Monday, January 9, 2012

Best Books of 2011: 6 Best Nonfiction Books

Have you gotten weary of all the Best of 2011 book lists yet?  Hopefully not.  I know I've been loving reading these posts and adding piles of books to my "want-to-read" lists.

I still need to do my picks for Best Nonfiction and Best Memoirs (as if you're waiting with bated breath for my selections).  I'm going to drag this out into two separate posts because a few of you who are participating in my 2012 Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge have asked for some suggestions and I think that might deserve its own post.

Today, let's talk Best Nonfiction of 2011.  The memoirs will wait another day.  As usual, these are books that I read in 2011, not necessarily ones that were published in 2011.

I didn't read as much nonfiction this past year as I typically do. My stats say that I read 21 such books, with 9 of them being memoirs. It felt like significantly less and when I checked my 2010 numbers, that was true. I'd read 29 nonfiction books then, with 8 of them being memoirs.  I'm not sure what to attribute that to, but I've signed myself up to read 10 books for the Nonfiction Non-Memoir Challenge this year, so that will help.

A few nonfiction books that I wanted to highlight from this year as being exceptional (links and quotes are from my reviews):

by Jonathan Bloom

"Every day, America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. Yes, THAT Rose Bowl - the 90,000 seat football stadium in Pasadena, California."

That's a visual (and a first sentence) that gets your attention, and like taking candy from a baby, Bloom snatches your attention and runs with it through this entire book. He gives more statistics and backs up his meticulous research with an engaging and oftentimes very funny narrative, making this a really interesting (and sobering) read.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie Girl Culture, by Peggy Orenstein

"The first Princess items, released with no marketing plan, no focus groups, no advertising, sold as if blessed by a fairy godmother. Within a year, sales had soared to $300 million. By 2009, they were at $4 billion. Four billion dollars! There are more than twenty-six thousand Disney Princess items on the market, a number which, particularly when you exclude cigarette, liquor, cars, and antidepressants, is staggering." (pg. 14)  "Of course, girls are not buying the 24/7 princess culture all on their own. So the question is not only why they like it (which is fairly obvious) but what it offers their parents." (pg. 22)

Yes, what indeed?

Orenstein's book is a must-read for any parent or relative or teacher of young girls.  She delves into the world of child beauty pageants, the pages of the original versions of fairy tales, and into the online worlds inhabited by thousands of kids starting with the games found on and Disney and moving into the virtual and social networking worlds where 3.7 million teens are logging on each month. I found this absolutely fascinating.

Click: The Magic of Instant Connections
by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

Ever wonder why you "click" with some people and are just "eh" about others? There's more science than serendipity than you might think, and the Brafman brothers explain how it all happens in their book. I'm horrendous at small talk and unfortunately, I need to do a lot of it for my job.  This book was great at showing me how to figure out additional ways to make these connections happen (along with the banal small talk).

Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds
by Lyndall Gordon

You think you've got a dysfunctional family? Meet the Dickinsons. You've got your position of power (her father was a trustee of Amherst and the college's treasurer), your adulterers (Emily's brother and sister-in-law), and your manipulators. I admit I never heard of any of this until reading this book, which proved to be as entertaining as any novel or TV show.  (Think "Dynasty" in mid-1800s New England.).

Before we delve into the feud, however, it's necessary to learn the biographical facts of who's who and how everyone is related.  That takes up approximately the first half of the book, and is very interesting reading.

There's also discussion of why Emily was such a recluse, and Gordon believes the clues are within Emily's poems, with lines like "I felt a Cleaving in my Mind."  Epilepsy is presented as a strong possibility and it makes perfect sense.  This wasn't a breezy read, but it was one that I enjoyed.  As I mentioned earlier, I didn't know anything about this whole Dickinson family feud and that was interesting (and entertaining) to me.  Lyndall Gordon's writing made me feel as if I was transported back to that time while at the same time providing some analysis of and thoughts on  Emily Dickinson's poetry.

Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules
by Pamela Haag 

What if your marriage came with a term limit, a contract of sorts?  Kind of like a pre-nup, but one that stated that after a certain number of agreed upon years, you'll evaluate the whole ball of wax and decide if you want to continue onward.  If you do, great.  If not, you go your separate ways. No harm, no foul.

That's just one of the more unconventional ideas presented in Marriage Confidential, in which Pamela Haag evaluates the whole state of matrimony as it exists today and gives several plausible theories as to why most of us are in relationships where we're more akin to roommates than anything else.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand 

This was probably my most surprising read of 2011. A friend of mine invited me to join her book club via Goodreads and their selection for that month was Unbroken.  Having seen many bloggers raving about this, I figured I would give it a try, but I admit that I was reluctant to do so.  A World War II story is not my typical literary fare, and I nearly abandoned it early on.  (The first 50 pages are a bit slow going, but I was warned about that.)  I'm glad I stuck with this, though, because it became an incredible story, one that really is about survival, resilience and redemption.  Louis Zamperini is a true American hero and everyone should know his story.

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I have 5 of these 6 books on my WishList...guess I better get started reading :)

K A B L O O E Y said...

I don't tire of Best of lists if I like the writer's taste or admire her arguments, so I'm happy to read yours. It occurred to me as I was reading that I signed up for the memoir challenge last year. Just like in 4th grade, when I read a billion books but recorded none of them in notebook as I was supposed to, I know I read a lot of memoirs, but... uh... posted nothing about them. D'oh!

Sue Jackson said...

I really liked Unbroken, also, even though it was a very disturbing story. Still looking for your Best Memoirs of 2011 list...