CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

Dorothy mentioned this book and I am so glad she did–it’s been an exceptional book for me. I loved Saunders’ novel Lincoln in the Bardo, but have found some of his short stories to be too dark for me. This is something quite different; it is his careful reading of seven short stories by Russian writers, a 400-page recounting of a course he has taught for 20 years to MFA students...

Intimations by Zadie Smith

I have listened to this audiobook twice now and will again. While I’m sure the essays are brilliant in print, hearing her voice gives them a great new dimension. I loved both of the books of her fiction that I have read. In the forward written at the end of May 2020 Smith notes that many books will be written about the pandemic; hers is an accounting of some of the thoughts and feelings it...

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

It was a pleasure to listen to Barack Obama review his political life in his usual measured and literate style, although the specter of the four years following his time in office hung over the narrative. And the Republicans’ stated goal of making him a one-term, failed president rather than address the 2008 financial crisis added to that pain. I plan to remember some of the fun bits. He...

The Power of Adrienne Rich by Hilary Holladay

I wanted to read the biography of the famous poet and feminist because I know so little about this person whose name is so familiar. I am left thinking I learned about her personal life, but do not have a grasp of her influence. Adrienne’s father was determined to make her a successful and well-educated person; she turned her attention to writing poetry and in her third year at Radcliffe...

She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh

Given her outstanding book about growing up in poverty in Kansas (Heartland), I was happy to listen to Smarsh read her new book about Dolly Parton. Dolly grew up in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and left after high school to make her way in country music. Her talent as a songwriter, her business acumen, her looks, and her voice have made her a wildly successful and rich entertainer. She has become...

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

I listened this memoir by a Native American poet in December because it was mentioned by Laura. I am currently listening again to bring Joy Harjo’s voice back into my head. The first chapter or two is poetic, including part that she sang. She moves into a more conventional story-telling mode and we learn that she was born in Tulsa, her father was Muscogee Creek, and her mother was part...

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

It will not be possible to fit all I want to remember about this book in one short post. So I’ll start by saying that listening to the author read her essays was educational and entertaining, but even more, it was uplifting and brought me joy. It was as wonderful as her first book H is for Hawk. From childhood she has always been a lover of the natural world and her essays reflect that. She...

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I appreciated hearing the author read this audiobook, a personal message to his 15-year-old son.  It was beautiful, moving, and brilliant by turns, so I honor it best by quoting some passages. He writes about the false concept of “race” and refers often to those who “believe they are white.” Someone he knew from his time at Howard University was killed by police. It was...

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger by Lisa Donovan

Is it a mistaken perception that people who run, own, or work in high end restaurants are more likely than a person successful in some other endeavor to write a book about it? Books in this category that occur to me begin with George Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris (those kitchens were disgustingly dirty), to Alice Waters’ writing about Chez Panisse, Anthony Bourdain’s...

Clutter: An Untidy History by Jennifer Howard

Like Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller, this is both a dive into an important topic and a deeply personal book. I have followed Jen Howard on Twitter for her professional interest in higher education and libraries for some years. She may have lived in my town for her first five years until her parents divorced; I have met her father, the eminent constitutional scholar, several times at...

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