Thursday, May 25, 2017

Recent Non-fiction Reading

My reading usually tends heavily toward fiction; I enjoy the mental/emotional escape provided by mystery and romance (not to be confused with "erotic") novels. I read 12-15 books a month, on average; and during the first 5 months of 2017 I have read 8 or 10 very interesting and varied non-fiction books in addition to my usual novels. I will list, and briefly review, some of the best here. I ordered most of these through the public library and had to wait until they were fetched from other branches and made available here at the Sara Hightower Regional Library.

Late in February I re-read The Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll.  I believe this makes my 4th reading of this one.  Swindoll reminds Christians that the God of the universe has given us an amazing, revolutionary gift of grace and freedom and that our lives can (and should) be lived without the legalistic adherence to religious tenets that many people assume are necessary for Christian living.  

In March I read The Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall.  From the blurb: "Meet Denver, a man raised under plantation-style slavery in Louisiana in the 1960s; a man who escaped, hopping a train to wander, homeless, for eighteen years on the streets of Dallas, Texas. No longer a slave, Denver's life was still hopeless—until God moved. First came a godly woman who prayed, listened, and obeyed. And then came her husband, Ron, an international arts dealer at home in a world of Armani-suited millionaires. And then they all came together.   But slavery takes many forms. Deborah discovers that she has cancer. In the face of possible death, she charges her husband to rescue Denver. Who will be saved, and who will be lost? What is the future for these unlikely three? What is God doing?  Same Kind of Different As Me is the emotional tale of their story: a telling of pain and laughter, doubt and tears, dug out between the bondages of this earth and the free possibility of heaven. No reader or listener will ever forget it. "  While this book was poorly written (as far as sentence/paragraph structure and writing conventions are concerned), it is an enthralling read.  

In April I read Hillbilly Ellegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.  My sister, Janice Shaw Crouse, suggested this read for me. This book is a powerful memoir and study of the dissatisfaction and despair of America's working class whites. particularly  in the Southeastern part of the country) in the early 21st century. The loss of the hope of the American Dream for a large part of society is poorly understood by most American politicians.

In April I also read The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters by Tom Nichols.  I found this one particularly interesting as it deals with a topic that is already very dear to me as a person who values education and logical thinking. The author examines and expounds on how the rise of the internet and other technology has made information more easily-accessible than ever before. He points out that this has had the positive effect of equalizing access to knowledge.  The important point here is that it also has "lowered the bar on what depth of knowledge is required to consider oneself an 'expert.' A cult of anti-expertise sentiment has coincided with anti-intellectualism, resulting in massively viral yet poorly informed debates ... This surge in intellectual egalitarianism has altered the landscape of debates-all voices are equal, and 'fact' is a subjective term. " (quotes from the blurb) 

At the end of April I began reading American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard.  I believe this one was recommended by my long-time internet friend, Norma Bruce.  This is a very thought-provoking, but generally subjective, overview of the "nations" that make up the North American continent.   Something in me rejects the idea of so neatly pigeonholing groups of people and making generalizations about their characteristics, attitudes, and motivations; but Woodard shows here how the history of the different cultures that make up the continent have worked together - or not- throughout our history, and he illustrates and explains why "American" values vary sharply from one region to another.

Early in May I read Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. I believe that this was also a recommendation by Norma Bruce.  This is a hard book to read because death and dying are hard topics to think about; however, it is an important read and one I highly recommend (since death is an event assured to be in each of our futures.) Each of us is mortal. In our medically advanced world today, most of us will face weeks, months, or even years in declining health with increasingly invasive medical intervention. Almost ALL of us will face this scenario with a loved one. How much invasive medial intervention is helpful or desirable and where that treatment should stop are topics of importance to consider. When time becomes short, what is most important to you? How can you best achieve the remaining goals of your life? The real issue at that time are not how to prolong life but how to make each day -- until the very end -- the best day possible. In order to do that, one must give some advance thought and have some early discussion with loved ones about our individual life goals and about what it means to be human and mortal. The time to do that is while our health/life/treatment/manner of death are still negotiable.  The book  is well-written, thought-provoking, and helpful.

Two of my granddaughters and a niece have been accepted to attend Jacksonville State University in Alabama next Fall.  I checked out The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon  because they are each required to read it before the Freshman Orientation.   The book is written in the voice of a 15-year-old autistic boy. The author shows amazing insight into the thoughts, emotions, and understandings of the autistic mind.  The book was fascinating in structure as well as in content.  As a teacher of writing, I found it interesting in that the book itself is presented as a writing project of the character's.  It is a short and quick read. 

In May, I ordered Peenemunde to Canaveral by Dieter K. Huzel when I found out that it was written by the grandfather of my new nephew-by-marriage.   It is an autobiographical account of the development of rocket science beginning in Peenemunde, Germany before and during WWII through the launching of the Redstone missile from Cape Canaveral in 1953.  If I'd had more background understanding of rocketry, I would have enjoyed this book more; but it was well-written and interesting even so.  

 I would highly recommend every one of these, for each of which I've written brief reviews on Goodreads.

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