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But, it’s the truth! February 7, 2010

Posted by stacey in Genre Book Discussion, Non-Fiction, Thoughtful Ramblings.
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I love a good narrative non-fiction book, don’t you? I turn to the comfort of a true story when I just don’t know what to read or if I’ve read too many of a certain style, like too many cozy mysteries or too vampire/werewolf books, in a row. I think of picking a nonfiction book as a way of cleansing my reading palate, like a little taste of sherbet or a bit of cracker. Maybe you’d like to cleanse your reading palate with one of these books:

Chris: What the Dog Saw And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell is a collection of essays filled with captivating, thought-provoking renderings that originally appeared in the New Yorker over the past three years and has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for 12 weeks as of this writing. Gladwell goes wherever his interests take him and he brings you, the reader, along sharing behind-the-scene looks at famous people like Ron Popeil and infamous corporations like Enron. He theorizes about why people act the way they do—and how quickly they do at that. Did you know that the impression you get from observing a person for just two seconds, will hold true whether you have a 20-minute conversation or a six-month relationship with that person? Read the interesting experiment that bears it out and decide for yourself. It makes you think. And fret.

Ann: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot is a charming and largely autobiographical book about Herriot’s life as a country vet during the late 1930’s in the Yorkshire Dales of England. Sometimes the book is referred to as a book of animal stories. Herriot himself called his books “his little cat and dog stories” but they are so much more. In the 1930’s the nature of agriculture and veterinary practice were both changing. For vets, there was still a lot of work with farm animals, but treating small animals was certainly part of the practice. What makes his book so appealing is Herriot’s keen eye for observing the human-animal bond and his wonderful storytelling ability. The book is also as much a loving tribute to the Yorkshire Dales and its people as it is a book of “little cat and dog stories.”

Janet: The Good Soldiers by Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter David Finkel is a report of what it is like to be a front line, on-the-ground soldier in the ongoing war in Iraq. The author covered the story of the 2-16 battalion for the 15 months of their deployment. The 2-16, also know as “The Rangers” were first accosted by the environment. The sweltering heat, unrelenting dust, the abundance of trash and the smell of raw sewage were conditions that never changed. Daily patrols in Humvees were always risky because the roadside bombs, hidden by the trash, could destroy the soldiers as well as the Humvee. David Finkel also covers the aftermath of this war. The 2-16 battalion holds a memorial service for each fallen soldier before they are shipped home. David follows up with the soldiers that are treated and rehabilitated in hospitals on American soil. The Good Soldiers brings the war home. Even though this book is sobering it is one we should all read.

Evelyn: The Monster of Florence – Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
Bestselling thriller writer Douglas Preston’s lifelong dream was to live in the Tuscan hills of Italy. In 2000, he finally moved his family there. Imagine his surprise when he learned that the olive grove next to his villa near Florence was the scene of a ghastly crime—a double homicide attributed to an at large serial killer known as “the monster of Florence,” who had been terrorizing the area for more than thirty years. As compelling as the story Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, this book is the story of Preston’s friendship with Mario Spezi, a noted Italian journalist investigating the deaths, the inept and corrupt Italian law officials, and everyone’s worst nightmare—being accused of the crime you are investigating, as both Spezi and Preston were. As they methodically and logically put together their case, the story becomes more and more compelling as you just can’t believe the twist of fate that makes them the accused instead of the accusers. The story even became the focus of a 20-20 investigation on television in 2006. Preston proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.

Emma: The Color of Water: a Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother by James McBride is the story of a young man, the eighth child of twelve born to his white mother and black father, growing up in a housing project in Brooklyn. His mother, stern and feisty, instilled in her children the importance of education and fought hard to make sure each of them had the best opportunity for schooling even if the family had no money. The book is a loving tribute to his mother and reaffirms that success is available to those who work hard.

Donna: Why My Third Husband will be a Dog: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman by Lisa Scottoline is a funny, entertaining collection of essays about the author’s view on life, writing, and relationships between family, friends, men and of course, animals. She shares her home with dogs, cats, chickens and even a pony. Animals are obviously very important to her. Excerpted from her column, “Chick Wit” written for The Philadelphia Inquirer, these witty, unpretentious antidotes will delight all readers as a perfect way to enliven any cold, dreary snowy day.

Megan: The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is the true story of a previously unknown virus spreading from the rain forests of Central Africa to a lab in Reston Virginia. The virus mutated to infect not only monkey, but humans as well. Fewer than 10 % of those infected survived. With terrifying graphic detail Preston describes the Ebola virus and what it can do to its victims. He details the secret military cover up of the breakout in Reston and reminds readers of how dangerously close we came have been to exposure to a new “hot” agent. The Hot Zone is a gripping thriller of a read that you won’t soon forget.

Dori: Narrow Dog to Indian River by Terry Darlington, a quirky, funny travelogue about a British couple and their whippet Jim sailing a canal boat along the Atlantic Intracoastal. After experiencing the raging storms, unbearable heat and dangerous fauna of the Southern coast, they realize that the trip is more than they bargained for.

Rosemary: Dawn Light: Dancing With Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day by Diane Ackerman prompts me to use one of my favorite words to describe her book. The word is “luminous.” Ackerman’s prose absolutely generates a glow from deep within it. In Dawn Light she uses dawn as the framework for her meditations on the changing seasons. From her serious and poignant thoughts to her laugh-out-loud stories, Ackerman urges us to discover and savor the beautiful natural world around us.

Carol: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote was my pick. This book chronicles the events that took place fifty years ago, on Nov. 15, 1959, when four members of the Clutter family were brutally murdered at their rural farmhouse in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote’s book marks the invention of the true crime genre and is written with all of the devices and strategies of the novel. Capote introduces the reader to the victims, the family of Herbert Clutter of River Valley Farm and also to their killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, as unlike the Clutters as anyone could be. What’s fascinating about this book is Capote’s detail of everything, the crime scene, the murders, the trial and its outcome. Especially interesting is Capote’s sympathetic treatment of the killers, revealing to the readers the “why” of what drove these men. This reader thinks that Capote gave the “true crime” story literary respectability and created a masterpiece, though one that is not for the faint of heart.

And my book was Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. Martha and her husband were in the midst of being overachievers at Harvard when they found out they were going to have a second child. Two children while being in graduate school would have been enough of a challenge but when Adam, their yet to be born son, was diagnosed with Down syndrome they found out how big their challenge could truly be. From this potential challenge comes an actual blessing to the Beck family in the form of one small boy with a loving nature. Adam’s approach to life -and his family’s approach to him –is an inspiration but this book is far from being preachy or maudlin book, it’s hilarious! What more can you ask for?

Next time? We’re going for first books from an author. Once again, this isn’t technically a genre but we’re willing to read outside that genre box! Oh, yes we are! So look around and a book by an author fresh to the writing trade… and enjoy!




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