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The 2018 Nonfiction Challenge Part I: Prize Winning Books in January

75 Books Challenge for 2018

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Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 1:51pm Top

Welcome back to all nonfiction devotees! It's (almost) January, and (almost) time for the third year of our nonfiction challenge to kick off!

While it's called a "challenge", it's really a challenge lite. That is to say, you can jump in and read as much or as little as you like, and take as much time as you want to finish a book. I'll consider this a success if discussion on the January thread is still going on in December, along with chatter on all the other monthly threads. That said, we'll be launching a new, themed thread at the beginning of each month, and opening that up to discussion, so over the course of the year, we'll hopefully cover a lot of ground.

Of course, no challenge or set of challenges is perfect. That said, I'm hoping that there is enough flexibility built in here that you can manage to find something that will suit your taste in most months if not all of them. So, if you're a science nut, remember that there are prizewinning science books, and biographies and memoirs written by scientists, and politics and business can involve science (biotechnology? solar energy?), while June's "Great Outdoors" challenge will cover botany, biology, astronomy, oceanography, geology, earth sciences of any kind, etc, etc. That's an example of the kind of creativity veterans of this challenge bring to it.

The goal is to post some details about the book(s) you'd like to read at the beginning of the month and then come back later on and tell us how you're doing. Do you like it or loathe it? Perhaps you'll convince someone else to pick it up and read it! (There's a reason why December's category is a catch-all one, allowing for "book bullets"!)

To kick off with, in January, the plan is to read a book that has been a nominee or won a non-fiction book prize of ANY KIND within the last decade. (so, from 2007 to 2017, interpreting that decade generously) Some of those lists of nominees can be quite long, so delve in and see what you can find! The National Book Award and the Baillie Gifford Prize are just the tip of a very large iceberg.

What we're reading:

What's on tap for the rest of the year? Well, to help you make your plans, here's the list...

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...

As always -- if you have questions, post them here, and if I don't get back to you rapidly enough, feel free to send me a PM. Welcome back to return readers, and welcome to newbies!!

Edited: Dec 27, 2017, 6:30pm Top

To get people started hunting for books to read in January, here is one of the lists I had posted previously of nonfiction prizes, listing winners and 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...

Charlotte had suggested the following:

Royal Society prize

And there's a bio category for the Costa prize (used to be Whitbread).

Adding a link to the Wainwright Prize at the suggestion of libraryperilous, aka Diana -- I have already spotted a book on there that intrigues me. It's full of books (with a focus on England) about nature, the outdoors, and English-focused travel.

Dec 26, 2017, 11:43pm Top

I have The Children's Blizzard all geared up for January but lots of reading still to be done before the end of the year.

Dec 27, 2017, 12:44am Top

>3 Familyhistorian: Welcome back! I'm still reading to cross the 2017 finish line as well, but figured that if I didn't get this set up, I"d forget all about it until Jan 1...

Dec 27, 2017, 1:09am Top

I’m here and in 2018 I’m going to keep up a bit more!! great to see this thread, Suzanne.

Am about to download Margaret Macmillan’s The war that Ended Peace - it’s on my Kindle. It was nominated for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2014, I think (am typing this on my phone at the beach and will check later on...)

Edited: Dec 27, 2017, 3:08am Top

Three of my planned reads for January fit into this category:

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong (2017 Wellcome Book Prize shortlist)
Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr. (2017 National Book Award for Non-Fiction longlist)
No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need by Naomi Klein (2017 National Book Award for Non-Fiction longlist)

Hopefully I can read all three books in January, but I'll definitely finish Locking Up Our Own and No Is Not Enough.

Dec 27, 2017, 7:56am Top

Thanks for those links to the various prizes, Suzanne. After browsing through, I was quite pleased to find that one of the nominees (and runners-up) for the 2014 Baillie-Gifford Prize is Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead, which I happen to be listening to on audio right now. I am only just half way through and so will finish it in January, and therefore will be able to count it for the January book. I still have to continue looking through the other links; who knows, maybe I'll find another from my stash that will fit. My main focus in 2018 will be to read from the piles of books already in my house (with the exception of audiobooks, which I almost exclusively obtain from the library).

Dec 27, 2017, 8:31am Top

>5 cushlareads: Great to see you, Cushla! (The beach, she says; and me shivering under my duvet this morning...) Apparently I read and loved that book, but oddly have little specific memory of it, although it's kind of creeping back now. I wonder where I put it? It was a galley...

>6 kidzdoc: Welcome! I figured that with your Wellcome reading (ouch, pun alert...) that you would find this month a good opportunity to participate. I plan to read David Frum's book about Trump when it is published mid-January -- obviously won't qualify for this challenge, but I find him intriguing as he's one of the few people who has had the intellectual courage to turn his back on his former traveling companions among the neocons (although he may remain conservative in some respects -- I just don't know.) But his change in political philosophy has been astounding: he basically said "I can't accept as valid this approach, these objective, etc." and found the whole thing hollow at its core -- and so decamped from the AEI. He's now writing for the Atlantic and you'd think he had committed high treason or something. (His mother, a liberal, was probably the most respected Canadian broadcast journalist until her death in the early 90s, so I've been aware of him for most of my life; we're much of an age and fellow Canadian expat journos, but he ended up in neocon circles, writing speeches for Dubya.) So his new book, like much of his recent writing, absolutely eviscerates Trump. He's very eloquent. In some ways, I'm finding him more interesting than Klein, precisely because his views have morphed so dramatically and he is still struggling (publicly) to define them. But I'll look forward to reading what you have to say about Klein's book.

>7 jessibud2: Village of Secrets is very good, and Moorehead's latest in this cycle of books is about a family of Italian anti-fascists, the Rossellis: a mother and her two sons, based in Florence, who lost almost everything fighting Mussolini. Nowadays, with the phrase "antifa" or anti-fascist being tossed around all over, it was fascinating to read about the people who originated that phrase, and what it meant then, and think about what it is today. Not sure it's on any prize lists, but something to bear in mind for later in the year -- biography next month, or history in April, for whoever is interested!! The title is A Bold and Dangerous Family.

Dec 27, 2017, 9:05am Top

My reading is still curtailed while I'm getting settled into a new place, but I hope to participate in this challenge most months. I need to finish the audio of A Square Meal (James Beard Foundation Award), and I will pull out The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher from my TBRs. It was a Samuel Johnson prize winner in 2008 and received a number of other nominations and awards.

Dec 27, 2017, 9:12am Top

>8 Chatterbox: - Oh! Please tell me the title of David Frum's new book. I would be very interested in reading it. I do find him to be quite articulate and unafraid to speak the truth, so different from most Republicans, who are too scared and worried about their own asses to care much about anyone else's. And yes, I was also a fan of Barbara Frum, and even went to her memorial after she died (it was held at Massey Hall and was a wonderful tribute to her).

I am finding Moorehead's book to be very enlightening. I have read a lot of Holocaust literature (fiction and non-fiction) but this one is educating me politically, in ways and in detail that a lot of other books don't. I think there are 12 discs and I am only just on disc #5, I think, so hopefully (if the library allows me to renew it), I can finish it early enough in January to squeeze another book in there. I did see Donovan Hohn's Moby Duck on the PEN award list and I never got to that one this year, so I am eager to try to squeeze that one into January.

Dec 27, 2017, 9:43am Top

Already I'm being hit with book bullets! Well, I won't cry too much about it; it is after all one of the things I love most about this challenge.

I thought I'd mention a tip I've found helpful, if you're looking to fulfill this month's challenge with books already on your shelf: You can add a column to your catalog view to show you the Common Knowledge Awards/Prizes field. Using that view on my To Read collection, filtered down to nonfiction, made me realize I have quite a few books that fit this category. I haven't narrowed it down yet, but when I do I'll be back to add my name to the list,

Dec 27, 2017, 9:48am Top

I have the audiobook On Human Nature, by Edward O Wilson in my Audible library. It is a Pulitzer Prize winner. I'll try to get to it in January.

Dec 27, 2017, 10:03am Top

Returning to nonfiction is a 2018 reading goal of mine, so I'm looking forward to this. And, as >11 rosalita: noted, the bullets already are flying.

The Wainwright Prize might be a good source for both the January and June challenges.

Dec 27, 2017, 10:21am Top

Hmmm. I'll probably finish Killers of the Flower Moon before the end of the year, so I'm going to have to stir up something else.

Dec 27, 2017, 12:05pm Top

I will be back late in the day to add all the little images up top!

>13 libraryperilous: Welcome to the fray; and yes, the book bullets tend to fly madly around here.

>11 rosalita: Thanks VERY much for this tip!!! That is very useful. I'll add it to the general info up top.

>10 jessibud2: The new David Frum book is Trumpocracy: the Corruption of the American Republic.

I wish I had gone to Barbara Frum's memorial service... One of my life's ambitions was to be a guest on her show. Sigh. "The Journal" was such great TV. It's odd, but I remember hearing in 1976 that she had been diagnosed with leukemia, from a mutual family friend (another woman in broadcasting). But then, since she kept on working and working, I assumed that was wrong. And then she suddenly died. And it turned out to have been true all those years, but she had hidden it, in order to keep on working and to have professional opportunities... The things that women do... (Or once had to do -- I doubt someone would have to do that now.)

Dec 27, 2017, 2:07pm Top

I'm planning on reading Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2010, and which has been on my shelves for 3 or 4 years just waiting to be read.

Dec 27, 2017, 3:32pm Top

>15 Chatterbox: - Yes, she had leukemia and was treated for it for 18 years before she died and only let her co-workers know in the last year or so. How's that for stamina!! And grit, and integrity!

Dec 27, 2017, 4:33pm Top

Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson won the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Memoir/Autobiography. I plan to read it in January.

Dec 27, 2017, 5:02pm Top

Thanks so much for another year Suzanne. I'm not sure what I'm going to be reading for January, but I will be reading!

Dec 27, 2017, 5:57pm Top

OK - I'm in. My goal in 2016 was to read at least one nonfiction a month. I didn't necessarily read one every month but I did read more than 12 so I'm counting that a success.

I won't promise to complete the challenge but I'll sure play along.

Thanks for the award lists.

BTW: I read The Children's Blizzard many years ago. Very good.

Dec 27, 2017, 6:32pm Top

>20 SuziQoregon: Playing along is all that's needed! And welcome back.
I had never heard of The Children's Blizzard -- either the book or the event -- but it has piqued my curiosity.

>18 EBT1002: Another book on my mental list of "gotta read that before I die..."

Life is too short!

Dec 27, 2017, 6:56pm Top

Lab Girl was in the third of my TBR Non-Fiction stacks.

Published around 2016 and written by Hope Jahren,
it received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Memoir/Autobiography.

Dec 27, 2017, 9:51pm Top

I am planning to read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion for this month (and for the January AAC). I've never read Didion, so we'll see...

Re: David Frum - I am also interested in his new book. I follow him on Twitter and always just want to retweet his posts with a "Ditto" comment.

Dec 28, 2017, 12:33am Top

>7 jessibud2: Looking forward to your assessment of Village of Secrets, Shelley. That one is on my shelves (or somewhere in a stack somewhere because I am running out of shelf space.)
>15 Chatterbox: I didn't realize that David Frum is Barbara Frum's son, probably because Barbara was/is so much of the Canadian news scene.
>20 SuziQoregon: >21 Chatterbox: I hadn't heard of The Children's Blizzard before I caught it as a BB on LT. I am looking forward to finding out about it.

Dec 28, 2017, 8:10am Top

>10 jessibud2: I missed the mention in your post first time round, but I've just taken a BB for Moby Duck - onto the wishlist it goes.

Dec 28, 2017, 10:36am Top

I am leaning toward Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog for January.

Dec 28, 2017, 10:55am Top

>23 katiekrug: I'll be interested in your thoughts on Didion. She and Joyce Carol Oates are my top two Most Overrated Authors Ever, so I try to read comments from people who react more thoughtfully to their writings.

I may have to make The Children's Blizzard my January choice.

Dec 28, 2017, 10:58am Top

>27 libraryperilous: - Ruh roh! I like JCO - not a Super Fan, but I've enjoyed what I've read of her...

Dec 28, 2017, 11:27am Top

Two prspects for January are No is Not Enough and The Islamic Enlightenment.

Dec 28, 2017, 12:19pm Top

Well this gives me a reason to read or listen to Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. It's been on my list for a while now.

Dec 28, 2017, 1:27pm Top

Dec 28, 2017, 1:59pm Top

>30 SuziQoregon: I do like Lawrence Wright’s work, but I’ve not read that, so will look forward to your thoughts Suzi.

Dec 28, 2017, 4:56pm Top

>32 Caroline_McElwee: I've heard good things about it. I listened to Inside Scientology in 2016 and I've held off on this one because I didn't want to read them too close together.

Dec 28, 2017, 8:26pm Top

I plan to read Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson - the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner in History.

Dec 29, 2017, 6:30am Top

Here are my possibilities for this month, all selections off my own shelves (hooray!):

October 1964 by David Halberstam. It was a finalist for the 1994 CASEY award for the best baseball book of the year. I love Halberstam and I love baseball, and I was born in October 1964, so this one is a triple threat.

The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, an account of a group of Mexicans who attempt to cross the border into the Arizona desert. It was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

The Story of Ain't by David Skinner, subtitled "America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published," this book won the PROSE Award in 2012 in the Language & Linguistics category.

Dec 29, 2017, 6:40am Top

I had to take a break from this group for the past year but I'll try to get This is London: Life and Death in the World City by Ben Judah read. It was a nominee for The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (2016).

'This is the new London: an immigrant city. Over one-third of Londoners were born abroad, with half arriving since the millennium. This has utterly transformed the capital, for better and for worse.'

Dec 29, 2017, 9:02am Top

I've got it narrowed down to two Samuel Johnson prize winners:

2014 - H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
2008 - The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

I doubt I'll get to both this month, but I want to read both sometime this year.

Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 12:23pm Top

I've finished The Most Dangerous Book about the publication of Ulysses which was just fascinating - I had no idea Britain and the US were burning books in the 1920s. It would be eligible for this if anyone is still looking for a book! (Winner of the 2016 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism and Winner of the 2015 PEN New England Award for Nonfiction).

I'm going to read Black and British: a forgotten history, which won a PEN award.

Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 12:36pm Top

>35 rosalita: I forgot about the CASEY award for best baseball book. No doubt that I can squeeze in some wintertime baseball reading.

Here's a list of the nominees over the years, in case anyone is interested. I've probably read, or at least own, most of these, so it's a matter of choosing one or two or more. http://www.spitballmag.com/Casey-Award#CASEY-Award-Previous-Nominees

Dec 29, 2017, 2:04pm Top

Argh, I think I'm up to about four book bullets for books that I didn't even know existed and now must read. That's not even mentioning the books that I either own and remain unread, or that I know I want to read, like The Devil's Highway and Negroland, but don't own. This is dangerous.

>38 charl08:, oh, I loved The Most Dangerous Book. Listened to the audiobook when it came out in 2014, and it was a hands-down five-star read. Slam dunk winner for people who are fascinated by books about books, literary history, and who want to learn about Joyce without necessarily reading Joyce... (beyond easier fare like Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.)

>37 thornton37814: Either of those would fit in easily later, too: the Macdonald book in the memoir category, or in "natural world", and "Mr. Whicher" in history. If that helps you make a decision...

Lawrence Wright's book re Scientology was fascinating. It made me think a lot about how we make decisions about newer religions and their theologies (we tend to determine that they are wacky, when perhaps equally "wacky" theologies are kind of grandfathered because they have been around for millennia -- our modern secularism/skepticism at work perhaps? It also made me consider that perhaps the ultimate test of any "faith" is how it treats its adherents -- that this is what separates a bona fide religion from a cult.

>26 Oberon: Book bullet with that one... And with Kerry's addition. Ho hum.

I've added Frances Fitzgerald's new book to the list. It's a chunkster, but it's an important book (and she's married to a former colleague, so I feel morally obliged to read it, even if I didn't want to!) I don't know whether I'll get through it, but I'll start it. I should finish the other two, but I've also got some non-fiction books lined up that don't fit into this challenge, so...

Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 6:29pm Top

>35 rosalita:, >39 lindapanzo: - Thanks for that link. I never knew there was even such an award. I haven't looked at it yet but on my *visit* to Value Village yesterday, among the books I came home with was a bio of Joe DiMaggio. I can't even remember the author's name but even if it isn't on any award list, I plan to read it anyhow, at some point.

Dec 29, 2017, 6:09pm Top

>40 Chatterbox: Interesting thoughts regarding Lawrence Wright's book.Goes along with mine after reading Inside Scientology

Dec 29, 2017, 9:29pm Top

>39 lindapanzo: I just sent that link to my nephew who wanted baseball books for Christmas.

Dec 29, 2017, 10:02pm Top

Dropping my star! I got Guns, Germs and Steel from my SantaThing...

Dec 30, 2017, 12:12am Top

>30 SuziQoregon: I read Going Clear last year for this challenge. It was very interesting but took me a long time to get through it for some reason.

Dec 30, 2017, 11:35am Top

>48 I'm leaning toward listening to it.

Dec 30, 2017, 1:16pm Top

>43 thornton37814: I hope he finds lots of books on the list. It does read like a who's who of baseball books over the past 30 years or so.

Dec 30, 2017, 3:13pm Top

>47 lindapanzo: He's on a quest to visit every ballpark in the NL and AL too. I think he may be doing some of the ones in New England this summer. The Braves are his favorite team. He even named his dog Maddux.

Dec 31, 2017, 12:18pm Top

Such a lot of interesting books to read in this thread.

Last year I didn't do well with the non-fiction at all. But this year I'd like to try again. I'll be starting No is not enough, and try to finish it:-)

Dec 31, 2017, 2:25pm Top

For January, I'll plan to read A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and the CASEY-nominated baseball book, Terror in the City of Champions.

Dec 31, 2017, 3:29pm Top

>49 EllaTim: Welcome back to the fray! It's not really a challenge or competition, just an opportunity to encourage people to share more of their reading ideas by giving them themed months... So don't feel under any pressure!

Edited: Jan 1, 10:30am Top

Robert McCrum’s choice of Best 100 non-fiction books in the English language.


I have read 8, and have another 26 on the shelves, so maybe I’ll read a few from the list this year. See where there is some cross-over perhaps.

Jan 1, 10:21am Top

>52 Caroline_McElwee: - Interesting list. I have read 6, and have one on my shelf. There are plenty I have never heard of, I will admit.

Edited: Jan 1, 11:03am Top

>52 Caroline_McElwee: Thank you. I've saved the list, too.

I hope to continue reading books from my shelves for this challenge - and reading the oldest first. With that in mind, I'll read (try try try!) The Long Tail by Chris Anderson which won an Audie (Business) and the Gerald Loeb Award in 2007. It just barely creeps in, since it won several other more major awards in 2006.

Jan 1, 11:30am Top

>52 Caroline_McElwee: I wrote down several books I would like to read from the list. I've read quite a few of them. There are a few I have no desire to read.

Jan 2, 3:31am Top

>52 Caroline_McElwee: A great list to draw on over the year, and to cross-reference with prize lists for this month; thanks!!

Jan 4, 11:20am Top

I'm going to try a bit harder with this challenge this year, rather than just glancing in occasionally. It helps that January's topic is so flexible!

I'm planning to read Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction in 2015. It's this month's selection for my book club, so I have the motivation to make a decent start on it, and the 20 pages I've read so far have been very interesting and informative.

I'd also like to at least make progress on Between the World and Me, which was a book club selection last year that I didn't quite have a chance to finish. I'm aiming to read at least 10 more pages, so that I don't just stall and never get it finished. So I may still be posting about this one in February and beyond.... It won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015.

Jan 4, 4:03pm Top

I forgot - If a book is listed as an Amazon Book of the Month, or a New York Times Best Sellar, does that count as an award winner?

Jan 4, 4:06pm Top

I tried that sorting trick you told us about - and it works like a charm! Thanks.

Jan 4, 4:45pm Top

I narrowed my choices down to the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, since I seem to have a bunch of them in my collection. I came up with three titles that I have in my collection that I may dig out and read for this challenge.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan was the winner of this award in 2016. Ajax, the Dutch, the War: Football in Europe During the Second World War by Simon Kuper was a finalist for the award in 2003, and Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard by John Branch was a finalist for the award in 2014. I'm not sure if being a finalist qualifies it for this challenge, but I think the first one I find on my shelves will be my choice for this month.

My other choices are more conventional. I having been giving the reading eye to Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder and 1776 by David McCullough. 1776 was a Quill Award finalist in 2005 and despite its less than stellar reception in the non-fiction challenge in 2017 I might give it a try. Ship of Gold was an IPPY finalist for essay or creative non-fiction in 1999. (IPPY - Independent Publishers Book Awards.)

Edited: Jan 7, 3:04pm Top

I decided on the 2002 American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award winning Book An American Insurrection: the Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962 by William Doyle. Our library has it in our collection and I have been wanting to get to it, but it has been popular in our library and has been checked out each time I go to get it. When I checked on Friday it w there. It has been on my reading list since 2012, it w on the shelves, and it is calling to me, so this is the one.

Jan 8, 5:29am Top

I finished Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy, I thought it was an excellent expose, based on interviews with North Korean defectors, of life in North Korea in the time of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, including covering the famine in the late 1990s. It follows six people in some detail, looking at their lives from childhood through to making the decision to defect and then a bit about how they got on once getting out (mainly to China and South Korea). In the Epilogue the author talks about how Kim Jong-Il appears to be grooming his youngest son to take over, and wondering how that's going to turn out... (I'd be really interested in a companion volume which looks at life in Kim Jong-Un's NK). In many places this is harrowing, but also fascinating looking at how giving all for the regime makes sense in the wider context. I found the various points at which people start questioning what they've always known and thinking about defecting very interesting, as well as the various strategies people used to ensure they weren't detected. We've all seen the scenes of people howling and crying when the leader dies, and it was really interesting when she talked with people about how they behaved and the logic behind it when Kim Il-Sung died and they all had to be seen visiting the statues and displaying public grief.

Harrowing but very readable, and even though time has moved on and Kim Jong-Il is no longer leading the country, I suspect this is still a really important book for understanding today's North Korea. Highly recommended. 4.5/5.

Jan 8, 7:49am Top

>63 Jackie_K: Good review! The book seems really interesting.

I would think that nothing much has changed for people there. I'm wishlisting this one.

Jan 8, 8:02am Top

I have holds on the ebook copies at two different libraries for my non-fiction challenge book. I will cancel the other when one becomes available. Two copies are circulating at one; but only one at the other. Still, it depends on when the items were checked out and whether people return them when they finish reading or wait for them to expire. I always return early so others get their turn faster.

Jan 8, 9:31am Top

>64 EllaTim: That is my suspicion also, Ella. Sadly :(

Jan 8, 3:58pm Top

My copy of CHASING GOLDMAN SACHS just arrived - perfect for November?

Edited: Jan 8, 4:08pm Top

I am reading Catfish and Mandala which won the 1999 Pacific Rim Book Prize. (Kiriyama Award) Also the 2000 Whiting Writers' Award.

I am also planning to read The Year of Magical Thinking so this month may be a two-fer.

Jan 8, 4:11pm Top

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton

I loved this book. I found it captivating.
It was winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award 2012, (autobiography).

Jan 8, 4:13pm Top

>69 mdoris: Oh, I love that one too. The illustrations were beautiful, and her descriptions of getting up in the early morning to swim as a kid were memorable.

Jan 8, 4:55pm Top

>63 Jackie_K: good review. I've got this one on my library wishlist.

Jan 8, 11:12pm Top

>58 benitastrnad: Sorry, but no.

Apologies for being AWOL. I've been a bit busy running around, dealing with the cold weather and other stuff.

I'm going to add Daniel Mendelsohn's book, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic to my list; it was short listed for the Baillie Gifford Prize and he's coming to speak to the Athenaeum here toward the end of the month.

I will catch up with the cover images later in the week, I promise!!

I did read Michael Wolff's just released Fire and Fury about the Trump presidency. I doubt it will win any awards, for many reasons, but it was fascinating, also for many reasons. I've jotted down some preliminary thoughts on my thread, though haven't managed to get around to writing up any mini reviews yet. I have started off the year reading slowly... And my second non-fiction book isn't even out yet! I'm reading about travellers to the Third Reich, as a way of understanding how people process changes in the political environment that they witness, and try to convince themselves that it's all a "new normal."

So I'll get around to prizewinners/nominees -- eventually!!

Jan 9, 8:03am Top

Reading The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan which was one of a very few prizewinners that I have in my TBR piles. Have been wanting to read it for a long time, but to get to it I had to re-arrange all my TBRs which was a good task for the beginning of the year. Great book with a lot of heart breaking stories and I'm only about a third of the way through it.

Edited: Jan 9, 10:54am Top

>65 thornton37814: I wish everyone would consider returning ebooks early, Lori. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be common at either of the two libraries I use.

>73 Fourpawz2: I thought that one was really good when I read it last year! I learned a lot I didn't know about the origins of the Dust Bowl and the details of how terrible it was to live through.

Jan 9, 1:56pm Top

My real life book discussion group read Worst Hard Time a couple of years ago and we found it to be a very engaging book. It was one we all enjoyed.

Jan 9, 1:57pm Top

I didn't think so, so moved on and found a book that interested me. I have only read about 20 pages in American Insurrection but so far am liking it.

Jan 9, 2:01pm Top

>73 Fourpawz2: That was the first of Timothy Egan's books that I read, and I loved it. Unfortunately, I completely bogged down on his most recent one, about an Irish revolutionary who ended up in the US in the early decades of the 19th century and ultimately vanishing into the wilderness, if I recall correctly. I'll have to make another stab at getting into it.

Jan 10, 10:45am Top

Started listening to Going Clear yesterday afternoon.

Jan 10, 11:58pm Top

I am about 50% through Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik and am really enjoying it so far. (2014 winner of the Royal Society Prizes for Science Books Award.)

Jan 11, 8:07am Top

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead. This is the true story of how a small village in the mountains of France (one of many in the resistance network) helped to hide and save thousands of Jewish people during World War II, many of whom were children. That area of Vichy France were collaborators with the Nazis between those years of 1940-44. The author has done extensive homework to uncover the real stories of who was involved, how, and exactly what happened. She is a very good writer and although I have read a lot of literature (both fiction and non-fiction) of this era, I learned a lot of the history and politics of that particular part of the world that I hadn't known before.

On some level, I almost felt that there were too many characters to follow, but then, every single one of them had a story, and every one of them was important to the overall big picture. As well, each person truly deserved this recognition, at long last. Moorehead used archives, interviews with survivors and their descendants, and her own meticulous research to tell this story. It is good - and important - to read about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help their fellow humans, in times of need. As timely today as ever.

I know she has written other books and I think I will seek them out.

My mother's husband was a child living in France at that time and although he was not part of this particular story, his parents did manage to hide him with a kindly Catholic family, but in Belgium, until the war was over. They made it to Canada in the late 1940s or early 1950s, I believe. I talked to him last night after finishing this book, and he is going to get it out of his library to read.

By the way, this book was a nominee/runner-up for the Baillie Gifford prize (I will have to check, to find out in which year)

Jan 11, 9:28am Top

>80 jessibud2: This book has been on my wishlist for a while. Your review has nudged it higher on the list!

Jan 11, 10:13am Top

>80 jessibud2: That does sound like a really good read.

Jan 11, 11:05am Top

>80 jessibud2:
It is good - and important - to read about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help their fellow humans, in times of need. As timely today as ever.

So true.

Jan 11, 11:45am Top

>81 cbl_tn:, >82 Jackie_K:, >83 SuziQoregon: - Thank you for your kind words. I am a bit curious about a hard copy (I listened to it on audio and the narrator was very good, her French accent excellent). I wonder if a hard copy might have a map or diagram of sorts at the beginning, to sort of show who was who. You know, like some books have family tree diagrams at the beginning. I always love those and find them really helpful when reading a story with many characters. I do refer to them a lot when reading. In an audiobook format, it's rather a moot point but if I can remember (not always a sure thing, hehe), I will look for the book on the shelf next time I am in a bookstore or the library, just to see.

Jan 11, 2:09pm Top

Another fan of Village of Secrets here - very well written, as well as fascinating history.

Jan 12, 10:39pm Top

I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion for the AAC, and realized it qualified here as well. Definitely worth the read. I especially enjoyed her investigation into how grief is perceived by literature and how her experiences line up with the clinical definitions of grief.

I am also going to read the book I had planned for this challenge—Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction—because it was pretty high up on my TBR list anyway.

Jan 14, 8:05am Top

Finished The Worst Hard Time yesterday. Great book about a terrible event that need never have happened, but did because mankind, above all else, is greedy and stupid. Would like to think that at least it taught us a lesson, but I know it hasn't.

Jan 14, 1:13pm Top

I started In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi which garnered some awards.

Jan 15, 10:36am Top

I finished Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson, a devastating and chilling account of the infamous Attica prison uprising of 1971.
This meticulously researched book presents a step by step history starting with the conditions leading up to the riot and ending with legal settlements over 30 years later. Thompson includes the viewpoints of everyone involved: the prisoners, hostages, corrections officers, state troopers, lawyers, politicians, activists and survivors. The coverup, misinformation and political and legal maneuvering from the governor on down was just appalling. In 1971, I was in high school in Buffalo, NY and remember the many discussions we had in class. The state of NY had, and still has, lot to answer for.

Next up: Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine - winner of the 2017 Royal Society Prize.

Jan 15, 11:20am Top

>89 GerrysBookshelf: I remember that being in the news at the time.

Edited: Jan 15, 11:30am Top

>89 GerrysBookshelf: I've not read Testosterone Rex, but I did read another of Cordelia Fine's books last year (Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference) and thought it was excellent.

Jan 15, 3:06pm Top

Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog

As part of a family trip to South Africa a few years ago, my mother gifted me several books on southern Africa for reading before the trip. I got through most of them but not Country of My Skull. Recently, Charlotte mentioned that she was reading the book late last year and that nudge plus the Non-Fiction Challenge prompted me to take the book off the shelf.

Clearly I picked the wrong book to skip prior to my trip. Country of My Skull is an extraordinary book. The book is largely a look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was established following the collapse of the apartheid state. Krog was a journalist who reported on the Commission from beginning to end and much of the book draws from that reporting. However, what really elevates the book is Krog's own writing as she tries to grapple with what words and concepts like reconciliation really mean. She addresses contradictions like the tension between the ANC's "just" struggle against the apartheid state and the horrific violence that was meted out against perceived informers by the ANC. Krog also does a remarkable job of putting a human face on the proceedings. In addition to the gripping testimony of victims and perpetrators she talks about the emotional toll and post-traumatic stress that afflicts the commissioners and reporters covering the Commission. She also grapples with her own Afrikaner heritage and the experiences of her family both during and after the fall of the apartheid state. All of this leads to a very nuanced understanding of what was and was not accomplished by the Commission as well as an understanding of apartheid and its generational impact on both blacks and whites in South Africa.

The way Krog personalizes many of the stories gives the reader a digestible understanding of apartheid and its consequences whereas a book of pure reportage would have minimized much of the horrors. Some stories are very difficult to tell without numbing the reader and thus reducing the horrors of the reality. Krog overcomes this challenge and tells a chilling story of a crucial period in South African history without losing the vital human aspect of the story.

Very highly recommended. Do not make my mistake and leave this book on the shelf.

Jan 15, 4:36pm Top

>92 Oberon: Good review! Interesting subject, I'm going to look out for this one.

Jan 15, 10:16pm Top

I finished The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Katte Summerscale.

Jan 15, 11:59pm Top

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert argues that we are currently experiencing a mass extinction (the sixth since the origin of life on this planet) and that humans are the cause. The book is well laid out, walking the reader through the basics of evolutionary theory before looking at the factors that have played a role in mass extinctions both past and present. Each chapter includes a featured species that exemplifies the broader chapter topic.

The book is well researched and does a good job breaking a complex issue into digestible chunks, but I was left wanting more detail. The structure was also frustrating at times, with Kolbert jumping back and forth between the broader topic and her investigations into the feature species for that chapter. Some of these investigations, while interesting, seem to serve mainly as filler to pad out the chapter.

All in all, this is a good general outline of evolutionary theory and the factors contributing to the current extinction event. Worth reading if you are looking for a basic overview.

Edited: Jan 20, 5:09pm Top

I am still making progress on An American Insurrection and it is a very engaging work of non-fiction. I am still in the early stages but am learning about Medgar and Marlyie Evers and James Merideth. I was surprised to learn that both Evers and Merideth were veterans of the Armed Forces. Both were promotable when they left their respective branches of the armed services. They knew how hard life was going to be for them in the future, but were disciplined and dedicated to the cause. The author also points out how President Eisenhauer was not in favor of integrating the military and after he became President he felt it was part of the office to enforce laws that were put in place by previous Presidents. Even if he disagreed with those policies. Something not true today.

Jan 16, 2:45pm Top

>95 irishbob06: - I thought that was an excellent read.

Jan 17, 5:43pm Top

>84 jessibud2: The hard copy of Village of Secrets has a list of principle characters, several maps and photos of the people involved. It also has a chronology. It is on my shelf and I really should get around to reading it one of these days, Shelley.

Jan 17, 5:46pm Top

David Laskin set the scene for The Children's Blizzard by first showing the families who immigrated to the open prairie in the late 1800s. It was billed as ideal land for farming. No mention was made of the devastating winters.

The author peoples the land, informs us of the state of weather prediction (or indications, as they were called). After that he introduces us to the individuals who will be caught up in the storm. No one was prepared for the blizzard and so many of those who were killed were schoolchildren that is was called The Children's Blizzard.

I can see why The Children's Blizzard was a prize winner. I love reading about the trails and tribulations of early weather prediction. It reminded me a bit of Isaac's Storm.

Jan 17, 7:27pm Top

>98 Familyhistorian: - Oh, thanks for this, Meg! I think I will now seek out the hard copy from the library, just to look at the things you mentioned that I missed by listening to the audio.

>99 Familyhistorian: - As soon as you mentioned early weather prediction, I immediately thought of Isaac's Storm. That was such a great book! Looks like The children's Blizzard is a BB!

Incidentally, I just finished reading another non-fiction but it isn't (as far as I know) a prizewinner, so wouldn't have thought to post a review here. But I did, on my own thread. It's Blizzard of Glass, about the Halifax Harbour explosion. Written for a YA audience, I found it very readable and well-written.

Jan 17, 7:43pm Top

I just finished A Square Meal, which I really enjoyed. I got the rec from this thread when someone else posted that they planned to read it, so, thanks! Per this Amazon snippet, it is an "in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced—the Great Depression—and how it transformed America’s culinary culture." This book won a James Beard Award for culinary writing. I thought this might be a folksy collection of "make-do" recipes. On the contrary, it is a very thorough and well researched account of the government's attempts, and more often their avoidance of, feeding its malnourished or starving population. People, especially children, were developing scurvy, rickets, pellagra, etc. from poor diets. Vitamins and calories had just been "discovered" a few decades earlier, so this was the chance for nutritionists to tell Americans what their diets should look like (on a very slim or nonexistent budget) to avoid various diseases. People wanted to just feed their kids cornmeal mash, for example, because it was filling, but it didn't have certain vitamins, etc. This is how the first version of the food pyramid (although it was just 5 food groups--milk, fruits and vegetables, grains, fat, and protein, not in a "shape") came to be. It was designed to keep people from STARVING.

This book was also an excellent look at the warring politics and mindsets of the day. Many politicians and many American people were averse to giving out food because they thought it would be well nigh impossible for people to go back to working after having "been on the dole." It was interesting to see the historical roots of today's welfare/freeloader debate.

Jan 18, 11:35am Top

>101 karspeak: Glad you liked it. I did, too. I knew so little about the American diet in the first half of the 20th century. I've been reading quite a bit about food history lately. I'm currently reading Breakfast: A History. Not sure that it's prize winning and so might not fit this challenge this month but quite interesting nonetheless.

Jan 18, 7:31pm Top

>101 karspeak: I'm reading A Square Meal myself. Really enjoying it. I'm at the point now where the authors are describing how things like "kitchenettes," "cafeterias," etc. arose between the World Wars. I find it really fascinating.

Karen O.

Jan 18, 7:43pm Top

>102 lindapanzo: >103 klobrien2: My sister has been raving about the audio course Food: A Cultural Culinary History, so I am looking forward to listening to that!

Jan 20, 9:28am Top

>92 Oberon: Excellent review! I am adding this one to the pile.

Edited: Jan 20, 5:15pm Top

An American Insurrection is an amazing work of history. I can understand why it won an award. Good writing and great historical research.

I am still in the part where the author is setting the stage, but his description of Mississippi in 1962 is that it was a police state. The big culprit wasn't the KKK. It was the Citizen Action Committee. The KKK was for poor whites the Citizen Action Committee was an organization to which most businessmen and all community leaders belong. People were coerced to join because if they didn't there would be consequences.

Jan 20, 5:46pm Top

Jan 22, 10:06am Top

>15 Chatterbox: - I know that Politics doesn't come up here until November, but I thought you might be interested in hearing David Frum talk about his new book, Trumpocracy, which is apparently more about trump's enablers than about trump himself. He was interviewed this morning on CBC radio and although I love the morning host and think he is a good interviewer, the one question I wanted him to ask, he didn't. I wanted him to ask Frum if he thought trump was mentality unfit.

Anyhow, here is the interview and it's good. I will read the book:


Edited: Jan 22, 11:57am Top

I am deep into my book for this month and I have to say that American Insurrection by William Doyle is fascinating. It was so engrossing that I came to work today and did some personal research in the library.

What Doyle has to say about the Kennedy Administration and Civil Rights was so shocking to me that I needed back-up to find out if Doyle was a scholarly author or just some left-wing crack-pot. Turns out he is a scholarly author, and this book was well reviewed and deserved the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association.

I have to say that I had NO IDEA about how the Kennedy Administration was played by the Southern Racists and the Southern Democratic Party. This book is shedding whole new light on the Civil Rights movement and the lack of support that they got from Washington all the way through to LBJ. Until Robert Kennedy finally developed a conscience there was no backup in Washington for the Civil Rights Movement.

This book is certainly eye-opening and in light of the events last week at the University of Alabama it helps to explain why people think they can come to the South and say what they want. I am so glad I picked up this book to read this month. It has proved timely and relevant in addition to being historically accurate and a darn good yarn.

Edited: Jan 25, 3:31pm Top

LAB GIRL review in 2 parts:

Before you go out to cut the life out of another Christmas tree, read the Tree and Plant essays
in LAB GIRL. Many readers will deeply miss the loss of all those forests chopped down to "celebrate."
The earth will miss them too. Oxygen is still pretty important for survival.

Hope Jahren's beautiful words inspire a deeper attachment to any trees you have or will want to plant,
water, fertilize, love, and care for.

For all that good, it is hard to respect her description of the horror of a slaughterhouse as "magnificent."
If she intended irony, it was certainly lost. And her son being encouraged to beat a tree over and over
is depressing - why not lead him to a drum instead of a living plant?

Jan 22, 1:59pm Top

>109 benitastrnad: I think you hit me with a bullet Benita. I did know some of the problems, from reading years ago, and from friends, but I’m sure there is more information available now.

Edited: Jan 22, 10:00pm Top

Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

"Negroland children were warned by their parents that few Negroes enjoyed their privilege or plenty; that most non-Negro Americans would be glad to see their kind of Negro returned to indigence, deference, and subservience."

Between the late 1940s and the early 1960s, Good Negro Girls mastered the rigorous vocabulary of femininity. Gloves, handkerchiefs, pocketbooks for each occasion. Good diction for all occasions; skin care (no ashy knees or elbows); hair cultivation (a ceaseless round of treatments to eradicate the bushy and the nappy). Manners to please grandparents and quell the doubts of any white strangers loitering to observe your behavior in schools, stores, and restaurants."

Margo Jefferson was born in 1947 to upper middle class African American parents. Living near (and later in) the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago, Margo and her sister Denise had access to education, lessons, and social promotion. Her memoir examines the cost associated with living in this segment of society, knowing that her deportment reflected on far more than her family (though certainly that) and that the intersection of race and class provided for a dizzyingly complex social terrain in which to come of age.

Despite a bit of choppiness in the early going, this memoir is poignant and insightful. Jefferson's shifting sense of self in context as the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements of the late 1960s and 1970s is particularly evocative. She authentically shares her struggles with belonging, boys, thoughts of suicide, and finding her place as a writer and cultural critic. Definitely recommended.

Edited: Jan 23, 11:03am Top

>100 jessibud2: Actually, Blizzard of Glass won several awards so it would fit in this month perfectly. I found the list on the book's Common Knowledge page: https://www.librarything.com/work/11464855/commonknowledge/81766139

In the meantime, I have finally started October 1964, a baseball book by eminent historian David Halberstam. I'm not too far into it but so far it's exactly what I expected.

Jan 23, 11:40am Top

>113 rosalita: - Oh, thanks for that. Wow, I have actually finished 2 for this month in this challenge! For me, that's big! lol. Sometimes, I struggle to complete one! :-)

Jan 23, 2:51pm Top

I finished Hidden Figures, which as everyone knows is a great telling of the history of Black female mathematicians in NACA/NASA. Won 7 awards, though one was a best screenplay award, so let's call it 6.

Edited: Jan 23, 6:00pm Top

>115 drneutron: We just added a copy to our collection at work and I've got my eye on it!

ETA: Maybe I'll read this one for next month's biography read.

Jan 24, 6:30pm Top

I’ve read two prize winners this month and one (Fire and Fury) that doesn’t really bear mentioning and will never win any prize. But Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann was excellent. Outrageous the horrible treatment of members of the Osage tribe in Oklahoma in the early 20th century by the local white population.

Even better was Isabel Wilkerson’s epic The Warmth of Other Suns. I posted a review if anyone is interested but considering I’ve had this book on my shelf since 2011 I may be the last person on earth to read it. It was absolutely incredible: 5 stars and if you by any chance haven’t read it do yourself an enormous favor and look for it. Narrative non-fiction at its best

Jan 24, 6:35pm Top

>117 brenzi: - I also have the Wilkerson book on my shelf but only acquired it about a month ago, when I saw it on the shelf at a used book store. I hope to get to it sooner rather than later but not sure when that might be. I have heard nothing but excellent reviews of it, so that bodes well.

Jan 24, 10:44pm Top

I finished Killers of the Flower Moon as well, and thought it was excellent. In contrast to Bonnie, I do think that Fire and Fury is worth at least reading, but agree heartily that it will never win any prizes. Instead, I urge a close reading of Trumpocracy, which lived up to my expectations -- a really devastating critique of Trump, but also a focus on what the crucial issues are: the constitution, democracy, etc. etc. Even when I disagree with Frum, I understand his logic, and he's not interested in gossip, but facts.

>108 jessibud2: if you read the book, I think it comes across clearly that he believes Trump is utterly deranged.

I loved Wilkerson's book, and if anyone hasn't read it -- try to find a home for it somewhere later this year. Really. It's amazing.

I've started reading The Evangelicals, but am not sure I will finish either that or Masha Gessen's book before the end of the month. I have read some other non-fiction, some good (Travelers in the Third Reich) and some meh (Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon and a collection of snippets by novelist Charles Johnson about writing. I'm just finishing an ARC of The Girl on the Velvet Swing, which came out last week, so I'm late on reading and reviewing that one... About the murder of Stanford White. Since it's all about allegations of rape and abuse, it feels a bit relevant to today's "metoo" movement.

Meanwhile, I want to finish Daniel Mendelssohn's book, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic by Friday evening, when I'll go to hear him speak at the Athenaeum. It was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize, so that WILL count for this -- hurrah!!

Jan 25, 6:59am Top

>119 Chatterbox: - Suzanne, an even better and more in-depth interview with David Frum that took place a day after the one I posted in >108 jessibud2:, is here:

Trumpocracy is like gum disease

I will see if the library has copies of the book yet and if so, will get on the wait list.

Jan 25, 8:53am Top

I'll finally be starting my pick for this month - The Year of Magical Thinking - later today.

>119 Chatterbox: - I very much want to read Frum's book. I follow him on Twitter and find myself nodding a lot when I read his posts.

Jan 25, 9:40am Top

Thanks for the reminder of the Daniel Mendelsohn book. I heard an interview with him on the NYTimes Book review podcast and he loved the way he described his relationship with his father. So great that you're hearing him speak!

Edited: Jan 25, 10:36am Top

It turns out all the nonfiction I've read this month had some kind of award:
Hidden Life of Trees was the Indie Choice Award(adult NF) 2017
Thunderstruck was a Book Awards Honor Book for NF 2007
Lion was an Australian Book Industry Shortlist for Biography 2014
and Hunger was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for Autobiography 2017

Edited: Jan 27, 10:36am Top

This has clearly not been the month for Guns, Germs and Steel, but I will keep reading it...

I am nearly done with The Year of Magical Thinking, which I like very much. I also have Blizzard of Glass in the library book pile and so I will probably read that one next.

>109 benitastrnad: Totally took a BB for An American Insurrection, thanks!

ETA: >123 raidergirl3: Ooh. I have The Hidden Life of Trees. I forgot about that one!

Jan 25, 11:31am Top

>119 Chatterbox:. I didn’t mean to actually belittle Fire and Fury Suzanne but I didn’t find any revelations that hadn’t been revealed or suggested by other writers. And I know others have said there were errors beyond editing but I’m not sure what they were exactly. I’m looking forward to Frum’s book.

Jan 25, 11:50am Top

>123 raidergirl3: I bought The Hidden Life of Trees a couple of days ago, the ebook was reduced in the kobo store so it may be elsewhere too (kindle etc) if anyone else fancied having a look. I'm not sure when I'll get to it, but I'm looking forward to it already!

Jan 25, 3:56pm Top

Last section of LAB GIRL review:

In between the inspiring plant stories are her real life adventures with science and people.
When not complaining about lack of funding, these are mostly devoted to and dependent on
her friend and work partner, Bill. A monk? Gay? Gay monk? So totally in love with Hope
that he dares not ruin their near perfect balance by making any moves? Or ???

Oddly, she bemoans her relationship with her mother when many of us might have been thrilled
with invitations to garden which are enriched by her incredible nightly trips to her father's science lab.
These, to her, emotionally reticent parents shared their lives and their passions! Equally strange,
she never appears to connect with them after leaving for college - visits? letters? emails? gifts?
and were they even invited to attend her graduations and awards?

Tedious is the constant emphasis on budget constraints and Bill's salary, yet that pales as her
behavior, mental state, frequent "greasy hair" and thinning body all disintegrate with no one
taking her to a doctor or ER. Her impulsive undiagnosed Manic Depression leads to near disasters.

If young female scientists seek a role model here, they need to carefully sort out her depressive
symptoms and behaviors from the already challenging, yet realistic, expectations for Lab workers.

On page 241, there is a clear and reasonable explanation for all the UK visuals caused by
the overuse of "bloody" and "bleeding."

Jan 25, 4:14pm Top

>121 katiekrug: I think this would appeal to you a lot Katie, as Frum remains a rather iconoclastic figure who doesn't really make his home in either camp; In that way he rather reminds me of you, in particular because you are both fiercely opposed to the ravages that Trump has wreaked on American politics and the political system.

>125 brenzi: I realize that, and recognize that is not going to be a book that will be for all tastes, simply because it has the tone of a gossip book. I think Frum's book is more substantive, and Thus more interesting t.o people whose taste goes beyond idle gotcha journalism. Still, as I've said before I think that Wolff's tome does have value, for various reasons. It all depends on the reader and on and how they approach it.I look forward to hearing what you think about Trumpocracy if you decide to read that.

>122 vivians: I wish you could be here for the event, Vivian.The Athenaeum does post audios of these "Salons", but usually not for a couple of months. When the link to this eventIs posted, I will send it on to you.

Jan 26, 12:26pm Top

A gentle reminder that in the coming days, I'll be posting the link to the February thread. In an ideal world, it's great to have 150 posts on the old month's thread, as it means that no one loses the starred connection to the new thread, and has to go looking for it amongst all the others. So, if you have thoughts to share on your January reading, or ideas about what biographies (NOT memoirs -- I'm breaking them out into two separate months this year!) you are thinking about for February, this would be a great time to start discussing them, so that when I launch the new thread, we all make the leap seamlessly! Not that far too go...

Jan 26, 12:42pm Top

>129 Chatterbox: - Oddly, I read a biography earlier this month and am nearly finished another right now. Could I count them for February? Of course, I will choose another, as well.

Jan 26, 12:46pm Top

I’m thinking of reading Longitude for February, which has already been read and discussed by many in this group.

Jan 26, 1:08pm Top

>131 karspeak: Any book by Dava Sobel is great! She also wrote Galileo's Daughter and A More Perfect Heaven about Copernicus that could fit in as biographies. I've been meaning to read her The Glass Universe.

Jan 26, 2:04pm Top

I'm thinking I might finally get to Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie which has been on my shelf since the month it was released.

Jan 26, 2:08pm Top

Yesterday I finished this month's book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. It was interesting. A lot of the same information was covered in Inside Scientology which I listened to last year. Cult? Religion? Money making scheme? Maybe a little of all. After reading both books I'm come to the conclusion that L. Ron Hubbard was a loon and that David Miscavige (who took over the church after Hubbard's death) is just plain evil.

Jan 26, 2:25pm Top

>133 SuziQoregon: That's the book I am looking at also!

Jan 26, 2:48pm Top

>135 banjo123: Yay - we can compare notes

Jan 26, 3:15pm Top

#131 & 132
Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel remains one of my favorite biographies. It is so favored that I have not weeded my copy from my shelves and intend to keep it for some time.

Jan 26, 3:15pm Top

I intend to finish reading Georgina Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman for February.

Jan 26, 3:27pm Top

>133 SuziQoregon: and >135 banjo123: - That's one of the options I'm considering, too!

Jan 26, 3:32pm Top

I downloaded Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter by Matthew Denison for February. It was the first "available" biography in the e-book collection at one of my libraries that grabbed my attention.

Jan 26, 3:41pm Top

I am still happily immersed in the past, October 1964 to be exact, and enjoying it immensely. I'll come back with my review when I've finished, even if that's after Feb. 1 (although I expect and hope I will wrap it up before then).

For February, my goal is to again read a book off my own shelves. I've got a wide variety (and I do mean wide!) range of possibilities, from James Dean: Little Boy Lost by Joe Hyams to Lincoln: Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan, among others. I'm leaning toward the Lincoln right now, but reserve the right to change my mind!

Jan 26, 4:43pm Top

>133 SuziQoregon:. Best book ever!

One book that I know I’ll be reading next month is The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss which has been sitting on my Kindle since 2013.

Jan 26, 4:44pm Top

From the sublime to the ridiculous, my current library book (which I doubt I'll finish by the end of the month so am going to count it for the February challenge) is a political biography of Scotland's current First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and I've also just started a biography of Liberace. I think it's fair to say they are very different!

Jan 26, 4:53pm Top

>142 brenzi: I know it's going to be wonderful. I think I keep delaying it because the anticipation of reading it is so wonderful. I love Massie's work.

Edited: Jan 26, 9:44pm Top

I'll finish I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong this weekend, and hopefully Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman, Jr. by Wednesday. I won't get to No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein this month.

My book for February will probably be Frantz Fanon by David Macey.

Jan 26, 10:25pm Top

I rather enjoyed The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale for the details about family life and society during the Victorian Era. It explores the murder of a young boy where the major suspects are family members and trusted servants. It is the case that inspired Wilkie Collins to write the first British detective novels and was given the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in 2008 and the British Book Award for Book of the Year in 2009, as well as a plethora of nominations for awards.

Jan 26, 11:48pm Top

>130 jessibud2: Why not look for a new biography to read in February, even a short one? I mean, I'm sure you can mention what you read in January to inspire people who are looking for books to read, but it's not as if we're "counting" or accumulating points toward some big prize at the end of the year... :-) Don't sweat it... Assume you've read your biographies for the year, and move on to something else if that's what you feel like doing...

I got to listen to Daniel Mendelsohn talk about his Baillie Gifford Prize shortlisted book An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic tonight, and it has inspired me to finished reading/listening to this. I chatted with him after the reading/discussion, as he thought I had asked a good question (about having older people attend college courses, generally -- whether that is done, and how it can be encouraged more broadly, when appropriate) and wanted to talk to me about that. He pushed for Bronson Pinchot to be the audiobook reader, as he had also done this for The Lost, and Mendelsohn thought he had done an excellent job on that audio. I've read that book, and it's wonderful (a possibility for biography, perhaps?? or even history -- it's a bit genre-bending) but don't know the audio version.

I'll have the February thread up tomorrow, probably...

Jan 27, 10:37am Top

I finished The Year of Magical Thinking. I struggled with Slouching Toward Bethlehem, so I went in to this with some reservations. This was a highly personal account of grief; living with grief, coping with grief, seeking an understanding of grief. Because my father-in-law passed away under somewhat similar circumstances last October, it really struck a chord with me. While each person has a unique journey through the grieving process, it gave me some things to think about in regards to how my mother-in-law might be feeling. I loved the writing. Highly recommended.

Jan 27, 10:39am Top

>145 kidzdoc: Oooh. I Contain Multitudes sounds really good. Adding that to the pile.

Jan 27, 10:50am Top

>147 Chatterbox: - Okey-dokey. Not hard to find, here on my shelves. In fact, I picked one that will help me with a few of my personal goals, namely, off my own shelf plus it's a bookcrossing book (I'm in that group, as well) that needs to be read so I can return it to its owner!

It's a bio (and apparently, the *definitive* one) of Leonard Cohen, I'm Your Man by Sylvie Simmons. I also heard a terrific interview with her this past summer, when I was in Montreal. I can post up a link to the interview, once I finish and review the book. It's a bit of a chunkster so I am not sure I will finish it in February but I will try.

Once the month turns, I will post the 2 bios I've read this month, just for the record, in case anyone else might be interested.

Jan 27, 12:20pm Top

Hoping to finish In the Darkroom by month's end.

Jan 27, 12:21pm Top

There were other books I'd hoped to elbow in, but they will get read later in the year...

Jan 27, 12:22pm Top

Hmmm, I thought it was 152 that triggered the link..

Jan 27, 12:31pm Top

>129 Chatterbox: Perhaps someone would give the definition differences of biography/autobiography/memoir. I think I have it figured out but would look forward to someone with more expertise to make the distinctions.

Nice to see that the magic number (150) has been met!

Jan 27, 12:49pm Top

Ahh, 154 seems to create the link...

Edited: Jan 27, 12:59pm Top

Mary, biography is written by someone other than the subject. Autobiography the subject writes about themselves, memoir tends to be autobiographical, but is about a particular event, or part of someone's own life, without being the full life story. It can also include someone else in their life, well-known or otherwise. So perhaps the brother of someone famous might write about their relationship, and that would tend to be considered memoir, or all three.

But then there are books that can be both biographical and autobiographical, as in the book I'm reading at the moment, Susan Faludi is telling her fathers story, but that also, by default has some autobiography in it.

I also always tag essays as autobiography, as they tend heavily to have aspects of autobiography in, or are autobiographical in that essays are generally about things that interest their creator.

Jan 27, 1:16pm Top

Thanks Caroline. I had the biograhpy/autobiography part figured out but when it comes to autobiography/memoir the area gets less clear for me. So perhaps for some books it is a judgement call.

Jan 27, 4:19pm Top

>156 Caroline_McElwee: Excellent definition. My own is fairly straightforward: anything where the first person singular dominates is either an autobiography or a memoir, and would thus go into the October category, which is "First Person Singular." Although I only specified memoirs, that would also include memoirs, from those by Katherine Hepburn, to Tina Fey's Bossypants or Susan Faludi's book.

It's that kind of confusion that led me to make the October definition "first person singular." These days, most autobiographies tend to be written as memoirs, and I agree, the definition can be a bit blurred in practice. I wouldn't want to try and separate those. On the other hand, a book about a subject who is separate from its author -- someone who isn't trying to examine some aspect of his or her own life as part of the book, or his or her own family, or his or her own family history, etc. -- would be a biography. There's that distance that lends at least some objectivity, or at least the subjectivity they bring to it will be the result of the opinions they form while doing their research, rather than starting the project with an emotional attachment to certain individuals or topics.

Will have this up tomorrow. Apologies for the delay, but today is a bad migraine day, and I'm heading back to bed to seek out comfort listens on Audible.

Jan 27, 7:38pm Top

>158 Chatterbox: Thanks Suzanne, hope you're feeling better.

Jan 27, 7:50pm Top

>158 Chatterbox: I hope you are feeling better soon.

I did finish (another) book for this challenge. Catfish and Mandala by Andrew Pham; which could be in the memoir category, but also won the Kiriyami Prize. Andrew Pham is a Vietnamese American, who went back to Vietnam, and bicycled across the country; in an exploration of his identity and roots. He has an interesting story; frankly maybe too interesting? I felt that the book could have done with some editing and focus.

Jan 27, 8:11pm Top

I am still working on No is not enough, it's good, but there's so much in it, that I can only read a couple of pages at a time.

And for next month, I just finished Nickolas Nickleby and thought about reading a Dickens biography.

Jan 27, 9:21pm Top

Like Donna, I read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. I've read many of the novels that were influenced by the Road Hill murder and it was fascinating to read about the case and the investigator that inspired the plots and characters in The Moonstone, Bleak House, Lady Audley's Secret, etc.

Jan 28, 7:59am Top

I hope you are feeling better today Suz.

Jan 28, 2:27pm Top

Thanks, am doing much better today. Yesterday was brutal, though, and I didn't get much sleep, so I'm exhausted today. Sigh. Life in the fast lane! Still, the February thread is UP!!!

Jan 29, 10:35am Top

I finished my Prize Winner for January and it was a humdinger wonderful book. For the first time in months I sat down yesterday and read because I couldn't put the book down. An American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962 by William Doyle was an amazing eye-opener and simply un-put-downable. This book is going on my personal Best-Reads list of 2018. The book was the Silver Gavel Award winner of 2002. This is an award from the American Bar Association. Each year the American Bar Association presents these awards to recognize work in media and the arts published or presented during the preceding year that have been exemplary in helping to foster the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system. American Insurrection was also on the Alex Award list from ALA. This is a list of adult titles for young adults. (Young Adults being students in high school.)

American Insurrection was published back in 2001 and I don't know why I waited so long to read it. It is an excellent example of narrative non-fiction. The book is about the desegregation of the University of Mississippi by James Merideth in the fall semester of 1962. It is also about the total ineptitude of the Kennedy Administration in handling this affair. It points out that the American North had no idea of the Southern mindset and opposition to the concept of desegregation and what form of civil disobedience that opposition would take. As a result they were totally unprepared for what happened the night of September 30, 1962 and federalized the National Guard much to late to do anything very effective and ended up sending a 30,000 man force of the U. S. Army to restore order to the university and the town. The author goes so far as to call this event an invasion and the last battle of the American Civil War. He provides evidence that this is not just hyperbole.

I was shocked by what I read in the book, coming as it did on the heels of the racist events at the University of Alabama two weeks ago. (I work at UA) I admit that I was doubtful of the credentials of the author of this book, so I enlisted the help of another librarian in researching the author. He is legit and so is this book. It is no wonder that 50 years after the integration of the big Southern Universities that there is still racism rampant on these campuses.

I can't sing the praises of this book high enough and thanks to Suzanne for putting this category into the mix of topics. I would never have gotten around to reading it otherwise.

Jan 30, 9:28am Top

>165 benitastrnad: I bought it after your earlier mention, and shall read it soon Benita.

Feb 1, 6:36am Top

>151 Caroline_McElwee: not going to finish this for another week or so, need a break from the main personality who is the subject.

Edited: Feb 2, 10:36am Top

Apologies to everyone who already read this on my thread ...

7. October 1964 by David Halberstam.

Every year I try to read a baseball book to get ready for spring training and the new season. This year I was able to combine that tradition with the January theme of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge, which was Prizewinners. This book was a finalist for the 1994 CASEY Award, given annually by Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine. (Also, how did I not know this magazine existed?!)

Many great people were born in October 1964. One of them is writing this review. But I digress ...

David Halberstam, one of my favorite popular (as in "not academic") historians, used extensive research and interviews to look back at one of the most exciting and compelling World Series matchups of the modern era on the 30th anniversary of its occurrence (that's 1994, for those of you like me who prefer words to math). The opening chapter profiles the state of the New York Yankees as the '64 season unfolded; the second chapter did the same for the St. Louis Cardinals. From this, even those readers who don't have the entire list of World Series winners memorized can figure out who is still going to be playing at the end. The book continues to alternate every few chapters between the two teams, so that by the time the Series starts the reader is as intimately acquainted with the history and personnel of these two franchises as any baseball fan of the era.

You might wonder how a seven-game World Series can take 475 pages to describe (the first game of the Series itself begins on Page 401). That's the genius of Halberstam: Before he gets down to recounting the twists and turns of the championship, he deftly builds up the reader's knowledge of everything essential that came before. Of course there are profiles of key players on each team, but he also weaves in the history of each franchise, the history of baseball itself, and the social climate in which the season and Series were played.

One of the things that makes 1964 such a great season to read about now is that it was the cusp of what became the modern era of baseball. Free agency had not yet been implemented (in fact, the player who would be most responsible for forcing the owners' hands on that matter was Curt Flood, who was playing for the Cardinals in 1964), but player salaries had begun to rise (modestly; we're talking about five-digit annual salaries, not the eight-digit salaries of today), and more tellingly, young players were no longer so easily controlled in any way except who they played for. Old-school managers and front-office personnel who began working in baseball during the old military-style, my-way-or-the-highway, all-white era were baffled at young players who chafed at too many rules and thought there was more to life than a game. (They also held ambivalent and racist attitudes about the black players they reluctantly signed, even 17 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.) It seems every generation must have its "kids today!" moment.

Beth mentioned on my thread that she loved October 1964 even though she doesn't like baseball, and after reading it I can understand why. Yes, it's nominally about baseball, but it's also about the way American life and society changed in the 1960s in ways both incremental and radical. (In that sense, it's a perfect companion to Halberstam's The Children, about the Civil Rights Movement.) And it's written by a man who was a master at presenting a complex subject clearly and who always let the personalities of the era take center stage.

Feb 2, 9:54am Top

>168 rosalita: - Absolute BB here! Thanks!

Feb 2, 10:36am Top

>169 jessibud2: Oh, good! I hope you enjoy it, Shelley.

Feb 3, 5:54pm Top

Another BB! I added it to my TBR list.

Edited: Feb 3, 8:33pm Top

I managed to finish I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong late on the evening of the 31st. I'll write a review of it next week, and post it here.

>165 benitastrnad: Thanks for mentioning An American Insurrection, Benita; I've added it to my wish list.

It's amazing, and disturbing, to read about the seemingly daily racist incidents by college students in the US, particularly ones posted in their Finsta (Fake Instagram) accounts. You may have heard about the one a couple of weeks ago by a wannabe white Latina freshman at Georgia State University, who complained about there being "so many niggers" on campus. Her comment was made public, and as a result she decided to withdraw from the university. Her comments were astonishing to me, especially since she decided to enroll at Georgia State, one of the most diverse universities in the country, where 75% of students are nonwhite, which is located on an urban campus in a majority black city. WTH did she choose to go to GSU if she hated black people so much?! Naturally, she is expressing remorse for her despicable comment, assuredly because she was caught and publicly outed, and not because she didn't mean what she said.

As someone posted in a meme last year, it's no longer your racist old uncle you have to worry about; it's your racist kid.

>168 rosalita: Great review of October 1964! That's definitely one for the wish list.

Feb 3, 9:04pm Top

>171 benitastrnad: >172 kidzdoc: I'm think you'll both enjoy the Halberstam, Benita and Darryl.

Feb 3, 9:55pm Top

The incident at UA was so disturbing to me because the racial rant took place with the young woman surrounded by her soriority friends. Nobody stopped her. Finally about half way through the rant somebody says that “maybe we shouldn’t be recording this.” The person who was speaking was expelled but I don’t understand why those who were with her weren’t disciplined or expelled. As far as I am concerned they were in on it as well.

I heard about the GSU rant this last week. Where is all of this coming from? This isn’t the U.S. that I grew up in.

Feb 4, 5:49pm Top

>172 kidzdoc: Oh, I'm glad you read I Contain Multitudes, Darryl. I hope you liked it. I sure did.

Feb 13, 3:53pm Top

I finished this last week:

In the Darkroom (Susan Faludi) ****

Phew. I have very mixed views about this book. On the one hand it is fascinating, but on the other, the subject, Faludi's father, is a very unpleasant character. He was an unpleasant man, and is a no less an unpleasant woman.

It is the first book I have read about a transgender life, and although I suspect it reflects similar lives of this age-group perhaps, it may be quite different for younger transgender travellers.

What I found with Faludi's father is that the woman he wanted to be is actually a male construct of a woman. He wanted to be a 1950s house-frau, admired by men, having doors opened for her and DIY done for her. The bother taken out of life, no responsibility. This was a male ideal of that generation as opposed to a female desire, and existed primarily because men had the power.

As a man Faludi is macho, aggressive and an abuser (both physical and psychological), with an ego to match; as a woman she is a manipulator and an abuser (at least psychological).

After 20+ years of no contact with his daughter, in his 70s, he gets in touch with her to inform her that he has had gender reassignment and is now Stefanie, appends photographs, and after a visit from her asks her to write his/her story.

Alongside her father's biography Susan Faludi explores the state of Hungary from around the time of the First World War, and of the shifting sands in relation to its Jewish population. Her father being a Hungarian Jew.

There is the sense of an attempt to identify or interweave the complicated transgender identity with that of the Jewish nation and ante-semitism in Hungary. An outsider in more than one way. Although she says at his death she realises that there is only one thing that is truly binary, you are either alive or you are dead. I suspect many would also question that.

As someone who doesn't believe that gender is binary, but a spectrum, I'd be interested in reading other, and younger trans life stories as Faludi's story is but one story.

I would have been interested to hear Susan Faludi's feelings as a daughter about what happened to them in an afterword, but maybe she hasn't worked that out for herself yet.

Feb 14, 12:07am Top

>176 Caroline_McElwee: I can recommend Becoming Nicole as the story of a younger transgender woman, and her family.

I really liked In THe Darkroom, which I read last year, and it has stuck with me. Faludi's father was a piece of work, but so interesting.

Edited: Feb 14, 5:49am Top

Thank you Rhonda, dropped on my Kindle. I don't think I will forget the Faludi for sure, it was fascinating.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2018

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