My year of Non Fiction

Canary friends! Remember when I posted about how great it would be to diversify my own reading, dip my toes into some non fiction, try some new stuff out?* The dip turned out to be an all inclusive two-year stay.

But I’m back now. Fantasy and sci-fi, here I come.

2015-2016 Books Read List:

 The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson Under and Alone by William Queen Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn Everything is Obvious by Duncan J. Watts The Immortal Game by David ShenkAll the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister Ghettoside by Jill Leovy Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny LawsonCathedral of the Wild by Boyd Varty Animal Wise by Virginia Morell Being Mortal by Atul Gawande Pandemic by Sonia Shah The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami Rising Strong by Brené BrownThe Big Short by Michael Lewis I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling Bad Feminist by Roxane GayThe Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling Originals by Adam M. GrantWaste-Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders Spinster by Kate BolickDark Money by Jane Mayer Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari Never Broken by JewelSounds Like Me by Sara BareillesEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery America Again by Stephen Colbert Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss Kitchen Confidential by Anthony BourdainDaring Greatly by Brené Brown Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson Yes Please by Amy Poehler You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day First Bite by Bee WilsonMy Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem A Brief History of Creation by Bill Mesler Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell Grain Brain by David PerlmutterDays of Rage by Bryan Burrough When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew  Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim Working Stiff by Judy Melinek Kill Chain by Andrew CockburnThe Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee Endurance by Alfred Lansing Surprise by Tania Luna Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey Moody Bitches by Julie HollandThe Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee The Mormon People by Matthew Bowman Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter Future Crimes by Marc GoodmanIt Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell Made to Stick by Chip Heath It's What I Do by Lynsey Addario The Powerhouse by Steve Levine Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill LeporeHow Google Works by Eric Schmidt Angry Optimist by Lisa Rogak Now I See You by Nicole C. Kear Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo Switch by Chip Heath The $100 Startup by Chris GuillebeauBehind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel Drive by Daniel H. Pink Blink by Malcolm Gladwell Born to Run by Christopher McDougall How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters by Andrew Shaffer

 

*This is why I am not allowed to have reasonable sounding goals anymore. These things escalate quite quickly.

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[Book Review] A pep talk and hug from Patricia C. Wrede

Wrede on Writing: Tips, Hints, and Opinions on Writing by Patricia C. Wrede

“What matters is that when you are finished, you have a good story, however you managed to get there.” (Wrede on Writing)

You know this author. You know her because of all the awesome:.

Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1) 64207 245727 5797595

And now she has a book out that distills over thirty  years of writing wisdom into 246 pages covering basics from what it means to get an idea for a novel to the eternal question that plagues writers around the country – should you have a dedicated writing office, or write on all and any available and relatively flat surface up to and including relatives and large animals? In small, short vignettes, the book covers a miscellany of writer-relevant topics in a ‘there’s no one right way to write’ kind of way.

The book is set up in three sections: the bare-bone basics of writing (outlining, what point of view is, tense, narration, the works), the more advanced basics (using flashbacks, writing conflict, ending the darn book, beginning it…), and the practical, financial and operational basics of being an author.  Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Naked Economics, Skeptical Canary

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan

Four semesters of economics in college convinced me of one unshakable truth: economics is irredeemably boring. So when I saw the tagline to this book included the phrase “dismal science”, I approved.

I approved even more when I read the intro and the author’s promise of no-graphs and no-math. The part of me that convinced me to take those four semesters of econ in the first place reared its head then: “Economics are important. You’re gonna fail at life if you don’t read this book!”

Okay, okay, fine, Inner Voice of Reason and Responsibility, I’ll give it a try. And maybe become a more productive citizen in the process.

I dove in and realized a few things very quickly.

1. Wheelan doesn’t lie. There are no graphs, charts, or number crunching. Even Bill Bryson, who made space and geography fun, hadn’t managed to do that. Plus respect points to Wheelan!

2. It might have been a much dryer read if I hadn’t already had some small amount of economic background. I breezed through the first few chapters, and only started slowing down when it got to talking about the recent economic crisis and Wall Street.

3. It’s fun! The narrator pulls out plenty of amusing anecdotes that had me chortling.

4. The approach and context is US-specific rather than global. If you’re international, mileage may vary!

What about the book in general?

Wheelan, the middle bird.

Ideologically, it takes the middle ground between the kind of rhetoric I listened to last night during the US Republican debate (see upside down canary for more details) and the kind of approach proposed by economists like Jeffrey Sachs (if you like non-fiction, neoliberalism, and NPR, check out The End of Poverty*). Indeed, most of the content in the first half of Naked Economics was standard textbook material, minus the canary-numbing, narcolepsy-inducing dryness. It answered questions such as “what in the world does the US Federal Reserve do?”,  “Why are set prices and rent ceilings a terrible idea that makes everything pricier, not cheaper?” and “Why can’t we just print money–oh wait, we do? How does that work?”

Specific examples, light tone, fits in a very large pocket…It’s like the newest iPad of Economics.

(Well, okay, iPads don’t fit in pockets, have fun Econ examples, or go pastel. But they could, if Apple put its mind to it.)

*Yes, sir! I have my NNN badge, right here!

[ Best and Worst ] The Beauty and Beast Within

When CanaryTheFirst invited me to do a guest post, I was excited. Then she told me the topic (your “Best and Worst Reads Ever”), and I almost broke out in a cold sweat.

It’s not that I don’t have a best read ever. Of course I do. It’s just that… well… it’s something I’ve never shared with anyone before.

See, my best reading experience had very little to do with the book, and everything to do with the experience of reading the book.

First, let me tell you about the book. It’s a tiny little thing, only 162 pages long.

It’s The Sacred Prostitute by Nancy Qualls-Corbett, a treatment on the Eternal Aspect of the Feminine, published by Inner City Books. A friend gave me the book because he knew I was writing a novel involving the Sumerian goddess Ishtar, but I was having trouble bringing her character to life. I had very little information on her that wasn’t dried-out fact or archeological evidence.

I had never heard of Jung before.

The title and nature of the little book embarrassed me. I didn’t want to be seen carrying it around, so I covered it with nondescript wallpaper. Now I could read and be amazed incognito.

Once I agreed to write this post, I wanted to find my copy of The Sacred Prostitute. I started digging through my boxes of packed away books. It took a while, but–there! It was like finding an old friend or a favorite stuffed animal, its wallpaper covering now worn and yellowed. That little book took my world-views, and turned them upside down–or rather, right-side up.

I know, I know…what’s the book about?

(Just so you know, I’m having pitch-slap PTSD…)

The Sacred Prostitute by Nancy Qualls-Corbett

Qualls-Corbett tells us about the historical goddess representations of Ishtar, Inanna, Venus, etc., and explains how sexuality and femininity were once valued aspects of society. Next, she delves into the psychological archetypes of the sacred feminine and how the perception and denial of sexuality influences our societal evolution. The book ends by touching on how we might reconcile the very concept of sexuality with our current belief-systems, mainly Christianity.

Cracking open the cover of a tiny book ushered an entire paradigm-shift in me as the reader. It was an awesome light-bulb moment that changed how I viewed myself as a woman. I was raised to think of sexuality as a dirty topic, off-limits, not discussed. When I went to college and learned a little of the Freudian perspective, it pretty much reinforced that negative view.

Jung’s concepts, though–now that was something altogether different. The author’s treatment of the topic of values, societal attitudes, and the advent of Christianity and patriarchal codes…it made me feel glad to be a woman.

It set me free.

***

My worst reading experience is going to be a lot easier to describe.

At first I wondered, how does a person have a worst reading experience? Why not just fling the book out the window if it’s that bad? After a bit more thought, I realized I did have a bad experience, once, with a book I’d read from cover to cover.

I cursed the author the entire time I was being sucked into a world I didn’t want. That book was…

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

I didn’t want to have anything to do with this book to begin with. I knew of King by reputation, and as far as I could tell, wrote about the things I was more comfortable not thinking about…but stupidity reigned over common sense.

“Dr. Louis Creed and his wife Rachel chose rural Maine to settle his family and bring up their children. It was a better place than smog-covered Chicago — or so he thought. But that was before be became acquainted with the pet burial ground located in the backwoods of the quiet community of Ludlow.”

It’s that pet cemetery that brings their dead cat back to life–but the cat comes back different. Wrong. And it’s that pet cemetery that calls to Doctor Louis Creed when he loses his toddler son. He can bring the child back to life, but at what cost?

The cost is too high.

Now, it’s not that the book  isn’t well-written. It is. And that was the problem. Once I’d started, I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to put the entire story out of my head, in fact, but I couldn’t. And then I was angry with myself afterwards for finishing it.

Books like Pet Sematary illuminate the worst nightmare of all parents–the main character’s son is killed by a semi-truck when he runs onto the highway. Then King takes it a step farther and preys on the pain of the parents who want so badly for their dead child to live again.

It is not a book I’d ever want to revisit again.

***

Conclusion:

Now that this essay is written, I’m amazed to see that there is a tie-in with my best and worst reads. As Carl Jung unveils and gives life to the mysteries of human psyche and desire, skilled horror writers like Stephen King prey on them.

It would seem that I prefer the unveiling to the exploitation, but I think that in reality, all best-sellers capitalize on that exploitation of secrets. It’s what make us, the readers, tick.

But that is a topic for a whole ‘nother editorial.

That’s my best and worst—now it’s your turn. Do you have a book that tilted your world onto a new axis? 

You can find more great writing by Madison at her blog. Click away, canaries!

[ Book Review ] In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country by  Bill Bryson; if you think the going is rough, you’ve never been to Australia

Take-home messages:

  1. Australia doesn’t make waves. Except for swimming and drowning.
  2. Australian aborigines are quite remarkable. Except they’re criminally ignored.
  3. Australia has a lovely biosphere. Except it’s been trying to kill people since white settlers stepped on its shores. Quite successfully too.
  4. Australia’s history is full of crazy people who do great things. Except it’s usually by accident.
  5. Australia is full of potential. Except people don’t actually have much of an idea of what’s out there.
  6. Australia reminds Bryson of the 1950’s. Except dryer and bigger.
  7. Australia is quite lovely. Except– well, no, it’s just quite lovely.

Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey: I had to hear it to like it

What do 30-Rock, Saturday Night Live, and 63.4% of my friends have in common? Tina Fey. And, in the case of my friends, the looks they give me–part mild concern, part disbelief–when I reluctantly admit that I don’t watch either show. At least, not beyond a few youtube clips those self-same friends are moved to send my way in pity.

And this is why I can’t stress enough how glad I am that I went for an audiobook version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants (narrated by the author, herself).  Had I picked up the print version of Fey’s collection of articles,  I’d have been reading it flat, and flat wouldn’t have done anything but create an angry, sardonic atmosphere. But with Tina Fey performing her own words, there is nothing vicious in the narrator’s light, chirpy voice–and the liberal in me was content.

But wait, canary. You just called this a collection of articles. It’s a book.

Yes, Bossypants is presented as a memoir, but the book is best approached as a collection of chapters and commentary, only loosely connected by Fey’s themes from her childhood to now. In fact, that’s one of the thing I ended up enjoying immensely. Not only are the stories entertaining, but there are a lot of them. And just when I might have been tempted to let my mind wander, Fey ends a story and hits me with a pithy list–or a series of replies to comments from the internet.

TheOtherCanary informs me that this is what modern nonfiction memiors look like. Weird.  Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Short Review of a Short History

The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson 

Read by Richard Matthews

Take-home messages:

  1. Hell hath no fury as two scientists bickering.
  2. Science consists of scientists bickering, feuding, and/or driving each other into obscurity or suicide.
  3. In the large scheme of things, the existence of humanity is a monumental accident and a rather fleeting millisecond.
  4. People are really rather terrible.
  5. People are really rather terrible for the planet.

Continue reading