CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller

What a treat this book turned out to be. I have known Lulu and Grace slightly for several years, feeling a great warmth for them, so there was no question about buying the book. Then I learned the book is in part a biography of David Starr Jordan, a name I knew from having spent the 1970s in Bloomington, Indiana. He had been president of Indiana University, so a street, a building, and a creek...

The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis

The author tells the story of her mother’s life in the numbers business in Detroit for 40-some years. Fannie and her husband were among the many black people who left Nashville, Tennessee and other Southern cities looking for a better life, in their case, in 1955. John T was not able to make enough money for the family, so Fannie ran numbers and did so successfully until her death in 1992...

The Yellow House by Sarah Broom

The photo of Sarah Broom that was in my head as I began her memoir is from the NYT; her look is that of a stylish woman of the 1940s. Maybe you’ve seen this image in their review. So as I began reading this memoir of her family that begins with her grandmother, born in 1916, then reaches back to her largely unknown great-grandmother, I had that picture in mind. Later as I read what she...

Caffeine by Michael Pollan

This subtitle, How Caffeine Created the Modern World, lays out an ambitious subject for a 2-hour audiobook, even if it is written by Michael Pollan. I’m not in a position to say that it was a successful thesis, but it was interesting enough that I want to devote a post to it to remember some of the points he made. I am sorry to say that as far as I know, it is only available through Audible...

Why Religion? A Personal Story by Elaine Pagels

I know this scholar from her work Revelations about the last book of the Bible “Revelation,” a fascinating book that translates her scholarly work for the public. Her new book recounts her own dramatic life with references to her work and religious/spiritual practices that helped her survive traumas she experienced. Her best known book is The Gnostic Gospels, written early in her...

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...

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