On Nonfiction

A major reason I read is to learn about the world around me. Now, I have always believed that fiction is a valid way to achieve this. Obviously historical fiction can give a sense of historical events or place and time, but contemporary fiction – and even other genre fiction – can teach by putting the reader into the shoes of people from different backgrounds, in addition to just seeing the way people interact with one another in different circumstances, provided you believe the author’s rendering. Not to mention that even fiction often has interesting nonfictional tidbits.

That being said, when you want to get down to facts and brass tacks, nonfiction is the way to go. Unfortunately, for the last year or two I haven’t gotten around to much nonfiction. Some memoir, some very practical nonfiction (mostly relating to having a baby or getting said baby to go to sleep once in awhile), but not nearly enough ‘let me learn this because it sounds interesting, even if not actually relevant to my life’ nonfiction. Although I didn’t make it a formal resolution, I am trying to make it a point to read more nonfiction this year.

In order to make this happen, I am devoting the whole of this week to nonfiction reviews. I’ve got some American history, which is one of my greatest interests – which is interesting, because I almost never enjoy historical fiction with an American setting – plus two sweeping biographies of inanimate objects. I’m really enjoying this trend idea of setting sweeping histories of things as biographies, by the way. It lends a depth to the histories and keeps them from becoming dry as they could conceivably otherwise become.

What’s the best nonfiction you’ve read recently? I need more recommendations, to indulge my strong nonfiction cravings.

College in a Nutskull edited by Anders Henriksson – Book Review

College in a Nutskull edited by Anders Henriksson

You know those books about funny malapropisms that kids make? The ones that almost make you cringe because they show such a lack of either thought or education?

Okay, well, imagine one of those, but filled with things that college students have written on tests. Such a book is “College in a Nutskull.”

Anders Henriksson, a professor at Shepherd College in West Virgina, has collected some of the most completely absurd things that college students around the United States have ever written on exams, and put them into this book, organized by subject and designed to look like a spiral-bound notebook. Some of my favorites:

John McCane’s biggest mistake was to think that Sara Palin could cattle pout him into the White House

Life in the trenches was very dangerous due to constant attacks by submarines.

Fascism is where your social life is totally on Facebook.

When I first received this book, I wasn’t really sure it would appeal to me. Then I sat down and began flipping through it, and had a hard time putting it down! Reading it a section or two at a time, I finished this entire book in a single day. Normally these types of books made me cringe, but this one was so funny (cattle pout? hilarious!) that funny beat out sad for me. Of course there were some cringe-worthy moments too (note to all college students, fascism has nothing to do with Facebook!), but on the balance I really enjoyed “College in a Nutskull.”

Give this book to your favorite graduate – if only to make sure that they don’t think any of this makes sense!

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

This review was done with a book received unsolicited from the publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea – Book Review

The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea

In May of 2001, a group of men attempted to cross from Mexico to the U.S. through a section of desert ominously referred to as the Devil’s Highway. While they are crossing, they get spooked, thinking the Border Patrol has found them and run, losing their way in the process. After an entire series of calamitous decisions, the men start hoping that the Border Patrol will find them, if only to save their lives.

This is some heart-wrenching nonfiction right here. Seriously.

One thing I think Urrea does particularly well in “The Devil’s Highway” is looking at the different sides of this story. He introduces the¬†perspectives¬†both of the men attempting to cross illegally into the United States and of the Border Patrol, and even tries to get into the head of some of the coyotes to a certain extent.

I also appreciated the way that Urrea presented his bias. I do not mean bias in a denigrating way, everyone has an opinion on immigration, and it is pretty much inevitable that it would an inform a book such as this. Urrea walked a fine line here with making his bias/opinion/what have you obvious enough that I could identify it and see how it influenced how he told the story of these men, but not so overwhelming that the reader would feel preached to.

The most powerful chapter in the book come right about in the middle and is called “Killed by the Light.” It basically details, step-by-step, how one dies from thirst and heat in sparse, beautiful prose. Every word of it pierced my heart, both due to the writing and the fact that I knew this process was happening in each and every of the men lost on the Devil’s Highway. The style and power of this section reminded me of Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels,” which is a very favorable comparison, as that is one of my very favorite books.

I had just a little bit of trouble getting into the very beginning of this book, but once I settled into the very distressing story Urrea was telling me, I was completely rapt. No matter what your views on immigration, I believe that Urrea will bring to life the human tragedy caused by policies on both sides of the border. Very highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound

This review was done with a book I purchased myself.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2010