Monday, November 9, 2015

What I've Been Reading: Nonfiction!

I do read nonfiction, of course, but it tends to be very categorized: religion and cookbooks.

I just finished two books in a different category, however.

Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with BooksBrowsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books by Michael Dirda

I have long enjoyed Michael Dirda's book reviews in various collections, The Washington Post (online) or even The Wall Street Journal. He's usually got enthusiastic recommendations for everything from Greek classics to the newest bestseller to weird fiction. And a guy who counts Georgette Heyer among classics everyone should read is my kind of guy.

These essays are from a series Michael Dirda wrote for "The American Scholar" website in 2012-2013. Whether propelled by a power outage or memories of bike riding, Dirda always winds up jumping from one book to another in a way that makes me want to go spend a small fortune at a bookstore. As usual I came away with a long list of authors and books to search for.

I also really enjoy the fact that Dirda's all about the books. In the past I have always appreciated the fact that if he had a political preference or sociological judgment I didn't know it. Halfway into this book he did begin including some of his political views but it was in such a way that it didn't come off as judgmental or harsh. That's because he generally was pondering how he can agree so much with someone whose beliefs are so opposite from his own. (Been there, pondered that.) And, yes, it was book and author selections that provided the bridge upon which he pondered. Nicely done.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us HumanThe Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was such an engaging and informative book ... up to a point. The first few chapters were real eye-openers. I never thought about toddlers' play as a sign of how embedded story is in our basic make up. Or about sports reporting as story telling. Or about the fact that our dreams are stories in themselves. Somewhat incoherent stories much of the time, but stories nonetheless.

However, a lot of the book was an expansion on points made in the beginning. I didn't need it to enhance my understanding of the points already made. Those who enjoy reading through scientific study summaries (engagingly told, to be sure) might enjoy those chapters more than I did. It almost felt as if the topic should have been covered in a long article instead of a book.

Also, the author was unable to be even-handed about topics with which he had a problem, such as religion. "The Moral of the Story" chapter was fascinating (do not skip it) but I could have done without the little swipes at the "three major monotheisms" ... to be fair he's judgmental about a lot of things but usually while presenting justification. For religion, it was delivered as hand slaps.

None of this is to say that the book isn't good or worthwhile. On the contrary, it is both and I definitely recommend it. It's just one I'm not going to buy for my own shelves.

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