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Posts Tagged ‘non-fiction’

Know the power of the non side

A friend and former bookstore manager who died not long ago used to tweak me because I mostly read non-fiction, while he felt that fiction was more important to our lives. I do read some fiction and agree that it can be life-changing. In my second career, as a librarian, I’ve been impressed by how much demand there is for it. Among my colleagues on this blog, I often feel like the only one who isn’t into a lot of really good stories.

But I’m content to stick mainly with the teaching power of non-fiction. I write about it in the blog in hopes that readers will be intrigued enough to check out books they may not have considered before. Most of what I read is either science or history, but in a library as large as ours, there is certain to be something about whatever interests you, if you give it a chance.

brilliantSome of the most popular non-fiction is in the broad category of self-help books, such as recipe books and engine repair books. The one I have out right now is called The Skinny Gut Diet by Brenda Watson. I borrowed it not so much to lose weight as because I know hardly anything about the role bacteria and other microbes play in our digestion and elsewhere in our bodies. Unfortunately — like some genre novels that rely on formulas — it is starting off as another of those books that promises the moon if you will do what the author says, but I still expect to come away with a better understanding of how what we eat affects who we are.

Some non-fiction packs a “Wow, I didn’t know that” factor. One that kept my eyes open was Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light by Jane Brox. I’ve always known that modern technological life is an anomaly in the long, dim history of our species, but Brox lays out eloquently how tough things were just a very short time ago, how astonishing the development of electric power was, and how precarious our energy-dependent, ecologically-damaging lifestyle is.

I’m just starting a book that should provide a different kind of historical context to life in today’s Fort Wayne. It is The Victory with No Name: The Native American Defeat of the First American Army by Colin G. Calloway. The 1791 battle — which took place across the Ohio border barely an hour’s drive south of our Main library — was prompted largely by a defeat right here at Kekionga that the natives inflicted on a large militia force a year earlier. And, of course, three years after Little Turtle’s humiliating victory over St. Clair’s army in Ohio, the natives suffered decisive defeat at the hands of Anthony Wayne. He then marched to Kekionga to build his fort in what is now our downtown.

Fiction fans may have heard of Rebecca Goldstein, who is a philosopher and novelist. I’m just learning about her through reading her non-fiction Plato at the Googleplex and am so blown away by her intellect and communication skill that one of her novels will be the next fiction I take home. I hope they are as much fun as the late astronomer Carl Sagan’s Contact. Thoughtful fiction by a savvy academic — the best of both worlds.

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Small Cover ImageRecently I’ve been watching The History Channel’s hit show Vikings.  Currently in its second season, the show is inspired by the legendary tales of the ninth century Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok.  Watch a recap of season 1 below:

I typically enjoy historical dramas, but I’m always left wondering just how historically accurate the show is and wanting to learn more about the time and people portrayed.  ACPL has some great resources to do just that.

The Vikings: Culture and ConquestSmall Cover Image by Martin Arnold explores the Vikings’ military prowess as well as their values, art, religion, and family life.  Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood is an excellent quick resource for researching the people, places, and practices of the Vikings.  For an exploration of Viking culture through literature, check out Arthur Cotterell’s Mythology of the Norse Gods: Myths and Legends of the Nordic World.  If documentaries are more your style, NOVA’s The Vikings looks beyond the Vikings’ reputation as ruthless warriors to discover their affinity for shipbuilding, art, and trade .  For a different take on a fictional depiction of Ragnar Lothbrok, try the 1958 film The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

If you’ve not seen The History Channel’s Vikings and would like to, ACPL now has season 1 on DVD.

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cliff1066 via flickr.com

cliff1066 via flickr.com

February 17 is Presidents’ Day, a holiday Americans have been celebrating since 1879. Well, sort of.

In 1879 an Act of Congress made February 22 a federal holiday called George Washington’s Birthday.  February 22 is indeed George Washington’s birthday, and the purpose of the holiday was to honor the United States’ first president.  In the 1950s a movement began to create a holiday to honor the office of the president, rather than a specific president, but nothing came  of  it.  At one point during the 1960s Congress drafted a bill that would change the holiday from George Washington’s Birthday to President’s Day with the intent of  honoring both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is February 12, but that portion of the bill was scrapped before the bill was signed into law.

In 1971, George Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in February (the federal holiday, not the actual birthday, as not even Congress has the power to change a dead man’s date of birth).  In the mid-1980s, with a push from advertisers, many people began to refer to the third Monday in February as Presidents’ Day, and although this is the most common way to describe the holiday today, the official name of the federal holiday remains George Washington’s Birthday.

Regardless of whether you prefer the common name of Presidents’ Day or the official name of George Washington’s Birthday, you may enjoy spending this coming Monday reading up on some of the American presidents.  Consider giving one of these books a try:

syndetics-lc Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (2011 Pulitzer Prize winner)
syndetics-lc The American President: Detailed Biographies, Historical Timelines from George Washington to Barack Obama by Kathryn Moore
syndetics-lc American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush by Nigel Hamilton
syndetics-lc The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy by Michael Gerhardt
syndetics-lc The American Presidents,Washington to Tyler: What They Did, What They Said, What Was Said About Them, with Full Source Notes by Robert A. Nowlan

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The announcement of Pulitzer Prizes for 2012 made news not for what was awarded, but for what wasn’t awarded: for the first time since 1977, no award in fiction was given.  But even with the Pulitzer declining to choose a winner from the shortlist of nominees, there’s hardly a shortage of award-winning books to discover.

Some honors, like the aforementioned Pulitzer, the Nobel Prize, and the National Book Award, are meant to highlight the best recent literature across all genres.  Other awards draw from narrower fields: the Hugo award goes to science fiction novels, the RITA award to romance novels, and the James Beard award to cookbooks.  Whatever type of book you prefer, there’s likely an award to highlight the best of that category.  To find a sampling of more awards, and to click through recent winners, Amazon’s webpage on award winners is a fun way to find intriguing new titles to add to your “must read” list.

And if award-winning books aren’t what you’re looking for, you might still enjoy some award-winning book titles.  The Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year delivers exactly what it promises: the titles are often hilarious, and sometimes downright confusing, but they are undeniably odd.  Check out the Bookseller blog for official award news, or go to their Wikipedia entry for a complete list of past winners.

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