Friday, November 13, 2015

Nonfiction November Week 2 - Book Pairings

Week Two of Nonfiction November, this time hosted at Regular Rumination. The topic is book pairings i.e. pairing together a fiction and a nonfiction book or two nonfiction books that go together somehow.

Since good things come in threes, however, I have put together three groups of three books. Sorry for the rebellious attitude, but I just couldn't resist the opportunity to push more books! I'm sure all of you reading this understand.

Pairing the First: All the Hemingway a Person Could Want

Fictional Account of Ernest
Nonfiction Account BY Ernest Hemingway
Nonfiction Account by a BETTER Hemingway (or Gellhorn to be accurate)
I really liked Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood and appreciated its attempt to bring life to the women in Hemingway's life. For a real account, look to his memoir A Moveable Feast. Then, to find out more about Martha Gellhorn, his third (and coolest) wife, who worked as a journalist in World War Two, try her memoir Travels with Myself and Another, which includes a trip to China with Hemingway.

Pairing the Second: Badass Lady Scientists and Mathematicians

Adventures of Badass Ada
Interesting Accounts of
Brilliant Scientist who
Faced Pervasive Sexism
How Women Scientists Still
Face Sexism Today

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage made me really wish that Ada Lovelace had gotten a chance to do more work. But, if you liked those fictional adventures, look to Headstrong to read more about actual female scientists who did important and vital work. And then look at The Only Woman in the Room for an important reminder that although we have come far, there is still important work to do so that women get the chances they deserve to succeed in the sciences.

Pairing the Third (and Final): Some RFK, anyone?

Personal Account of the Cuban
Missile Crisis
Important Context about RFK's
Presidential Campaign
A Thorough, Though Relatively
Laudatory Biography

I have a bit of a Kennedy obsession ... with Bobby Kennedy anyway! He lacks some of the glamour of big brother John, but in my mind is much more interesting for his complexity and evolution after JFK's death into a presidential candidate in his own right. His evolution on Civil Rights is especially interesting.

Thirteen Days is his memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which reveals fascinating historical details about that tense time and which was made into one of my favorite movies, also called Thirteen Days (Yes, Kevin Costner's Boston accent is horrible, but just go with it, and Steven Culp as RFK is very good, I think). The Last Campaign provides historical context for RFK's presidential campaign, situating it in the Civil Rights challenges, victories and tragedies of the late 1960s. And, Robert Kennedy and His Times, with its 1000+ pages is a very thorough account of his life, including his time in JFK's administration. 

Hope some of you find some new books from these selections. And, if anyone else is a lady scientist/mathematician or RFK fan, I'm always looking for recommendations!

Next up: Week Three and my opinions on nontraditional nonfiction formats. An exciting essay on audiobooks! A rambling discourse on nonfiction graphic novels!! Do I like ebooks? Stay tuned ...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Nonfiction November Week 1 - The Year in Nonfiction

So, I've decided to participate in Nonfiction November this year (my first year of blogging). Unlike for many participants, this project is not so much a challenge for me or an attempt to get me reading more nonfiction, as nonfiction is my go-to genre category for comfort reading. Instead, I am giving myself a relaxing month of reading as a counterpoint to some stressful work projects.

The topic for this week's posts is: Your Year in Nonfiction.

Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I've read a good amount of nonfiction so far this year, although perhaps less than in years past as I've been doing a couple of fiction projects. Out of 85 books read, 43.5 were nonfiction, including 7.5 of my top 10 favorites this year (the .5 is The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, which is fiction with factual footnotes). That's about 51% and while I don't have hard data for other years, it feels a bit lower than usual.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?  
That would have to be The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union by Serhii Plokhy, which not only sparked a desire to read more of Plokhy's work, but which also had me buying 5+ other Russian history books. It's rare to find a nonfiction book that can be described as a page-turner, especially when the historical outcome is in no doubt, but the sense of menace and uncertainty flows through the book.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

This is a little cliche since everyone is recommending this book this fall (and deservedly so) but Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Just such an important book, especially at this moment in our country's evolution.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven't read enough of yet?

I read a lot of Science, Mathematics and History, as well as Memoirs. I can never get enough of any of these! However, I should read more Travel, Philosophy and Feminist Theory. In the History arena, I would like to read more ancient history. I have a copy of Herodotus' Histories that I will hopefully get to this month. Also, all of those Russian history books!

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

A chance to relax and read some comfort books. I want to take a break from worrying about whether I am keeping up with the current "it-books" and instead focus on reading whatever catches my fancy. 

With that in mind, I am currently reading Take Your Eye Off the Puck: How to Watch Hockey By Knowing Where to Look by Greg Wyshynski. 

It mixes his blogger/podcast style (all the jokes) with insights about how to view the game as more than just "who has the puck." It's fun and I'm liking that his voice translated well into book form.

I am about to start This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress, edited by John Brockman, which is a series of essays from leading scientists about the scientific concept or idea they feel is most holding up advancement in their field. 

What about everyone else? What is the one nonfiction book you are looking forward to the most this month?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Recently Acquired Books


It's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) and the topic is: Last Ten Books That Came Into My Possession! This is the perfect topic for me as I've recently rediscovered my love of buying books after a Half-Price Books moved in nearby. It's great for my bookcase but horrible for my bank account! I've also been going to the library often but since I've been checking out everything that's remotely interesting, I have too many library books out to narrow the list to just ten.

So without further ado, here are my ten most recent purchases:

                                                               Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel
1. Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel by Rebecca Goldstein - I'm obsessed with mathematical histories and biographies of mathematicians so when I spied this at Half-Price Books, I had to have it.

                                                               Madam Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest
2. Madam Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest by Eleni Kounalakis - Last month, I got to hear the author speak at the Bay Area Book Festival about her experiences as the U.S. ambassador to Hungary. She's such an interesting, forceful and compelling speaker and she was kind enough to sign my copy after.

                                                                Exactly Opposite the Golden Gate: Essays on Berkeley's History 1845-1945
3. Exactly Opposite the Golden Gate: Essays on Berkeley's History 1845-1945 by Phil McArdle - Picked up at the local historical society booth at the festival. As I did my undergraduate degree at U.C. Berkeley, I'm always interested in the history of the area.

                                                                 Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East
4. Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith - I've been on a Russian history and literature kick lately and this was noted as an accessible overview in a few reviews. Plus, my local B&N, which is rapidly becoming a toy and action figure store, actually had it in stock!

                                                                The Physics of Sorrow
5. The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov - For the Bulgaria entry in my European Reading Challenge. Couldn't resist the cover on an expedition to Green Apple Books in SF (couldn't resist a lot of books there, actually. I picked up at least 10 and forced myself to put them all back except for this one!)

                                                                Civil to Strangers
6. Civil to Strangers and Other Writings by Barbara Pym - I didn't buy this myself but actually won it in a giveaway from the lovely Thomas of Hogglestock (formerly myporch). I am a huge Barbara Pym fan (especially Excellent Women) and was thrilled to find a Pym I hadn't yet read. The vintage wallpaper cover is great too.

                                                                 If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
7. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino - My first Calvino! Only in the middle of the first chapter, but really liking it so far. My kind of magical realism.

                                                                 A Little Life
8. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - For once, I am reading one of the it-books of the moment. Pleasantly, so far it promises to be as good as the hype.

                                                                An Exaggerated Murder
9. An Exaggerated Murder by Josh Cook - An homage to Sherlock Holmes and a murder mystery parody combined with multiple references to James Joyce. Sign me up! Found out about him from the interesting, but now defunct 2 Book Minimum podcast.

                                                                 The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity
10. The Perfect Theory by Pedro G. Ferreira - A breezy history of the theory of relativity? Totally right up my alley!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Packing (books) for a Short Trip

I will be going away soon on a short trip out of town and a currently have a serious packing dilemma: Which books should I bring? And how many?

I'll have my Kindle, of course, which contains at least thirty books that I need to read, but because I am hopelessly afraid of being caught with downtime while at the airport, with an uncharged Kindle, I also need to take a book or two (or three) along for bookish emergencies!

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent MillayCurrently, I am thinking about taking a biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford, that I picked up after reading Kate Bolick's book Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own. Millay is featured as one of Bolick's five "awakeners" i.e. five women who have influenced her life and Bolick made her sound so fascinating that I ran straight to my Barnes & Noble and picked up Milford's biography.

Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever
I also have a book about the creation of the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks team that made it to the Stanley Cup final - Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever by Bruce Dowbiggin - which I have been meaning to read for some time. It has the advantage of being nonfiction (which always can hold my attention), about a somewhat non-serious subject (which means I won't have to concentrate so hard on the plane - always a good thing!)

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley (Agatha Raisin, #4)

Equal Rites (Discworld, #3; Witches #1)
I will probably also throw in a very light book for the plane, specifically for hours three or four of a flight when you start to feel irritated and antsy about it being over soon. I'm considering a Terry Pratchett since I have never read him and my sister keeps telling me I need to do so immediately. I have a copy of Equal Rites, is that a good place to start? I also have an Agatha Raisin; the little mass markets are the perfect size to go in a purse to be read while waiting. Maybe I'll just bring both!

Four books for four days seems about right, yes? Between those and my Kindle I should be set. The Kindle is necessary since I often want to spontaneously pick a book at random while I travel. Since you can't control anything else about your flight, it's nice to be able to pick a book according to your present whims.

All the Light We Cannot SeeWhen I get back next week, I'll be starting All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for book club. I was so happy when we voted on this novel since some of the other choices were not my cup of tea. On a related note, am I being a hopeless snob about Paul Coelho and Mitch Albom? Should I give their books a try? Input would be much appreciated.

Monday, June 1, 2015

BOTNS Book Bingo 2015

My Bingo card (mostly). I didn't save a pdf version so this is a recreation with the same categories but in a different configuration.

Even though I'm already doing three challenges for 2015 - Back to the Classics, the Nonfiction Reading Challenge, and the European Reading Challenge - my sister and I have agreed to do the Books on the Nightstand Book Bingo challenge as well. This lets me combine love of reading with my love of competing against my sister so I'm excited to get started.

We modified the rules a little bit to account for her class schedule, which worked out perfectly because our friend S later signed on to compete as well and she is busy with her thesis research this summer! So, rather than set Labor Day as our date to finish, we have set Labor Day as the date to get bingo and Christmas 2015 as the date to get a blackout. We also boosted the competitive aspect by agreeing to compete to see who could get bingo and blackout first. Winner gets lunch so we are taking this very seriously! 

I should also admitted, I suppose, that we complicated it more by exchanging the middle free square for a category picked by the other competitors. These categories, of course, ended up being huge challenges for the person who got them. My sister picked a "Young Adult novel" for me, knowing that it isn't a genre I frequently read (will I be banned from the world of book blogging by admitting this?). I, in turn, gave her the dreaded "Sports-related" category and told her she could borrow one of my many hockey books. Weirdly, she declined my generous offer. Poor S got stuck with "That you've pretended to have read." I suspect that we may all curse each other by the time Christmas comes!

My card is not bad otherwise, although I have already discovered that, even in my late twenties, it is very difficult to find a book "By an author born the same year as you." If anyone knows of a great author born in 1986, please pass along the information. My blackout depends on it! As some fairly extensive searching has uncovered, finding an author of the same age would be much easier if I had passed the thirty threshold. 

The only category I truly dread is the "Historical Fiction" square, since I find increasingly that I can't stand to read fiction that reflects the outdated gender roles that existed for much of human history. Conversely, I hate novels in which the female characters seem too out-of-their-time, since they strike me as substituting wishful thinking for historical accuracy. And, worst of all for someone seeking historical fiction to read, I don't enjoy books about kings and queens and the courtiers who loved them or at least slept with them to advance their own interests. This may take some digging.

Still, the project should be great fun. Any suggestions for any of these categories would be appreciated!