The 2017 Nonfiction Challenge Part XI: Science and Technology in November
This is a continuation of the topic The 2017 Nonfiction Challenge Part X: Current Affairs in October.
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November already, and the end of our second year of the nonfiction challenge is almost upon us -- congratulations to everyone who has participated!!!
This month, your mission -- should you choose to accept it -- is to read a book (nonfiction, needless to say) that has some connection to the worlds of science and/or technology. This could range from a biography of Marie Curie, to a book delving into bleeding edge biotech research, or something about how new technological trends are affecting the world we live in. Genes, physics, biotech, biology, geology, the people involved in this world, what this world is doing, policies promoted by these industries, etc.
So, you know what to do. Tell us what you've found that's interesting, and then come back and tell us whether it's working for you -- or not -- and why or why not.
Here's what we're reading:
Coming up for the final challenge, and slightly modified, so give it some thought in order to end the year on a blockbuster note! ---
December: Out of Your Comfort Zone/New New Things
A nonfiction book that isn't something that you would normally gravitate to, about a subject you'd never normally read about, or something that has just crossed your path, that is a "book bullet", that you've received as a gift, has just become aware of or has just been published or otherwise only recently learned about, ideally via another LT reader.
If you've got any questions and I don't respond rapidly enough to a message here, try sending me a PM.
Happy reading! Hopeful the longer evenings in the northern hemisphere late autumn/early winter will help...
I have Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics for People in a Hurry on my November lineup, tentatively in the fourth spot.
I plan to read Into the Grey Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death by Adrian Owen.
AlisonY hit me with a bullet on her thread. It’s on request at the library, so won’t get to it until mid-month.
I'm going with Thunderstruck by Erik Larson which may be a bit of a cheat, but it does involve some technological history/innovation, so..... :)
Suzanne, are you thinking about hosting a NF challenge again next year? I was thinking of swearing off challenges next year, but I would still do this one to make sure I didn't only ever pick up fiction.
>6 katiekrug: Yes, I'm planning on doing a three-peat, unless people beg me to cease and desist... And remember, this isn't one of those "must participate" challenges! Lurkers and commenters are also welcome.
I'll get around to posting covers of these interesting reads this afternoon, when I'm on the train home (preparatory to doling out Hallowe'en candy to trick-or-treaters...)
I'm glad to hear this challenge is coming back next year, Suzanne. Of all the challenges that I gave up on midway through the year, this is the one I regret the most.
I am planning on reading The Remedy about efforts to cure tuberculosis and the rise of germ theory.
>9 Oberon: - I am nearly finished reading an excellent book about this very subject, called Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It was published in 2003, and I recently saw a very excellent documentary film (2017) that furthers the story about Dr. Paul Farmer and his PIH (Partners in Health), and their efforts and gains in dealing with TB, HIV, etc. It's called Bending the Arc and I highly recommend it if the opportunity to see it comes your way. I saw the film first so this book is giving me background info that couldn't all be captured in a 2-hour film and both are outstanding
I'd planned on reading Dava Sobel's Longitude, but Randall Munroe's Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words was in at the library looks like too much fun to put off reading.
I perused my shelves last night and came up with two titles that seem to be calling to me. The first is Engineering in History by Richard Shelton Kirby. The Amazon blurb for this one says: "this book focuses on those achievements whose impact on civilization, in the authors' view, has been most significant.Implied throughout the text is the idea of technology as a creative near-artistic that plays a role in what Cassirer has called "the process of man's progressive self-liberation." The book concludes with a well-balanced essay on the impact of engineering on society, in which the authors argue that technology must be subservient to ethical and aesthetic values.
Enhanced by 181 illustrations, Engineering in History is a superb blend of history and applied science that will interest not only engineers and students of technology, but any reader curious about the epochal strides man has made toward understanding, adapting to and learning to utilize his physical environment."
The second that might be my read for November is Paperboy: Confessions of a Future Engineer by Henry Petroski. This title is really a memoir, but the Amazon blurb for it says the following: "Paperboy is also the story of the intellectual maturation of an engineer. Petroski’s curiosity about how things work—from bicycles to Press-books to newspaper delivery routes—was evident even in his youth. He writes with clear-eyed passion about the physical surroundings of his world, the same attitude he has brought to examining the quotidian objects of our world. Paperboy is a delightful memoir, telling the dual story of an admirable family in a more innocent, bygone America, and the making of an engineer and writer. " Since I also need to read a biography for my real life book discussion group that meets in January, this one would be a twofer.
Both of these books are about the same length, and each has its appeal. I am leaning towards the first title, but I could get more bang for my time out of the second. I will think on it for a day or two because I am deeply engrossed in Paulette Jiles novel News of the World.
I am also thinking of reading something by Tom Standage. I like his work, and have Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine. I just couldn't find it last night when I was looking. I am also interested in reading Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers and Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years.
I am also debating and haven't yet decided which of the 2 titles I pulled off my shelf I will end up reading: Daniel Levitin's This is Your Brain on Music or Bob McDonald's Measuring the Earth With a Stick. I am leaning toward the latter, as McDonald is Canadian and that will help me in my personal challenge of reading more Cdn books this year.
>14 benitastrnad: - I can recommend The Victorian Internet :-)
Plan is to complete three books:
first, THE WARBLER ROAD - recommended by every LT bird person
second, Indian Creek Chronicles with the appealing "Winter Alone in the Wilderness" description -
not sure where the recommendation came from...
I'm still reading Masha Gessen's book about Russia from October, so it may be a while before I get into the November reading.
In order of priority, I want to read:
The Book That Changed America by Randalll Fuller, which is all about how Darwin's evolutionary theories rippled through US society. A scientific history book.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. A memoir, much lauded by folks I know who have read it, by a geobiologist who explains things like why forests have natural boundaries, and why tree tops are narrower than their bottoms. She's a manic-depressive, and found her work a safe kind of refuge, and apparently this is utterly compelling.
Bring Back the King by Helen Pilcher -- the whole idea of reversing extinction because we can manipulate DNA now is so -- wild...
Caesar's Last Breath by Sam Kean -- another book by a scientist, this one about the air around us, an ARC from an ALA gathering. May not get to this one this month.
>20 m.belljackson: Personally, I'm rooting for the dodo... *grin* Even the name makes me smile. Not so sure about dinosaurs. Am unconvinced about our ability to coexist peacefully.
There's a lot of books I am interested in here! Not sure what I am going to read. I am thinking of Astrophysics in a Hurry; becasue I am a bit behind in my reading, and the other things in my piles look harder.
I've been trying to get to The Beak of the Finch for quite a few challenges. I hope to do it this time!
Starting on The Book That Changed America and it's fascinating. A great blend of science and history; the author tackles how scientists like Asa Gray, a devout Presbyterian and devoted scientist, responded to Darwin's work. Really well written, as well.
Alas, just got approved for some fascinating books via NetGalley that would have been perfect for last month's current affairs category. One is about the North Dakota fracking boom and how it changed the state's society and economy, and the other about the resurgence of white nationalism... Oh well, will have to make room for them, as well as for Masha Gessen's book about Russia. Good thing I have no life.
First two Book Reviews -
While THE WARBLER ROAD offered enjoyable and often enlightening reading,
my 2nd choice, Indian Creek Chronicles, barely ranked 1 Star.
Gauging by the author's early responses to shooting the head off a grouse,
followed by the horrible death of a terrified raccoon in a trap he had set,
there was the expectation that Pete Fromm would teach readers how to survive
a Montana "Winter Alone in the Wilderness" without glorifying hunting and cruel traps.
Alas, not only does his story turn out to be great fun for hunters...(see my review)...
but the author spends very little time Alone in the Wilderness...very misleading.
You do have a life. Reading is quite an exciting life. A life of the mind. It is darned important, I would like to add. The fact that this kind of life is not appreciated or supported in our present day society is unfortunate. We just had a small e-mail debate about this in our College of Education. It started with the fact that when you apply for a sabbatical you have to state a projected outcome and then you have two years to finish it. Spending a semester reading up and honing your knowledge about your subject is not an acceptable option for a sabbatical leave. That is not the way it was in the 1940's and 50's when the US led the world in intellectual output. Now, it seems we just have output and no thought going into it.
I've picked up Thinking Machines thanks to my library's digital collection (seems appropriate! ). Currently reading about what the US tech world thought would be possible in the future back in the 60s. Always find historical predictions of the future fascinating (so often way off).
Work is currently promoting research into small robots that can be trained to note and comment on everyday actions (e.g. eat a banana) with the idea that they could help with elderly care.
I just finished the Dutch translation of Seven brief lessons on physics by Carlo Rovelli and just realised it fits this months theme.
I finished The Book That Changed America by Randall Fuller, which was fascinating. What I hadn't realized was that the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species was so serendipitously timed. Literally at about the same time the first copies reached America, John Brown was being executed for the Harper's Ferry raid, and throughout the next year, as scientists and other interested academics and scholars began discussing and debating his ideas and coming to grips with their incredible implications, the national debate over slavery as an institution would come to a head with secession and the Civil War. Fuller does an impressive job in showing how the history of science isn't isolated from social, cultural and political history, by linking these two events. Because if "species" evolve, what does that mean for humans, and specifically for different "races" of humans? For some, it meant social Darwinism -- a survival of the fittest (Paul Ryan, anyone???) -- and for others, it would mean that abolition was only logical, because it was supported by science. At the same time, what did this say about the ability of black and white to live in equality in a post-war society? There's a lot of the science in here, and details of how people like Asa Gray (a fascinating character, who emerges as an honest man who agonizingly had to come to grips with the fact that his scientific truths challenged his profound religious faith) at Harvard battled people who let their wishes rule them, even as they labeled themselves science. It's about how science really became what it is -- evidence-based -- and how the debate over evolution, intelligent design and creationism got its start. Worth reading if only for the wonderfully sympathetic portrait of Thoreau, who designed a hat with a lid inside it where he could store botanical specimens. On one occasion, he put seed pods in there, and then they started popping open, and apparently it must have sounded like popcorn going off atop/inside his head... :-) Fuller looks for those small, telling details, as well as the big picture, and while this is dense -- I ended up having to slow down and go back and re-read segments -- it's VERY worthwhile for those interested in the subject. It reminded me of my first year in university, where for my introductory history course (which was a course in intellectual history) I ended up writing a final paper about Darwin's thought and the debate in Victorian society about its implication between Huxley and Kingsley. I still remember the week that I spent in the library researching and writing that paper one of the most rewarding periods ever, academically. I'm sure it wasn't that good, but I was being asked to explore ideas from original source materials, for perhaps the first time. (As opposed to examining facts/events and developing theories, etc around those.)
Thoreau and John Brown - not often you get THEM in the same paragraph -
thanks for this enlightening review of the conflicting viewpoints in The Book That Changed America.
Does the author also cover how different religions in America reacted around that time to Darwin?
Ryan as survival of the fittest in Satan's latest disguise, maybe...?
And in increasingly looney bin Wisconsin, the only one running strongly against him
just had to pay two years worth of back child support...
>33 Chatterbox: Darwin, like Asa had the same battle Suz, he too was a religious man, living in a Christian household.
Excellent review, I’ve been hit with a bullet.
>36 Caroline_McElwee: That's fascinating! The book made me realize I knew too little about Darwin himself, even though I visited Down House as a little girl (9 or so?) and remember that, and despite knowing of his ties to abolitionists via the Wedgwood family (yes, the china manufacturing family...) So perhaps this calls for looking out a biography for sometime next year.
>35 banjo123: I suspect that might be over my head, in all senses of the phrase!
>34 m.belljackson: It was clear the author's primary interest was in the New England area, where the academics were among the first to get hold of it and where the Transcendentalists were among the early eager readers. So he didn't really delve into sectarian differences that much, perhaps because in that era, they may not have been as acute? Yes, Catholicism would have been distinctive, but it was less influential, so you had Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and some Episcopalians and Lutherans, but nothing really emerged to distinguish a reaction from one group over another. Re Paul Ryan -- I was thinking of his philosophy, which seems to me to suggest to people that if they can't survive on what they can scrape up and pay for themselves every step along the way then perhaps they should just die and, Scrooge-like, "reduce the surplus population."
So, I'm starting to plan for the 2018 challenges. Would love to get your thoughts on what worked for you and what didn't this year, and what you'd like to see included (or excluded) in 2018. Always remembering, when voting to dump something, that while it didn't work for you, it may have been something that others loved. I do try to strike a balance, so really what I'm trying to ensure is that I am more or less succeeding in that and not being TOO much of a dictator (or at least, being a benign, flexible dictator... *grin*)
So, as well as this month's books, please knock yourself out with ideas. I'll hope to have something posted by the end of the month or possibly by Thanksgiving.
>38 Chatterbox: I really enjoyed the hobbies and the heroes and villains.
I liked all of the categories and can't wait to see what you am up for topics for next year.
What I really like is that the topics are specific but loose enough that I have plenty of freedom to find something in my lists that fit. I love reading about the connections that other readers make between titles and topics. I would keep doing what you are doing as I think it is a success. This kind of reading list shows imagination and inventiveness on your part, so carry on friend. I will tag along as I am able. (Usually a month or two behind.)
I would like to see some kind of topic about the American West and something about South America. I also think that reading about politics from a perspective outside of the US would be of interest.
I would also like to add that I find your leadership of this group to be exactly encouraging enough that I have really broadened my horizons participating this last year. I also can say that I did NOT manage to get a book read every month, but I tried. I think that was part of the point for this group.
We may have done it or had it covered under a broader category, but I love books about geography and cartography, so would love to see a category dedicated to that so I could add more titles to my TBR :)
In general, though, I agree with Benita that the categories are well-defined but broad enough to allow a lot of different kinds of books, which is fun. I wouldn't mind, though, on categories like "History" to maybe have it narrowed down a bit. Just a thought.
I have fallen behind a lot this year. Always good intentions but my reading just hasn't been as Challenge-focused as I had hoped. Still, I agree with >40 benitastrnad:, >41 benitastrnad: and I like Katie's idea in >42 katiekrug:, as well (since I have a few on my shelves that would fit that category!)
And even if I don't manage to get a book read for a particular month, I do enjoy lurking to see what others are reading and thinking about
Have you heard of "book flights?" I am not sure what this is and wondered if you know anything about them. It was in reference to book discussion groups.
>44 benitastrnad: Nope, but I will google and see what that pulls up.
Generally speaking, I'm happy with whatever you come up with, but if pressed I would say I preferred last year's categories slightly more than this year's. That seems nebulous but I can't seem to pin it down more in my head than that.
And I second Katie's request for a geography/cartography type of category. That would be fun.
I just started reading The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors by John Gribbin.
>38 Chatterbox: I liked this year's categories. It's easier to find books of interest when the topics are broader, but I would be OK with a narrower focus.
I like the idea of geography/cartography. How about anthropology/indigenous peoples?
And thank you for moderating this challenge. Great job!
My only problem (?) is all the book bullets!
Re book fight, I have come up primarily with a podcast that is defined by one of its creators as follows: "Book Fight! is a weekly chat between writers, centered (in alternating weeks) around either a book or a short piece of fiction or nonfiction. The AV Club, in a 2014 review, called us an “an enjoyable chat with two dudes who get passionate about the craft, call out authors on their bullshit, shout-out great lit when they read it, and consume a lot of pop culture.” We like to think that we take books and writing seriously without taking ourselves too seriously."
>47 GerrysBookshelf: Book bullets cannot be seen to be a serious problem... *sternly*
Noted re broad categories, and a geography category. I may find a way to dress that up a bit so that people can squeeze in something that isn't specifically about geography -- like geopolitics or even travel. Maybe about geographic features and crossing borders, or something along those lines.
>46 rosalita: If you have the time to try to pin down what you preferred about year #1, that would be great. I was trying not to simply replicate it in year #2, and again, there are a few categories that I think are rather evergreen, but that I'd like to give a different twist to.
It's a tough call to make them interesting but not too narrow. For instance, I thought of narrowing down history either geographically (asking people to read about the history of a place they had never been) or by era (asking people to read about an era they had never read before or confining it to certain eras), but then thought that felt too confining, and almost certainly people would have a book that they wanted to read but it wouldn't "fit".
When I heard "book flights" I thought of wine flights, where you get a small pour of similar wines to compare and contrast. So I thought maybe a book flight was a sampling of shorter works on similar themes or in similar styles or something.
>48 Chatterbox: This is entirely too long, so to sum up: I'm apparently a fuddy-duddy when it comes to reading categories. That's essentially what this seems to come down to, but if you want more details, read on.
I've gone back and looked up the 2016 categories so I could refresh my memory and compare them side-to-side with this year's slate. Looking at the two, the best description I can come up with is that last year the monthly categories seemed more categorical, if that's the right word. Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that they seemed like traditional nonfiction subject areas, and thus perhaps easier for me to wrap my head around. Whereas this year, some months were more ... I don't know if "informal" is the word I'm looking for? Maybe nebulous? I'm thinking specifically of Heroes and Villains, and Hobbies, Pastimes and Passions. And then Prizewinners and "I've Always Been Curious About ..." didn't appeal as much to me because I like seeing the variety of books that people come up with on the (more or less) same subject or topic.
Maybe the problem is as simple as I couldn't think of books in those categories that I really wanted to read. Which isn't a very good reason to drop them, especially because I think other people quite enjoyed them.
On a purely cosmetic level, one thing I liked this year is that some topics had a correlate in 2016 but were given livelier names — I really liked Gods, Demons, and Spirits instead of Religion/Spirituality, and The Natural World instead of Natural History & the Environment. You could read essentially the same books for either year's challenge (this year's challenge being perhaps more broad, even), but the 2017 names seem more inviting.
But really, I hope you won't give too much weight to these musings. It wasn't the categories that kept me from participating every month this year but the distractions of real life. Even if you brought back these exact same categories — and I know you said you aren't planning to do that — I will still make an effort to participate because I love reading nonfiction.
Oh, one more thing I wanted to mention: I liked having a month in 2016 devoted to short-form works, Essays & Anthologies, because that's an area I enjoy reading but often find myself neglecting.
And one final thing: Regarding ideas to broaden the geography topic, I took a class in college that was called Introduction to Human Geography. It focused on the ways that places impact the people who live there, and how people impact the places where they live. It was really interesting and that aspect might also open up some possibilities to people beyond Maphead (which I definitely plan to fit into some month's category next year).
I really enjoy the challenge even though I haven't always completed a book. Particularly like how it gets me reading something I wouldn't have otherwise picked up.
Ed. to fix the typo.
>50 rosalita: Thanks for taking the time to think that through and write it down. I see what you're saying, and yes, some of them were informal. I want to keep a bit of that informality, while not heading too far in that direction, if that makes sense.
And a good reminder about the shorter works/anthologies section. That could definitely make a comeback next year. It wasn't a hardcore one that got lots of readers (as biography always does, or history) and it wasn't one that needed to be there for the sake of diversity, so I left it as one of those that could be put to one side for 2017, to bring something else in. Perhaps to add the Prizewinners category.
But thanks for all the stuff to think about; do keep the ideas coming...
>52 Chatterbox: Thanks for asking me to clarify my thoughts, Suzanne. I found it helpful for my own purposes as well. As far as the essays/anthologies, it belatedly occurs to me that there's nothing preventing me from using an anthology type book to fulfill one of the other monthly subject categories. If it didn't get a great response it may not be worth devoting a whole month to.
>53 m.belljackson: I'll come up with something... *evil mind plotting and whirring...*
I like the idea of essays. I like to read books like that and like Rosalita said - it is one that I neglect.
>33 Chatterbox: Love your review for The Book That Changed America. Book Bullet, direct hit. :)
My RLBC read March this past month. Geraldine Brooks also links John Brown and the Ttranscendentalists, so if you're looking for a bit of fiction on the subject ... here it is.
The 6th and 8th book from the far end (end end?) of the book covers in >1 Chatterbox: aren't showing up for me, so I can't tell whether you have The Beak of the Finch pictured or not.
Even though I have been a spotty participant this year, I hope to do better next year. :)
You got me with a book bullet as well. Book That Changed America is now on my wishlist.
>38 Chatterbox: Non-group member/lurker here, I discovered this challenge relatively recently and whilst I won't be joining the 75ers group (I think 60 books a year is always likely to be my very upper limit! Probably going to hit mid-50s this year, my best year ever to date) I'd love to join in with this next year. I mainly hang out in the ROOT and Category Challenge groups, but I'm only going to do one of the CATs next year, so would love to add one more monthly challenge from here. I'm much more into non-fiction than fiction, so am hopeful I can come up with something for each month. I can't really add to the 'what worked' discussion as I didn't participate this year, but looking at this year's categories none of them jumped out as ones I'd like changed particularly - I'm happy to go with the majority on this.
Having read through October's thread, I have already lost count of the number of BBs. Looking forward to many more next year!
Welcome Jackie, it was my first year doing this challenge too. I think I managed to read books in about 5-6 months so far, I’m not a completist where challenges are concerned, but I certainly get hit by a fair few BBs in here.
>62 Jackie_K: I think it's great if people dip in and out, the more the merrier. I really like the way this challenge has given me plenty of ideas for non-fiction - sometimes books for gifts as much as myself.
>33 Chatterbox: Has been belatedly added to the wishlist. How ideas change about what is 'acceptable' (including slavery) makes for such intriguing reading. How could people who in some ways seem so similar to 'moderns', hold such different ideas?
How Oscar Became WILDE features "...the icons of the literary world..." as they come alive in their more
'human' contexts. Book is based on the author's Lectures.
Fun and expansive reading.
I am not a “completist” either. I read what I can and most of the time it takes me more than one month to get done with a book I started. I would encourage people to lurk and participate when they can.
I don’t read 75 books per year either. Most of the time I get around 45 - 50 books read. The total number read isn’t what is important. The idea of sharing and discussing what we do read is where the fun is, and that is what this challenge is all about. It does help if you can get a book read once-in-awhile, but it isn’t the main thing.
If you read through the October thread you will notice that I didn’t finish reading my book until in November. I think that is the beauty of these kinds of discussions - you participate when you can and don’t worry if you can’t.
>60 streamsong: Will go back and take a look to see whether "beak" is there tomorrow (migraine, sorry). My display doesn't seem to correspond with what you describe -- I have set them up to display in rows of 5 books, so "6th and 8th books from the end" are a bit confusing to me. Does it not display in rows of five books to you? If in rows of five, can you give me row # and book #? That's how it appears on both my laptop and desktop and I've tried to keep the images small enough that it should be consistent on most non-phone devices. Still, if I duplicate the book, not a tragedy, but I it's small enough in image that I actually can't read all the titles today.
>62 Jackie_K: Welcome, Jackie!! Don't let not being a 75-book a year reader deter you from joining the group and starting a thread (if that's your only consideration.) OTOH, you may well not want to manage yet another thread in another group, which I would completely understand. Meanwhile, feel free to go back to January's thread, take a gander at the themes that we did have this year, and see what appeals to you most and least, and come back and weigh in with your thoughts. Since you'll be a participant in 2018, you've got every right to have a voice in what will be on offer. Also, is there anything missing here that you think could be a great reading theme? No guarantees, but please, please, don't hold back simply because you've only just stumbled upon us and don't feel that it's appropriate. Who knows? Something that you suggest may end up being the root of next year's most popular monthly challenge. I may be ring-mastering this thing, but I'm not a dictator. (Well, a benign dictator/gatekeeper with an open-door policy! *grin*)
A general reminder: Please, even if you don't finish a book in its "assigned" month, keep reading! As Benita noted, there is no law about this. Indeed, something I'd like to focus on in 2018 is keeping more of the monthly theme threads active throughout the year, as people keep reading books tied to that theme -- perhaps finishing books they started, reading "book bullets", or just stumbling over new books that they want to read in that area in addition to other non-fiction reading. Something to ponder.
I'm still reading about AI in Thinking Machines. It's a fairly general overview, but so far interesting to read about the different perceptions of what robots could do, and how long it would take scientists to get them to that point. In particular military frustration that promises of super soldiers just didn't materialise despite funding $$$.
>68 Chatterbox: Just a suggestion, not a criticism, but if wanting folk to keep reading the previous months, might it be an idea to run the thread without setting up a new one each month? We could link back to the theme post so people know which one were reading from. That way there would only be one thread to keep track of. I know I'm not great at going back in the year's themes.
Or everyone posts an individual 'bingo' type list per person and post updates to that...
(I will add that I like the current system!)
>68 Chatterbox: yes, I’ve gone back a few times and added a book to an earlier theme.
>70 charl08: I think I’d be more confused with one thread Charlotte. If we could continue this way, then maybe just have a link to each of the theme threads in the opening post, so as the year goes on, we can find the earlier one we want more quickly perhaps. Sorry Suz, that would be an extra job for you, I know.
One of the things that discourages me from revisiting old threads is the abundance of "filler" posts at the end of each one in the desperate attempt to get to the continuation number. Perhaps we should consider letting threads run their natural length and just be sure that we're linking to each of the previous threads in the current thread?
I agree with rosalita's suggestion in >73 rosalita:, as well as the idea of listing the 12 months and their themes at the beginning of each thread, and linking back to each; that way might be a good compromise, by avoiding confusion and keeping the themes easily available and accessible.
Yes, I can def. link back to each thread. I don't want to have one long, long, long long, long thread for the whole challenge that breaks at random points, but I agree the filler posts are a bit silly. So I'll post links instead, and count on you folks to follow up and star your own threads, if need be. The reason I pushed for filler posts was that a few people were complaining about "losing" the stars and thus losing the posts, even though theoretically simply searching for them with "nonfiction" would have located them readily enough. But it's about remembering to do that, I suspect -- if the star is there, t hen you know to look at it, versus vaguely remembering that there's some other thread you should be looking at, now WHAT was it again, etc. etc.
So, I'll shift to posting links to each monthly thread at the start and end of each thread, with the "end" being defined as the point when I set up the next thread.
>69 charl08: What unnerves me about AI is the idea that at some point, we will be creating machines capable of out-reasoning us and thinking independently, unconstrained by us. That seems to be the next frontier.
Would it be at all practical to set up all 12 monthly threads at the beginning of the year? Just skeletons, with the list of monthly themes and links to all the other monthly threads. You wouldn't need to post anything else until that month comes around but if you had links for every month to put in the January thread it might make it easier for people to go ahead and star them all right off the bat.
I'm not sure that's entirely practical. There are probably considerations that I'm not thinking of that would make it not work properly. Mainly, how do you keep people from leaping ahead and starting discussion on a month before its time? I could see that posting could end up getting diluted amongst all the threads so that the conversation in any one thread wasn't as robust.
I'm in the camp that one long thread for the whole year would be pretty unwieldy, especially when we want to encourage people to keep reading in previous themes even after the calendar turns over. That would make discussion rather chaotic, bouncing back and forth from theme to theme, I think.
THE ELEMENTS VAULT by Theodore Gray (no Touchstones today)
delivers a really impressive photographic, scientific, and historical presentation,
but sequencing and organization need attention.
I was really disappointed by Randall Munroe's Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. The conceit of the book is a couple of dozen things are explained using only 1,000 commonly used words* in an attempt to make difficult things easier to understand; however, for the most part I was left even more confused by the "simple" explanation than I would have been by a technical answer. There were a few things where Munroe managed to do well (the entry on the US constitution is actually pretty damn good), but for things like cells, car engines, and the Large Hadron Collider the explanations were so dumbed down I had trouble even identifying the topic.
*or a "hundred hundred" since "thousand" didn't make the list of approved words
I have loved reading the threads for this challenge. Usually I finish my selected book 1-2 months late. By that time, I have already stopped following that month's thread. For example, I finished Life and Death Along the Colorado River last week, and it was excellent, but it was for the Current Events month. I don't think I'd keep going back to check old threads for added books after the fact, even if it was linked to the current month's thread. Could we post on the current month's thread about books that we completed for previous months, or would that be too disjointed?
I agree with you. I think we should keep to the monthly threads. It will be easier that way. I also don’t care much for the filler posts. The LT people have made connecting the threads much easier to do, so this shouldn’t be as much of a problem as it was previously.
I also think that Suzanne does a great job of moderating this challenge and want her to keep it up. Therefore, I think she should do it the way it works best for her and the majority of participants.
In some ways I don’t understand all the angst about setting up the threads. I think that it is easy to take the word “challenge” far to seriously. There is no thread police that will come to your home or reach out from the inside of your electronic device and slap you for going against the rules. There aren’t many rules. LT is sort of self-governing and that is the beauty of it.
LIke #82 I often don’t get the book read within the allotted month. What I do in that case is put my post in the proper month and then in the current month I put a short post to let the other readers who are following along know that I finished the October book. If there is discussion about that title I think it should go back in the October months thread rather than the current thread. But by posting in the current month, it reminds participants that you finished and they can go back a month and check out what you had to say about your book in relation to the other titles that were read in that month. Again, there is no thread police who are going to slap your hands if you post something on November 15 in the October thread. While I understand that people move on there is no reason why you can’t keep the September thread starred until December if you are still reading your September book and as Suzanne said, post when you get the book read.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the goal here is to read more non-fiction and to have a group of people with which to discuss titles that are loosely linked by topic. The goal is not to “win” or to see who can follow the rules better than the next person. The goal is simply to expose us as readers to titles that we might not know about, to share what we have read with others, to talk about our titles in relation to the common topic, and to enjoy the experience.
>81 amanda4242: What a shame it didn't work - sounds like a brilliant idea, in theory!
>82 karspeak: I think there's no reason not to post that you've finished a book for the previous month's challenge in the current month, but let's try to keep the discussion focused on the specific month and theme. Post a link to your comments in the prior month's thread, so people can even more easily hop back and take a look. I'd absolutely LOVE for people to keep threads alive in this way -- but again, this comes down to people of all kinds, and including myself. I'll have to mentally remind myself to post that I'm reading another interesting current affairs book that I want people to know about, for instance, and post the link accordingly. Each of us will have to do his/her own share on that, and it's not even about structure, and what is posted where. For instance, by year-end, I could see us all posting and commenting about all kinds of books if we made it more of a free-for-all. That's why I'd like to kind of keep it within the bounds of one month/one challenge, while encouraging people to keep commenting and posting. As group organizer, I should be more active than I have been, I confess, and will try to be more on top of keeping those threads alive next year.
More broadly: Yes, "challenge" is just the loosest popular term. Perhaps "Non-fiction group read" would be even better, although that risks sounding as if we're all reading the same book. Still, does anyone feel that would be a better title for us: a non-fiction reading group vs non-fiction challenge? Because I really don't want this to devolve into a competitive sport at the top level (even if some of you do have your own challenges or targets that you have set for yourselves, because you have more fun that way.) I don't want this to be stressful, because I think one of the reasons some people give up on non-fiction reads is that they are long, take a month, two months or more to finish, require commitment, and perhaps because they don't have anyone to talk to about these books. So anything that adds to the stress is not a good idea, in my mind.
OK, my migraine is back (day three... argh) and even the cats purring hurts, so I'm offline for now. Shall leave you all to debate and ponder and try to kill this sucker dead.
"Challenge" is great - "Read" is what we will do.
Challenge motivates a lot better than passive Read.
>87 m.belljackson: It can also turn off people who have an aversion to thinking of reading as a competitive sport.. Even though as Suzanne says we are not at all competitive within the group, someone thinking of joining may not realize that.
Agree that "group read" sounds like we are all reading the same book, but perhaps "Non-fiction Reading Group" does not?
To be clear, I'm also fine with leaving it named as a challenge if that's what the group/Suzanne decides is best.
Can someone with a knack for doing so, create two poll questions and post them, pretty please? One question,"Are you happy with leaving the group's name as the 2018 nonfiction challenge next year?" And the second, "Would you prefer to call this group "the 2018 nonfiction reading group"?"
And then I'll assume that people who don't vote, really don't give a toss about naming/nomenclature issues.
Apparently you can only have one vote per message, so I'll split these up:
Vote: Are you happy with leaving the group's name as "2018 Nonfiction Challenge"?
Current tally: Yes 20, No 0, Undecided 2
And part two:
Vote: Would you prefer to call this group "2018 Nonfiction Reading Group"?
Current tally: Yes 3, No 7, Undecided 9
Well, I like challenge, because I always think of the challenge as being internal. It helps me focus on reading a broader selection of non-fiction, and to get to those books I always mean to get to, but somehow don't.
Hopefully no one feels any external pressure to be a completist in any of these challenges.
>92 banjo123: No all the pressure to be a completist is internal. LOL.
I was started reading Get a Grip on Genetics for the challenge this month but it is going so slow. Then I realized that I am halfway through Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong - and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story for fun and because it was a BB. I think that will fit the science theme and I should finish it this month as there are 3 people waiting for it at the library.
>62 Jackie_K: Hi Jackie, great to see you here.
I just started reading Lab Girl and so far it's fascinating. Early going, though.
From the library/Athenaeum, picked up a copy of Republican Like Me, for last month's challenge. One of those books aimed at trying to break across the dual bubbles that we live in in the United States -- the author realizes that he lives on a street in Washington DC that boasts all kinds of diversity, but not a single Republican. So he embarks on a (kind of predictable type of) voyage of exploration. Shall see how it works out. And post in LAST MONTH's challenge... (along with an update on the Masha Gessen tome, which I stalled on, I'm afraid, but that I will pick up again soon.)
Julia, thanks very much for posting those polls.
>93 Familyhistorian: I want to read Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong - and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story - look forward to hearing more. Can recommend Testosterone Rex on a similar theme.
I am glad somebody here is reading Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong for this challenge. I read the reviews of it, and put it on my TBR list. I can't wait for you to let us know what you think of it.
>68 Chatterbox: Thank you Suzanne! Other than "I've always been curious about..." I pretty much liked all of them, and I didn't hate "I've always been curious about...", just wasn't especially grabbed by it (I'm curious about loads of things, so that theme didn't narrow it down to anything for me). I'm looking forward to taking part in whatever format it takes next year. (I won't be starting a 75 thread - as you say, maintaining threads in two other groups is enough for me! But I will participate as much as I can with this group-within-a-group!).
>93 Familyhistorian: Hello! :)
Suez, I really enjoyed The Book that Changed America when I read it earlier this year, so I'm glad you thought highly of it. Just realized that I could read the copy of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry that I picked up last month for this month's challenge!
ETA I also just finished A Royal Experiment: the private life of King George III today--not this month's theme but definitely nonfiction.
>93 Familyhistorian: That sounds like a good book. Have just put it on reserve.
Joined by science writer Simon Quellen Field, Theodore Gray has expanded and extended his original ELEMENTS book
with more detailed explorations of each element.
Photographic presentation is beautiful and archival documents envelopes a unique and welcome addition.
Yet, problems abound.
(See review of THE ELEMENTS VAULT by Theodore Gray to continue.)
Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story, is an interesting and thought provoking read. Angela Saini looks into the history of scientific discovery and how it was shaped by the society at the time, how it changed as society and women's status changed, but how our conditioning still feeds bias when it comes to research. If you are interested in science, history or women and their place in society, read this book.
I'm still reading >69 charl08: - in particular how AI might preserve our memories of someone as an avatar. Apparently thousands have signed up for a company (Eterni.me) who stores the data whilst they try and work out the tech to actually do this. To me, Asimov (almost) made actual.
No sign from the library that my book is in, so this will roll into next month no doubt. I’ve been distracted by RL a bit this past week anyway, so less reading time.
So, here's a rough draft of my ideas for 2018. Anything that people find really appalling, let me know. I have adapted the suggestions for a geographical challenge, brought back essays, and because biography is always very popular, broken in half. The missing part is the focus on science, but there is room for that in December, or in January.
January – Prizewinners and Nominees -- nominees or winners for any non-fiction prize in the last decade. National Book Award, Baillie Gifford/Samuel Johnson Prize, and many many others. We can all start posting lists.
February -- Biographies -- self-explanatory -- a biography, not a memoir.
March – Far, Far Away: Traveling -- travel narrative.
April – History -- another perennial.
May – Boundaries: Geography, Geopolitics and Maps -- a new offering. Anything about places, and boundaries, and how they affect our lives. So, a book about maps, about geographical features (Krakatoa?) or about geopolitics (Samuel Huntington?) or anything like that -- all are OK. I'm making this as eclectic as possible.
June – The Great Outdoors -- another hybrid challenge. Want to write about gardening? About the environment? About outdoor sporting events, from baseball to sailing? Do you want to read Cheryl Strayed's book about hiking and her misadventures on the Pacific Coast trail? As long as it happens out of doors, it's all fine.
July – The Arts -- from ballet to classical music, to jazz and rock and roll, to sculpture and painting, and the people involved in these -- oh, and books about books, of course!
August – Short and Sweet: Essays and Other Longform Narratives -- self explanatory. Essays from any anthology, longform pieces from the New Yorker, etc. Please make them reasonably long and not just an 800-word news feature from Mashable. Think, New York Times Magazine, perhaps, or London Review of Books, or...
September – Gods, Demons, Spirits, and Supernatural Beliefs -- from the Book of Common Prayer to things that go bump in the night. A biography of the Dalai Lama? Go for it.
October – First Person Singular -- This is the spot for anything first person. Anything that anyone has written about themselves and their lives in any way. Tina Fey? Paul Kalinithi? (sp?)
November – Politics, Economics & Business -- The stuff we all know we should know about but sometimes hate to think about, especially these days. Call it the hot button issues challenge. Immigration/Racism? Banking regulation? Minimum wage debates?
December – 2018 In Review -- Frustrated because you've got leftover books? You've got too many book bullets from other people? Or -- omigod -- that new biography was just published and you must must must read it? Or you've been reading the lists of best reading of 2018 in the NY Times and just realized, omigod, you MUST READ this one book before the end of the year? This is your holiday gift, from the challenge that keeps on giving...
I love this lineup! Not only a nice mix of topics but I think you've ordered them in a way that's going to make fun transitions between months.
Looks like a great lineup. I slacked this year, even with the best of intentions, and never got to so much of what I really wanted to. I hope to do better in 2018. But I like your list and will print it out so I can start get myself organized. I think my main focus for next year will be reading books already in my house, exclusively. There are more than enough that I ought to be able to find at least something for each month! We'll see how that goes!
>107 Chatterbox: looks fab to me. I’ve not done as well as I had hoped this year. Clean slate ahead. Thanks for all your efforts Suz.
Maps! Genius idea.
It all sounds good to me, with the possible exception of religion, which I would replace with science. Heh, not unlike my attitude to life, which I appreciate, not everyone shares, so no worries :-)
Maybe it could be an either/or or both Category. I don’t follow an organised religion, but I’m still interested in the beliefs and wisdom of others.
>114 Caroline_McElwee: A laudably inclusive approach.
I spent quite a bit of time reading about (specific) religion as part of my childhood and (world) for my studies and feel like I have 'done my bit'. Although that said, there is a bio of Julian of Norwich that I still want to finish, so it's not a hard and fast rule.
>107 Chatterbox: - I especially love the themes for March, May, June, and August, but it all looks good. Like others, the religion/spirituality one is of less interest, but I know I can find something for it.
Thanks for taking this on once again, Suzanne!
I could always turn the religion into a "gods vs darwin" or "religion or science" category and let people pick ONE of their choice. No doubling up!
And as noted, religion/spirituality can also be about the way that religion has affected the world around us. So, you can read a history book about the Inquisition, if you want. Or something about the war against ISIS. Or something about Tibet's struggle for independence, which is based on its Buddhist identity. Think creatively about the challenge...
My book for the November challenge:
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (209 pp.)
Some people find Tyson irritating. I don't; I think his enthusiasm for his subject is charming. And this little book was the perfect bathtub book--small and broken into chapters. I only had difficulty wrapping my mind around the concepts in the first chapter with all the particles. The rest of the book was fathomable and entertaining.
>118 ronincats: - Last Thursday, I saw a new documentary film about Bill Nye, the Science guy, and his (probably futile) quest to debunk those insane climate change deniers and *creationists*. Yikes, some of those guys are certifiable!!
Anyhow, Neil de Grasse Tyson is in this film, not a lot but enough to make his presence felt. I haven't read his book but I have seen him interviewed enough to agree that his enthusiasm is infectious. I may give it a go at some point.
That looks good, Shelley, but it doesn't look like it will be screening anywhere around here. Pity1
Re the lack of science -- we had a "double science" this year, with one being a kind of natural science month and another being more of a technology emphasis. There are several options to squeeze in technology reads next year -- January and December are essentially open reads (well, January a bit less so, but...) and you can probably find a scientific book that would qualify as a biography, business or perhaps history. Want to read about Tesla or the space exploration race? That would fit in under the business part of November. Or give me an example and I'll see if I can find a way to squeeze it in...
I think most things will fit here, while ringing the changes a bit. I wanted to reflect the fact that we ALWAYS have a lot of reading of the biography/memoir category.
>120 m.belljackson: Geology would definitely work with geography -- that's why I specifically mentioned geographic features and Winchester's book about Krakatoa. Or oceanography, too. Anything about features that would show up on a map, let's say, or that can be mapped.
>123 Familyhistorian: You might be surprised. Go back several years. I might even revise it to say "so far this century."
I think whatever you decide will be fine. As you note, there is a lot of flexibility. For instance, >120 m.belljackson: - geology could fall under The Great Outdoors theme...
Some places to start with prizewinners/nominees:
U.S. National Book Awards
Baillie Gifford Prize, formerly Samuel Johnson Prize
Pulitzer Prizes -- general nonfiction
PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award
Wellcome Book Prize -- mixed fiction/nonfiction
The Orwell Prize -- 2017 longlist -- includes some fiction
Andrew Carnegie Medals of Excellence (this is the longlist for 2018)
Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards
Los Angeles Times book prizes -- any non-fiction category
This is largely US biased. Feel free to toss out your local ideas. For instance South Africa has the Alan Paton Award...
>129 m.belljackson: And astronomy would work for that maps challenge too, because there are maps of the stars.... :-)
>128 Chatterbox: I found the Gold Dagger Awards for Non-Fiction https://thecwa.co.uk/the-daggers/categories/non-fiction/
That looks very interesting. I am thinking of Larson's "The Devil in the White City" which was short listed in 2003.
Royal Society prize
And there's a bio category for the Costa prize (used to be Whitbread).
I have quite a few of the non-fiction prize winners. I may go for The Islamic Enlightenment for January.
I just purchased The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America in a Kindle sale. It won the Bancroft Prize, which I had never heard of, but which is "awarded each year by the trustees of Columbia University for books about diplomacy or the history of the Americas." So there's another source of potential reads in January!
>133 Familyhistorian: Another Day in the Death of America was shortlisted and was very good.
I like the title of Close but no Cigar: A True Story of Prison Life in Castro’s Cuba from the same list.
Some of these have incredibly long longlists, too, like the Carnegie Medal. it's winnowed down to a shortlist of three nonfiction titles and only one winner, but the longlist has more than a dozen titles.
Well, I finished my science book The Elegant Universe. Green is a good writer, and his analogies are very helpful. I was proud of myself to start with, as I was following along well. I think reading Hawking's A Brief History of Time last year was a big help. However, by Chapter 4, I was over my head. And I read it too fast, because I wanted to finish this month. So I have a little more understanding of string theory now, but it is still pretty vague. I will try a re-read sometime to help firm up the knowledge. (maybe in January, as I think it was a Pulitzer Prize nominee.)
I'm puttering along in Lab Girl, which is fascinating when it's about the trees and seeds and stuff and a little less so when it's about her, unfortunately.
>140 Chatterbox: Oh, I wanted to read Lab Girl. Sorry she is not as interesting as the trees and seeds!
In the interest of moving to December; my planned reads for December are Blink and Becoming Nicole. My book group decided we would read both of these for our January book group. I would not have picked either up on my own, and especially not Blink!
>137 charl08: Thanks Charlotte. That looks like a good one but I am hoping to use this as a challenge to read some of the books already on my shelves - there may be a few TBRs around my house.
>142 Familyhistorian: That makes sense!
I'm not sure about out of my comfort zone. Maybe religion! Or military history?
The first thing that comes to mind is reading about Trump, but I really don't wanna.
>145 jessibud2: I haven't read any Gladwell, although I feel like I probably *should*.
Here is a link to his podcast. It will give you a taste of how he writes, how he thinks. I find him fascinating.
There are only the 2 seasons so far.
Online Advent Calendar that's a lot of fun! Last minute Christmas Gift!
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I am not sure what I'll pick up for December. Maybe a straight biography - I rarely read those, as they can sometimes be dry... But I've had Catherine the Great on my shelves almost since it was published.
I haven't managed to make much progress on Engineering in History but I did finish my October - Current Affairs book Columbine. I finished it in November, but I do have a start on Engineering. I will probably have it finished sometime in January. I have some other reading that I need to finish this month.
I am not sure what I will read for December as the only kind of book that I don't read are self-help books. (I kinda like books, so read most anything put in front of me.) I was assigned to read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and never made it through that book. I also don't read that many Romance novels, but those wouldn't count for this reading list. I am thinking of trying to find Book That Changed America since that one was a Book Bullet from Suzanne and would fit the perimeters of the challenge.
I may just stick with trying to finish my Engineering book.
>143 charl08: Religion sounds like it would be out of your comfort zone or maybe one of those military history that goes into the battles in great detail. I am sure you could find something like that, Charlotte.
For myself thinking what I have on my shelves but is still out of my comfort zone, I am planning on reading Shrill. As I am a shy and retiring type of person reading about someone who is opposite of that will definitely be out of my comfort zone!
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