Nonfiction November: Choosing the books

It’s Week 2 of Nonfiction November, and Rachel poses these questions about choosing nonfiction.
What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book? Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to? Do you have a particular writing style that works best? When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you? If so, share a title or cover which you find striking.
In my reading life, nonfiction is first about the voice, then about the topic. I’m looking for a narrative voice that I like, and usually it’s conversational and casual. Overly fussy, complicated sentences leave me cold. I think this is why I full-on love books by journalists — they know how to keep it punchy.
I’m wide open to nonfiction books on nearly any topic, as long as the book is written in this style. (This is why you’ll find me reading books about sports and science.)
But these are the topics that get me every time:
(Those last two pair interestingly, huh?)
While I don’t avoid a book with a crummy cover, man do I ever get pulled in by a great cover. The one that immediately grabbed my attention this year was this one:
… a book I apparently can’t stop talking about. Given the topic of the book (an Olympic swimmer who practices Buddhism), the book cover is perfectly perfect.
What are the nonfiction topics you can’t resist?

Book club update: autumn

Happy fall reading, everyone! 
Here’s what our book club read as we moved into the fall season…
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Discussability Score: 4
Because: Everyone’s seen the movie, now read the book. It’s one of those. And there’s a whole conversation about the symbolism in the book, and the strong central female character who leads a band of misfits who come together to create a powerful team. 
 
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
Discussability Score: 4
Because: This book is a delightful blend of sociology and humor. It actually offered more of a compelling look at modern dating and romance than some of us had expected. The thing we kept coming back to was the statistic about the size of the dating pool. Back only 50 years or so, people tended to marry people who lived within a very small radius (as in: on the same block). These days, the world’s our oyster. 
Plus: Aziz Ansari narrates the audiobook. If you like the guy on Parks & Rec, you’re gonna like this book.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Discussability Score: 5
Because: This book prompted so much discussion, we started talking about it literally the moment the final person arrived at my door. She still had her coat on, and we were off to the races.
The first thing we marveled out was the high level of discomfort the book gave us. The way evil invades the home… Dang, people. That’s some serious menace. Each of us had to stop our reading for a while, to recover from the initial horror of it. So: great book to read in the Halloween season. 
And we discussed Gaiman’s lyrical style, his narrative abilities (for us audiobook listeners), his nuanced writing of women characters, and his remarkable way he clearly evokes childhood.
So… I converted my entire book club into Gaiman fanatics with the reading of this book. If that alone had been the result of my selecting this book for our discussion, that would be enough.
As always here’s the obligatory link to our full list of books
Anybody read anything wildly discussable lately?

Nonfiction November: It’s ON!

It’s Nonfiction November, my friends! 
And that thought is happy enough, I almost don’t mind the looming November chill as we begin our descent into winter. 
First, thanks to Julie of JulzReads, who brought this lovely event to my attention. She’s one of our co-hosts this month, along with Katie at Doing Dewey Decimal, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves, and Rachel at Hibernator’s Library. 
If you’re a nonfiction reader, please come along for the fun!
goes like this…
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?
Nonfiction is my natural happy place. I love narrative nonfiction so much it almost loves me back.
Here’s a list of the nonfiction books I’ve finished so far this year:
  1. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  2. Spark Joy by Marie Kondo
  3. Getting Things Done by David Allen (read twice)
  4. What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami
  5. My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach
  6. Being Nixon by Evan Thomas
  7. It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson
  8. Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch
  9. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
  10. Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg
  11. Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg
  12. Frost on My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer by Tim Moore
  13. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  14. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  15. Speed Kings: The 1932 Winter Olympics and the Fastest Men in the World by Andy Bull
  16. Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer
  17. Dream Home: The Property Brothers’ Ultimate Guide to Finding & Fixing Your Perfect House by Jonathan Scott and Drew Scott
  18. Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower
  19. Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian by Anthony Ervin and Constantine Markides
  20. First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by Kate Andersen Brower
  21. Work Simply by Carson Tate
  22. The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
  23. Mess: One Man’s Struggle to Clean up His House and His Act by Barry Yourgrau
  24. Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration: Lessons from the Second City by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton
  25. Black Hawk: An Autobiography by Black Hawk
  26. This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick
  27. The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson
  28. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  29. My Life in France by Julia Child
  30. Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, An Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work by Jeanne Marie Laskas
  31. Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss
  32. The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy
  33. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
  34. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
  35. Co. Aytch by Sam Watkins
  36. Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders by Brady Carlson
  37. The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe by Anuschka Rees
  38. Getting Things Done by David Allen (re-read)
  39. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
  40. The Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines
  41. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
And which one is my favorite? (such a difficult question!)
I almost cheated and gave answers to subsets of that question (most life-changing, most enjoyable, most unputdownable), but I’m going to do the right thing and pick just one. 
My favorite: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. In my review, I explain all the reasons why. 
The book I’ve recommended most… that’s a tie. I rave incessantly about Getting Things Done by David Allen, which is so life-changing (there! I sneaked it in!) that I read it twice this year.
But for sheer reading enjoyment, the book I rave about to people is Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian by Anthony Ervin and Constantine Markides. It knocked my socks off when I read it, and it’s one of the finest examples of “nonfiction that reads like fiction” that I’ve encountered.
As far as “What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?” … the first thing that comes to mind is: biography. I feel like I’m reawakening to the joys of reading biographies.
And… what do I hope to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? I’m looking forward to reveling in the joys of nonfiction with my fellow readers. And I can’t wait to find out what others list as their favorite nonfiction books of the year. 
So… what’s your favorite nonfiction book of the year?

Hamilton: the read-along

(photo credit: Steve Jurvetson, 
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/25945250053)
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
3 words: lush, insider information, exuberant
Oh my land, guys. This book did nothing but bliss me out.
So, like half of America, I’m all hooked on Hamilton. The lyrics run through my head most of my waking hours. And I like it. 
This gorgeous book puts the lyrics on the page,and then accompanies them with gorgeous full-color, full-page photographs of the musical — of the actors on stage, and the actors offstage.
And there are notes along the sides of the pages by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who reveals some of his creative choices and inspirations. 
And even better, the pages of lyrics are interspersed with short essays about various aspects of the musical and its creation. This might’ve been my favorite part of all, because it was all about the collaboration and teamwork that went into creating this wonderful thing.
And I love me some serious teamwork.
There are few things that fill me with greater delight.
So…. this book is all kinds of things in one.
It looks like a coffee table book, but also like a serious tome.
And it’s lyrics, but also a paean to the creative process.
And it’s picture-packed, and the pages are nice and thick, so the experience of reading it… it’s luxurious.
I’m just sorry I finished reading it, ’cause I wish it’d gone on forever. 

So, my fellow Hamiltonheads, what lyrics are running through your head today?

True Grit: The Re-Read

True Grit by Charles Portis 
3 words: plain-spoken, dramatic, unsentimental
The month of re-reading continues…
It’s rare that I allow myself the luxury of re-reading a book, but sometimes I’m fortunate and my assigned reading causes me to re-read something I loved.
Enter: True Grit.
And, as always, the second reading was a different, more complex experience than the first.
(I love how this happens.)
The first time I read this book, I marveled at Mattie’s clear, strong narrative voice and her toughness.
The second time, I knew to expect those things, so instead, I really felt the feels.
And man, this book is filled with them. 
It was only on the second time through, that this book made me get teary-eyed.
(Did not expect that)
It reminded me of that time I re-read The Sisters Brothers and felt it the second time. 
This re-reading can be hard on a person. 

So guys… Ever been surprised by a book you re-read?

Getting Things Done: The Re-Read Edition

Getting Things Done by David Allen
This October, I’ve been in re-read mode.
It’s actually pretty darn fun, to feel the freedom to re-read– so often, I feel pressured to read something new.
So today, we’re looking at my first re-read of the fall season.
Earlier this year, when I finished reading Getting Things Done, I put a reminder in my calendar (Google Calender is one of my key GTD tools) to revisit the book in the fall.
This time, I decided to listen to it. And that was a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself. David Allen, the author, narrates the book, and it’s one of those delightful instances where the author reads the book better than anyone else could. Dude has a soothing voice, and he speaks with quiet confidence. It was like a private coaching session.
And, just like he says in the book, the next time I read it, I gained new insights. And I was inspired to fine-tune my system. These changes sound small, but They Are Not. Here’s what I did:

 

I wasn’t kidding about the bathtub crayons
First, I improved my Capture systems. In GTD lingo, “capture” refers to catching ideas when they arise, and saving them in a system you trust.
I did this:
  • Placed small notebooks in 2 additional places where I often have ideas, so I can capture them
  • Bought bathtub crayons so I can write my shower thoughts (anyone else do their best thinking in the shower?) right there on the wall

 

Next, I hacked my system to make myself more accountable to myself.
I did this:
  • Created hyperlinks to connect related Word documents. This one works especially well in the Projects List doc, where I’ve added links to my various project pages. When I do my weekly review, I now actually look at each project page, because I’ve made it easy. And it’s paying off — I’ve already thought of some new ways to approach some of my projects. [small squeal of delight as I realize he ain’t kidding about the subtitle to the book: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity]

 

And finally, I kept myself honest. Here’s where I was goofing up: Instead of making sure my Next Actions List contained only actual “next actions,” I allowed some of the items to be projects that needed to have “next actions” defined for them. So…
I did this:
  • Reviewed
    my Next Actions list with a discerning eye, then turned vague
    statements into concrete Next Actions. Again: immediate results. It was a
    sudden kick-start to some projects that I’d allowed myself to glide
    past, because they required thinking. Once the actual thinking is done and I decided what to actually do: super easy.
OK. Anyone else completely infatuated with a self-improvement book? If so, which one?  

Currently… reading the current

The beautiful and busy fall season continues, with these wonders:
Reading | Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. This is gonna take a while.

I’ve also been reading the river, though I gotta say: the Dear Man is a way better river reader than I am (though he’s kind enough not to display this skill unless I ask his advice on choosing our line; then he diplomatically gives his informed opinion, which invariably is the best course; then he gives me credit). Canoeing with this man is one of my favorite things in the world.
Listening | Lin-Manuel Miranda, you’ve infiltrated my poor brain with so many earworms, I hardly know what to do with myself. The Hamilton quoting may become a problem. (It’s become a problem.)
Learning | I’m listening to Getting Things Done by David Allen as a 6-month refresher and I keep hearing things I missed the first time through. And oh my goodness, people. The refining of the processes — it’s seriously happy-making.

Loving | These photos…

Anticipating | This month’s book club pick is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. The thing is ominous and full of menace, and it’s perfect for October. And I can’t wait to discuss it with the ladies.

Celebrating | How ’bout them Cubs?! 

 

Visiting the dead presidents

Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders by Brady Carlson
3 words: rollicking, enthusiastic, informative
Bybee, you’ve done it again. Your fantastic, enticing review of Dead Presidents sent me directly to that book, and I devoured it with complete delight.
Turns out, author Brady Carlson and I are of the same tribe. We’re the ghoulish sorts who visit cemeteries for fun. And if there’s a president buried there, we plan our vacations around the presidential grave visit. 
Yep. You’re hanging out here with one sick puppy.
And I gotta say, I think we also have a similar graveside manner: reasonably reverent, but with an eye for the peculiar.
For example, when the Dear Man and I were in Louisville, we visited the grave of Zachary Taylor. 
(Brief pause, while we reflect on the fact that while Taylor is more memorable than, say, Pierce, he sure ain’t no U.S. Grant. OK. Back to our story…)

And on the way there, we Googled Taylor and found out dude had been disinterred during our lifetime!
(This is one weird world we live in, my friends.)
Apparently (who knew?!) there have long been rumors that Taylor had been poisoned. 
(Test results say: ummmm… NO.)
Brady hits that story in this here book, and lots of other great little anecdotes that will surprise and delight.
And we mere civilians can also attend! 
Imagine a world where Grover Cleveland’s grandson rubs elbows with the grand-nephew of Harry Truman…
Pure magic, right?
For a book dealing with dead people, this thing is awfully darn fun. Carlson’s tone is ebullient, and his observations sharp and delighted. 
There are moments in this book that made me laugh out loud, such as this one:
“We take a look through the Harrison items in the back room, including something called an ophicleide, which looks like the love-child of a tuba and a bugle, played when Harrison was interred in North Bend in 1841 and brought out again at the renovation of the tomb in 1922.”  (p. 34)
(Love-child of a tuba and bugle!) 
If you’re even vaguely interested in Geek Tourism or the presidents or travel memoirs, give this book a whirl. Carlson’s a fun and knowledgeable tour guide who’ll skip the boring parts and delivery only the good stuff. 
Confession time, my friends… What’s your weirdest travel quirk? 

BEA book blogger reunion!

Remember how I met those amazing bloggers at BEA? 
Back in May, we did that thing where we said, “We’ll have to get together someday soon!” 
And we actually did.
Marisa, Julie, me, and Katie, as photographed by Shortman of the JulzReads universe
And it was fantastic, because these ladies are seriously accomplished.
Julie of JulzReads invited us to her lovely home, a place that is nothing short of amazing, because:
  1. Her house is gorgeously decorated, and she’s only lived there since May. (I’ve been in my house for 19 years, and guess what? It’s not decorated.)
  2. Not only is her house beautiful, but it’s bookish as all heck. She has a for-real library with windows that look out into the treetops, and a cozy reading room with a fireplace, and she even has a Harry Potter themed bathroom. I’m not even kidding.
Then we were talking with Marisa of The Daily Dosage about her new job, which she has been gearing up for during the past year. And she has one of those jobs that makes other work seem really easy, so we were all pretty much in awe of her.
And then it came to light that Katie of Words with Worms not only gardens like a fiend (the woman’s flowers are ridiculously beautiful), but she also decorates 4 (yes, I said 4) Christmas trees at her house every year. And then she rapped some Hamilton and brought down the house.
I was clearly out of my league (and also missed nearly every pop culture reference), but they were kind and pretended not to notice. 
We had a fantastically bookish and blogish conversation, and everyone’s TBR grew (I added Burial Rites and Forty Rooms and… oh my gosh, I thought that was it, but there’s more… Also: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe). 
And then: book geeks party game! We each got to choose a book for Julie to read from her TBR shelves. (I prescribed The Lonely Polygamist.) 
And then Julie and I raved so much about A Gentleman in Moscow that Katie and Marisa said they’d read it (maybe so we’d hush). 
It was a delightful get-together. 
So, dear readers… Who are the people in your real-life world who talk books with you? 

It’s book club month!

I love it that October is National Reading Group Month.  
It’s the month when I start to feel like settling in for some cozy evenings at home with a book. 
And sometimes, a book and some friends and some beverages and some snacks.
My current book club’s been on the go since 2007, and we continue to surprise each other with the books we select. And sometimes, we don’t surprise ourselves at all. (We each have types of books that are deal-breakers.)
Whatever our quirks, I find our full list to be a weird and wonderful thing. 
In other book club-y news, earlier this year, I rolled out the Discussability Score, which prompts me to really analyze how well a book performed under the pressure of a 5 to 45 minute discussion. (The ones that don’t do so very well? They’re the 5-minute discussion wonders.) 
And soon I’ll do another book club update, but for now, suffice it to say: we’ve recently read a children’s classic, followed by a contemporary popular work of sociology, and there’s a fantasy novel on the horizon. (It’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Had to tell you that, because I’m about to ask…)
All you good people of book clubs… What’re you reading this month?