CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

I loved listening to the author who, when this was written in 1998, was restaurant critic for the New York Times. Here, she tells how she came to love good food. I had read her laugh-out-loud book Garlic and Sapphires more than 10 years ago, so I was not surprised to find this one, too, has many funny stories. I’ll start with one of the best about her mother, who was a terrible–and...

Love Unknown: The Life and Works of Elizabeth Bishop by Thomas Travisano

Over the years we have known that our friend Jim’s brother has written books about Elizabeth Bishop; this one is surely his most ambitious. It is an eminently readable telling of her life and for me, an appealing recounting of her poetry. Her father died when she was eight months old and when she was five, her mother had a breakdown and was hospitalized for the rest of her life. Bishop...

Yellow Notebook by Helen Garner

Because I loved her book of essays Everywhere I Look so much, I didn’t hesitate to read this book of Helen Garner’s diaries from 1978 to 1987. Many of the personal stories were pretty mysterious to me; everyone is referred to by a single initial. While she records her emotional reactions the end of her second marriage, F didn’t become much more than an initial to me. M was...

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I had been hesitant to read a book about a topic I lived with for many years, but two recent recommendations and a book loan later, well, what choice did I have? The great fear is that facts or the tone would be wrong, but that didn’t happen with this book. And I should say that I am only a patron of public libraries as my work experience was with academic libraries. At the outset the...

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight

This long and thorough biography of the incomparable Frederick Douglass has been my companion for some weeks now. It has been inspirational to hear about his strength in the face of the great turmoil of his life. His story of escaping slavery and becoming an iconic speaker who drew thousands to hear him is endlessly fascinating. Recently I read a review of a different book that brought to mind...

All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw by Theodore Rosengarten

It was the list of the 50 best memoirs of the last 50 years according to a recent article in The New York Times that took me to this book. I expect it to be my own Book of the Year. How this exceptional book came to be is a story in itself. Theodore Rosengarten went with his friend Dale Rosen to interview Ned Cobb about his experience in the 1930s as a member of the Alabama Sharecropper’s...

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss

Anita Heiss compiled these 50 short pieces by Aboriginal people in Australia and has gathered a pleasingly varied anthology of voices. I read that some of the stories are by well-known figures, but they were all unknown to me. Some were successful in sports, some are musicians, some were quite young. I loved them all and grew addicted to the six readers. Many spoke of their parents’...

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

This short book came out of a series of interviews Hurston had done as an anthropology student several years before she wrote the book in 1931. She interviewed a man brought to the US on the last ship importing enslaved men and women which had been illegal for 50 years by that time. The account of her conversations with Cudjo Lewis about his life in Africa, his time as an enslaved person, and his...

A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin

What a wonderful book this has been. Claire Tomalin is a British biographer of such august and challenging subjects as Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and Jane Austen. Now in her 80s she undertook her own biography and seems to have applied the skills and thoroughness to her own life as to her other subjects. And fortunately her life has been biography-worthy. Her early life was affected by her...

Joy Enough by Sarah McColl

If you were writing a book about your mother dying just at the time your marriage was ending, it seems you wouldn’t use the word “joy” in the title. But joy, beauty, and pleasure somehow seep out of the book and I was happy as I read it. The author lets out lovely–and difficult–bits about her life with her mother and about her husband. Episodes that are not told in...

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