excerpts from decade of Bitch magazine)
  • Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town – Nick Reding (how meth affected one small community in US)
  • Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh (F)
  • A Passage to India – Forster (F)Read. (Updated 06/06/2013.)
  • The Devil’s Highway – Luis Alberto Urrea (issue of illegal immigration)Read. (Updated 06/19/2013.)
  • Maphead – Ken Jennings (the lure of maps)
  • Classics for Pleasure – Michael Dirda (book about books)
  • Going to Extremes – Joe McGiniss (Alaska travel)
  • The Bite of the Mango – Mariatu Kamara/Susan McClelland (NF about refugee from African nation rife with instability)
  • The Social Animal – David Brooks (sociology/anthro)Read. (Updated 06/06/2013.)
  • Like One of the Family – Childress (Af-Am domestic history)
  • Coasting – Jonathon Raban (UK travel by boat)
  • Wesley the Owl – Stacey O’Brian
  • The Sex Lives of Cannibals – J. Maarten Troost (travel narrative)
  • Color: A Natural History of the Palette – Victoria Finlay
  • Foreign Friends – Jojo Moyes (F)

So – that should set me up for the next month or three… 🙂