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nonfiction

Sep 16 2013

Inspirations for a healthier life

by Jesse M

Reading Glenda’s post from last month about losing weight got me thinking about books I’ve read over the years that have inspired me to alter my diet or exercise habits. These are not diet or exercise books though. Rather, these books inspire lifestyle changes by providing information that challenges the reader to think about their everyday behaviors in a different way.

Stuffed and starved coverStuffed and starved: markets, power, and the hidden battle for the world’s food system by Raj Patel

In this eye-opening book, author Raj Patel takes readers on a journey through the global food system, demonstrating how both the problems of malnourishment and obesity are both symptomatic of the worldwide corporate food monopoly. Well sourced and argued, this book may make you think twice about alternatives when considering your next trip to the supermarket.

Born to run coverBorn to run: a hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher McDougall

An epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? Part investigation of the biomechanics of running, part examination of ultra-marathons and their enthusiasts, McDougall takes readers into Mexico’s Copper Canyons to meet and learn from the Tarahumara Indians, who have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury utilizing only the simplest footwear. By the end of this book you’ll want to get up and go for a run yourself.

Hungry Planet coverHungry planet: what the world eats by Faith D’Aluisio

This award-winning book profiles 30 families from around the world and offers detailed descriptions of weekly food purchases; photographs of the families at home, at market, and in their communities; and a portrait of each family surrounded by a week’s worth of groceries. The photography is the real star of this book, especially the images of each family with one week of food. The disparity from country to country (and in some cases, across different regions of the same country) is often startling, and may cause readers to take a closer look at how much they themselves are consuming.

Stumbling on happiness coverStumbling on happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Written for a lay audience by Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, the central thesis of this book is that, through perception and cognitive biases, people imagine the future poorly, in particular what will make them happy. Gilbert discusses these issues and suggests ways that we can more accurately predict our future feelings and motivations. A major takeaway for me from this book was that if I wasn’t feeling motivated to do something now, it isn’t likely I’ll be miraculously more motivated later. This applies to all sorts of things in my life I have a tendency to procrastinate on, such as exercising, doing laundry, or starting a diet.

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Jun 21 2013

ShareReads: I don’t read that!

by Heather S

sharereads_intro_2013

outliersI’ve always been one of those folks who claims to never read non-fiction books, but, as I started thinking about what to write about and reviewed the list of books I’ve read in the past few months, I realized that I honestly cannot make that claim.  I have read on average a nonfiction book a month this year.  The one title that has resonated and remained with me the most is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

In this short, quick reading book (also available from the library as an eBook, which is actually how I read it), Gladwell examines why the outrageously successful, those that he calls outliers are so successful.  As old adages say, success is due in part to passion, persistence and preparation. Bill Gates and the Beatles perfected their crafts with over 10,000 hours of practice. However, it is also due to a fair amount of luck, such as being born at the right time and in the right place.  For example, he explains why many professional hockey players are born in January, February and March.   He also uses generational legacies, such as those that benefited the Robber Barons or certain corporate lawyers in the 1950s.

The book is not the most academic, and I can see how many could argue against Gladwell’s claims.  I found it to be an interesting and entertaining read, as well as one that continues to come up in conversations.  Perhaps this is why I find myself reading nonfiction, despite my self-professed dislike for it; I often find it engaging and relevant in ways that linger.

So, dear readers, share!  Are there genres or categories of books that you do not think you read, but you do?  What are books that have continued to reappear in thoughts or dialogues?

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Jan 7 2013

Young Adult Literature …too fluffy?

by Amanda L

As a librarian who serves teens, I am always reading other blogs to find good reads, ideas for programming, etc. The organization, Young Adult Library Association (YALSA), has a blog called the Hub about Young Adult literature that I love to read.  Last month, Maria Kramer posted about a statement made in an article in England’s The Independent about the changes with the Common Core Standards and reading in America. The exact quote from The Independent which created a lot of discussion was “Tackling rich literature is the best way to prepare students for careers and college, said [Sandra] Stotsky, who blames mediocre national reading scores on weak young adult literature popular since the 1960s.”

The Jungle by Upton SinclairWhile reading both the Hub post and the article in The Independent, two thoughts immediately came to me. First, I read nonfiction books in social studies and science classes instead of English classes. I remember reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in my high school freshman class in addition to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. These books helped make history come alive to me and gave context to what we were studying. The second thought is that while I do read literary works, they are not what I enjoy reading. I would rather read a plot driven book over a literary work any day. That having been said, I think reading a variety of books stretches one’s knowledge and taste. Ms. Kramer also cites a research study written by the National Literacy Trust which reveals that reading for pleasure is linked to a variety of literacy benefits including vocabulary building and self-confidence as a reader. The study also shows that those teens who read for pleasure perform at a higher level on reading comprehension portions of standardized tests. Finally, readers who can choose what they read enjoy reading more and are more motivated to read.

We've Got a JobEven as the core standards are rolled out over the next few years, more nonfiction for young adults will be written in the narrative form. I recently read all of the nominees for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. I especially enjoyed two of the  nominees because they made a period of history come alive.  Titanic: voices from the disaster by Deborah Hopkins was told through a variety of people and their written or oral accounts of their experience on the Titanic. She also included photographs and documents from the Titanic. The second nominee that I enjoyed was We’ve Got a Job: the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson. Similar to the Titanic book, We’ve Got a Job tackles the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March through the voices of several of the teen participants of this march. Their first hand accounts brought the civil rights movement to life for me.

Shelter by Harlan CobenEvery year YALSA has a variety of book awards and lists. The awards are announced during the Mid Winter Conference towards the end of January. This year the awards will be announced on January 28, 2013 and will be webcast. The book awards are for high quality literature broken into a variety of categories from first time author (Morris Award) to adult books with teen appeal (Alex Award). The only nominees that will be announced prior to the awards are the Excellence in Nonfiction and Morris Awards. I can’t wait to see which books will win and which will be nominated. Looking back at the young adult books that I have read this year that were released in 2012, my favorites so far are I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, BZRK by Michael Grant and Shelter by Harlan Coben. As with anything there will always be debates. Do you think young adult literature is too fluffy? What young  adult book or books have you read that were published this year that you would recommend?

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Aug 10 2012

Sharereads: Fiction and Nonfiction

by Joseph M

ShareReads intro

I’m a voracious reader, and working in the library, I come across interesting books on a regular basis. That being the case, I often find myself reading multiple books at a time. What I’m reading at any given moment depends on the occasion and my mood, and can run the gamut of content and format types. Generally, I find it easier to juggle more than one book at a time when I’m switching primarily between a work of fiction and a work of nonfiction. Earlier this summer, I found myself in just such a situation, dividing my reading time between two great books, which I’m going to talk more about below.

First, the fiction. The novel is called Hunter’s Run, and I found it noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is a collaborative effort between three authors: George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham. All are notable writers on their own. George R. R. Martin is, among other things, the author of the bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series of books, on which the popular HBO series Game of Thrones is based. Gardner Dozois was the longtime editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for his work as a writer and editor of short fiction. Daniel Abraham is a prolific voice in American science fiction, and no stranger to successful collaborations, having penned the lauded epic Leviathan Wakes (unfortunately not yet available at DCPL) with author Ty Franck under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey.

There are many different ways for authors to collaborate on books, and in this case the story took shape over the course of several decades, passing back and forth between the authors and appearing in a number of different variations before publication in its present form in 2007. You can click here for a more detailed summary of the process. In addition to Hunter’s Run, Abraham and Dozois have separately collaborated with Martin on other projects.

But the writing process which created it isn’t the only fascinating thing about Hunter’s Run. It’s a science fiction novel, but with elements reminiscent of Western and Adventure/Exploration genres of literature. In many ways, it could be classified as a Space Western. The sense of a wild frontier is established with a description of the setting: a mostly-unexplored alien planet, settled by human colonists within living memory, and much of the action takes place in the wilderness away from the human communities. A majority of the characters and place names have a Latin American or Caribbean flavor, which also adds to the “Western” feel of the book.

Another aspect of the novel worth mentioning is the main character, Diego Rivera. Diego could definitely be classified as an antihero (and we’ve written about antihero protagonists before on ShareReads) at the start of the story, but he undergoes a fascinating internal transformation as the plot unfolds, providing an interesting counterpoint to his travels in the external world and allowing the authors to explore complex themes of memory, identity, communication, and the ways we are shaped by our experiences.

In addition to all of that, Hunter’s Run is also quite an exciting book, and does not lack for action and suspense; I certainly had trouble putting it down once I got started.

Now I’d like to talk a bit about What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets by Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel, the excellent nonfiction work I enjoyed concurrently with the novel discussed above. Peter and Faith are a husband and wife team who have traveled the world and documented the lives of people they met through photography and essays. In previous works such as Material World and Hungry Planet, they arrange “family portraits” based on the theme of the work; all the household possessions of the family were piled together for the portraits in Material World, while in Hungry Planet the families were pictured with a week’s-worth of food. In What I Eat, the authors alter the concept, focusing on the food intake of individuals over the course of a single average day, and using meticulous research to determine a caloric count. In all, 80 individuals were profiled in the book, and are ranked from first to last in order of calories consumed. The result is fascinating, informative, and poignant. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. For a “taste” of what the book has to offer, you can visit the official website. Or, you can just check it out from your local library!

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Aug 3 2012

ShareReads: A Nonfictional Summer

by ShareReads

Nothing fires my imagination quite as much as a brilliant work of nonfiction. I tend to be drawn to creative, informative and, many times, fairly serious nonfiction, works that offer a glimpse into the lives of others and, in many cases, the opportunity to understand ourselves better. With summertime winding down (I know, I know—it’s going by fast isn’t it?) why not delve into a great book about someone you’ve never met, a country you’ve always wanted to visit or a time in history that you’ve always been fascinated by?

In considering which books to discuss in this post there is one book that tops the list: a fascinating and thoroughly engaging book called India Becoming: A Portrait of Life In Modern India by Akash Kapur. Kapur, an Indian living in America since he was 16, returns to the country of his birth to explore the opportunities and challenges of 21st century India. His journey takes him far and wide—from bustling vibrant cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai to small towns and villages Tindivanam and Molasur—across the nation. Along the way Kapur introduces us to folks of all walks of Indian life including young Hari, a call center worker excited about the prospects of the new global economy,Veena, a 30-something careerwoman trying to strike a balance between her professional ambitions and her desire for family life and Sathy, a rural zamindar whose wealth and status is diminishing in the wake of New India’s shifting economy. Kapur is an incredible writer but also an exceptional listener, allowing the truths of his characters (for lack of a better word) to come forth, offering a compelling glimpse into New Millenium India.

Another intriguing and challenging nonfiction work that I have read a few times is Poor People by William T. Vollmann. The title, and indeed the subject matter, strikes an initially uninviting chord but I highly recommend this book. Poor People shines a light onto the lives of people from around the world subsisting in various states of poverty. The crux of this book lies within the author’s question to all of his interviewees: “Why are you poor?” The answers to this question range from simple (“Because I don’t have a job”) to philosophical (“I think I am rich,” says Wan, a young, emaciated beggar-girl in Bangkok) to fatalistic (“Money just goes where it goes”). Vollmann’s work is insightful in his discussion of the nature of poverty. His writing is vivid, expressive  and journalistic in his presentation of his subjects’  lives. Vollmann makes no pretense of owning the solution to the blight of poverty but perhaps this book and others like it brings its readers a step closer to understanding our fellow man.

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Aug 20 2010

ShareReads: Bugged Out

by Jimmy L

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

About a month ago, I was poking around my crawlspace when I noticed a lot of dark crickets jumping around like popcorn as soon as I got close to them.  Wondering whether they were harmful, I looked online and found out that they were called camel crickets (but also sometimes known as cave crickets), and completely harmless.  They like dark damp spaces, eat detritus, and are completely silent, so you won’t hear them chirping at night.   The little things looked so cute, the 5 year old in me thought about raising a few in a cage so I could observe them.

Then last week, I was in a used bookstore and I came upon a book through pure luck— Broadsides from the Other Orders: A Book of Bugs by Sue Hubbell.  A cursory glance through the contents revealed that each chapter is about a different insect, from much loved ones like the butterfly and the ladybug, to ones we consider pests like gnats, silverfish, and flies.  I put it in my huge pile of finds that day and took it to the checkout counter.  It wasn’t until later that I saw the title of the last chapter—Order Orthoptera: Camel Crickets.

I’m still reading this book, slowly, savoring it chapter by chapter, and I’m reading it impulsively rather than in order, skipping to katydids or dragonflies just because I suddenly feel like it.  But, obviously, I started with the camel crickets.  I found out so much more about these little critters than Wikipedia could ever be able to tell me.  Hubbell writes from a personal angle; she is not a bug expert, just someone who’s very enthusiastic about them, so I was able to get that same sense of excitement and discovery that she did.  She presents you with amazing tidbits (did you know that the daddy longlegs uses his legs as a kind of cage to trap other insects underneath him as he feeds?) that never feel dry.  Her approach with each insect is different.  With the ladybug, she followed ladybug harvesters (because they sell them now for people who want them in their gardens), for the daddy longlegs and camel crickets, she raised some of her own in cages and observed them, for the butterfly, she followed a few taxonomists, helping them count the different varieties in the Beartooth Mountains.

Sue Hubbell has written many other books, some of which are available at the library.  A Book of Bees… And How to Keep Them is about beekeeping, A Country Year: Living the Questions is a book about living and exploring nature, and Waiting for Aphrodite: Journeys into the Time Before Bones is a book about invertebrates.  I’m excited to check these books out too, once I finish with this one.

Have you read any books lately that make you feel like a giddy 5 year old?  Any books that satisfy an odd curiosity?  Please share in the comments.

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Working in DCPL, for me, is like being a kid in a candy store. All day long I’m surrounded by intriguing and irresistible books and media. As a result, I often take leave of my senses and borrow more items than I can reasonably read in 3, 6 or even 9 weeks. Thus, I find myself returning many items before I have the chance to complete them, vowing to one day pick up each book where I left off. Here are a few titles that top my To Be Continued list:

Evil: An Investigation by Lance Morrow:  Of all the different types of books in the Library, I find that I’m drawn to nonfiction more than anything else. I love books that are thought-provoking, informative, startling and, in many cases, infuriating. So you can imagine how intrigued I’d be by a book entitled Evil. Morrow’s essay is an examination of an idea that’s as ancient as time and as elusive as eternity. What is evil? Can it be quantified? Can it be controlled or vanquished? How should I know? I didn’t get to finish this one.

Paint It Black by Janet Fitch:  This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed and came this close to finishing but I think it was fairly new at the time and I couldn’t renew it. Either way, this story introduces us to Josie Tyrell, a young actress/model, coping with the death of her boyfriend and forging an uneasy relationship with Meredith, her boyfriend’s mother. It’s a book that I poured over and thoroughly enjoyed reading. Alas, that wasn’t enough to allow me to finish reading it in my three allotted weeks.

Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography by Andrew Morton: Normally, I have little trouble reading through Unauthorized Biographies. They are easy to digest, chock full of gossip and delicious dish from reliably unreliable sources and, perhaps most importantly, once one has finished reading it, there’s no distracting aftertaste of profundity and a lesson learned. I don’t remember what, if anything, I learned from the few pages I read of this. But everytime I watch Jerry Maguire it reminds me I never did finish that Tom Cruise book.

The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien: I’ve tried several times throughout my life to finish this one. Not that it’s not a classic and an incredible book. It’s just that, whenever I’m in the midst of this book, another book always comes along and catches my eye. But I’ve been watching the animated film since I was kid so maybe I that’s why I keep skipping it over on my To Be Continued List (“Well, I do already know the story…and I did see all of the Lord of The Rings films. I’ll just come back to it…”).  But that’s not really much of an excuse, is it?

What’s on you guys’ To Be Continued List?

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