Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Top Ten Tuesday - Books to Read if You've Never Read Non-fiction

Non-fiction. Even the word fills me with a sense of dread and conjures images of huge volumes with tiny print, long words and a bibliography longer than all the chapters put together. But then I look back over the books I've read over the years and realise that a large amount of them were interesting, accessible non-fiction.

Here are a few examples to get you going if you dread the concept of non-fiction.

1) How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Read my review here.

To be fair, I manage to find a way to recommend this no matter what the list topic or request from a friend actually is. I love this book so much I'd happily stand on a street corner all day to wave it at passers by. And now I've made myself sound like some kind of literary prostitute, but there are worse kinds, I suppose.

'It also turns out that husbands do not read Grazia, and no matter how magnificent or loving they may be, they can't help themselves from sporadically saying '£225! For a purse! JESUS CHRIST,' as if you've just stabbed them quite violently in the balls with a fork, left the fork there, and then hung your coat on it while you go and have a bath.'

So this is an absolutely hilarious memoir of Caitlin Moran's journey through adolescence and into womanhood. She talks about periods, feminism, babies and everything inbetween with absolutely no inhibitions or awkwardness. Every single woman (and man - they might learn something!) from the age of 17 or so should read this book. 


2) Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy


This book is an actual non-fiction book as opposed to memoir, but it's still funny in parts. It's a tiny book, but it discusses the concept that perhaps women themselves are responsible for the negative portrayal of women.


If male chauvinist pigs of years past thought of women as pieces of meat, Female Chauvinist Pigs of today are doing them one better, making sex objects of other women - and of themselves. They think they're being brave, they think they're being funny, but in Female Chauvinist Pigs, New York magazine writer Ariel Levy asks if the joke is on them." In her quest to uncover why this is happening, Levy interviews college women who flash for the cameras on spring break and teens raised on Paris Hilton and breast implants. She examines a culture in which every music video seems to feature a stripper on a pole, the memoirs of porn stars are climbing the best-seller lists, Olympic athletes parade their Brazilian bikini waxes in the pages of Playboy, and thongs are marketed to prepubescent girls. 

This is not anti-women, not at all. Ariel Levy doesn't look down on those women who choose to bare everything for reality TV shows, she just thinks that perhaps women shouldn't judge the women who don't so harshly. It's a hard book to explain, but it's well-worth reading.

3) Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girly Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein


Read my review here.

I have to admit, I didn't actually agree with this book. I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed it because I think the whole concept of biological gender differences fascinating. But Ms Orenstein refuses to allow her daughter (who has the clearly masculine name of Daisy) to watch Disney Princess films or have Barbies because of their potential negative influence.

Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls' successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today's little princess become tomorrow's sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?'

To me, she seems a little over-the-top although she does have a few good points. Surely moderation is the key with this issue? Regardless, she writes very, very well and it's an interesting (and sparkly!) book. 

4) Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence 

My review is here. 

So, just to prove that I occasionally read non-fiction that isn't vaguely feministic, let's have some animals instead.

Babylon's Ark is fascinating and moving, all at the same time. Mr. Anthony travels to a war-torn country to save the abused, starved animals that resided in the Baghdad Zoo, using nothing but the money in his pocket and the help of the occasional well-meaning American soldiers.

I don't think I've ever read a non-fiction book that made me quite so angry. 

5) Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill


Wouldn't this be a great idea for all of us? While searching her many, many bookshelves for a particular book, Susan Hill realised how many of her own books she'd never actually read. God, can you imagine doing that? How silly. *looks shifty*

So she resolves to not visit the library or purchase books for an entire year and writes about her journey. This is a wonderful book, discussing her early childhood Enid Blyton books to the reading habits she's amassed over the years.


Who doesn't love books about books?


6) Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

My review is here.

This is another memoir type-thing, but God it's hilarious. I had no idea Carrie Fisher would be so funny, but I had more than one giggle fit while reading this.

'I'm a PEZ dispenser. True story. Which not only has really made my life great, but it's enhanced the lives of everyone I run into. If you can get someone to make you into a PEZ dispenser, do it. And my daughter loves it because like I told you, she's a teenager, and they love to humiliate the parent for sport, so all she has to do is flip my head back and pull a wafer out of my neck.' 

It reads as though she's sat across the table from you, talking to you casually about Star Wars, her crazy parents and her mental problems. She never comes across as arrogant or distant - I feel as though I know her and I love her for it.


7) We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee

This is such a great book that it's actually been made into a film with Matt Damon - it's due for release this year, in fact.

So the title kind of gives it away. Benjamin Mee and his family, for no logical reason and with no zoological experience, buy a zoo. Mr. Mee clearly isn't a professional writer, but it almost works in his favour here. The tone is informal and chatty, which makes it a joy to read.

His descriptions of the animals, the staff and his wife's battle with Cancer are moving, beautiful and hilarious.

8) The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

My super awesome review is here
 
This is the only self-help book I'm going to include on this list. Partly because it's also the only self-help book I've ever actually read, I admit. Still, it's wonderful.

Ms Rubin comes across as a person not some holier-than-thou, preachy psychologist. She formed her own experiment by focusing on one particular aspect of her life every month for a year - her husband, her children, her house, her finances, etc - until she could truly say there was nothing wrong with her life.

I actually liked her and found I could relate to her victories and failures. I'd recommend reading this, but as more of an interesting autobiography of a normal person.

9) Shakespeare by Bill Bryson


Alright, so there's not a whole lot of new information in this book. There can't be - it's Shakespeare, for God's sake.

But the information that is here, as familiar as it might be, is presented in an entertaining and accessible fashion and it's truly a joy to read.

I've always found the man fascinating, especially the idea that he didn't write his own plays (not that it really matters in the end).


10) Coffee, Tea or Me? by Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones


I hadn't realised how old this book was until my Mum caught me reading it and told me she'd read it when she was my age. There's absolutely nothing in this wonderful memoir about two air stewardesses to suggest that it wasn't written last year.

I've always found that profession interesting and this account is accessible and hilarious. It's easily the best air hostess book I've read and there have been a few over the years!

28 comments:

  1. I didn't realize We Bought A Zoo was a book. I'm definitely going to have to read it before I watch the movie and How to be a Women sounds absolutely amazing.

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    1. They're both amazing! The film looks like it's going to be quite different from the book, but obviously the general concept's the same. It has Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansen (I think?) so it should be pretty good if they consented to be in it!

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  2. Good list! If I was going to do a top ten I think I'd pick non-fiction too, I read a lot of that. :)

    I just read "Cinderella" recently, and though I agree that moderation is key...I have never let my daughters own Barbies. I was never allowed to have them myself! It just seemed wrong. Though the existence of Bratz made it all seem pointless. ;) My girls don't seem to mind. Come to think of it, Disney Princesses also did not figure largely in our toys...oh dear.

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    1. If I ever have daughters, they definitely won't be allowed Bratz dolls. They just look obscene! Haha, I wasn't trying to have a go and people who make that decision. I'm sorry if it came out like that! But the author in particular just seemed very confused about what she wanted and it didn't give a very clear message to her daughter.

      I had Barbies and mini-ovens, but I also had plastic dinosaurs and trucks too :)

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    2. Goodness, no offense taken. ;) I agree that she seemed confused (esp. that awful scene with the Fairytopia Barbie, gak)--but then I suppose we all are, when confronted by the advertising machine. I was annoyed at her complaints about the high prices of AG dolls, when she had just been praising the high prices of Shirley Temple dolls *during the Depression.* I like AG dolls, but not the clothing prices, which is why I got good at sewing doll clothes.

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    3. I know, that scene was dreadful. I know it's probably difficult to find a balance between keeping your child happy and upholding your personal beliefs, but surely that's not the way to do it!

      I'd never heard of the AG dolls until I read this book. Obviously we don't have them in the UK but I was shocked to hear they're so expensive. Almost like not wanting your child to have Barbies is a sin and you should be punished by being forced to spend a fortune on the alternative!

      I don't remember the Shirley Temple part, to be honest. I did the same with Build-a-Bear though. I'd buy a bear and then sew my own clothes! :)

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    4. No, if she didn't already have a rule in place that her husband was on board with, then she should have just let the silly doll happen!

      I like AG dolls and they are very popular, mostly with a slightly older crowd of girls. Most parents don't buy AG dolls until their girls can care for them somewhat (my 11yo is still fond of hers), and now that they are so popular there are lots of less-expensive versions out there, they are a standard 18" size and lots of clothes will fit. You can buy an 18" doll for $20, but the AG dolls are good quality--the hair and body last better.

      I sewed Build-a-Bear clothes for Christmas, for my niece and nephew, but I had to make up the patterns--ack! I am quite proud of the football shirt I made, a Green Bay Packers jersey with Aaron Rodgers' number on it. Not that you will have heard of him, but he's from my hometown and plays for my nephew's favorite team, which won the Super Bowl last year.

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    5. Haha, I WISH I hadn't head of Aaron Rodgers! Green Bay Packers quarterback, right? My English boyfriend is obsessed with American football although he supports the Giants, so he's in a very good place right now! I've seen way too many football games. Sigh. It's great that you made the football shirt though. I used to work at Build-a-Bear, so I'm way too familiar with their pattens!

      That was the other thing - you always got the feeling that her husband didn't entirely agree and she was just stampeding over him to inflict her own decisions. The concept of discussing it with her husband never occurred.

      I've just gone and looked up American Girls dolls and I guess I can see why they're more appropriate. Their faces aren't half creepy though!

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    6. Oh, well now you can impress your boyfriend, because I WORK at Butte College, and I know a guy who played for PV, is buddies with his younger brother and has played football with him! That's right, you are now closer to Aaron than you are to Kevin Bacon! :D

      I agree about her stampeding her husband a bit. You're supposed to have some conversations about things! But all in all, AG faces are IMO much less creepy than most 18" dolls out there. Look up a Gotz doll sometime, I can't deal with those. :)

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  3. You know, you managed to get me interested in reading How To Be A Woman. I almost bought it in Smiths with my Christmas voucher but Witchy fiction called to me and I forgot to add it to my wishlist. I'm a doofus. :|
    Also hadn't heard of the Shakespeare book. Listed too! Love Shakespeare.

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    1. I thought you'd read it, I don't know why. It's hilarious though - I had to keep reading bits out loud to Lewis :)

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    2. I do that to Dan sometimes if it's something I think he'll understand. Stuff that's mid-plot when he asks what I'm laughing at I just go with "book".
      Ooh good idea, Hanna! Library. *fingers crossed* I saved a bunch of books on my online account, not even reserved just saved for future reference.

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  4. Ohhh I've heard Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a good one, and I've wanted to pick it up for awhile now! Great list! Thanks for doing non-fiction :)

    My Tuesday Posts

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  5. Great idea for a post. I read very little non-fiction, but am trying to "improve" myself that way. I've heard only good things about How To Be A Woman - will try to scrounge it off my colleague who was in hysterics over it.

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    1. Every single one of these is really accessible and easy to read, but How to Be a Woman is definitely the best of them all :)

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  6. Cinderella Ate My Daughter sounds like a good one- I've read Female Chauvinist Pigs and How To Be A Woman (LOVE them both) so maybe that'll be my next non-fiction read! Although, personally, I watched Disney when I was younger and I'm the most feministy feminist there is- I think it's fine in moderation, just as long as other, maybe stronger role models are also encouraged as well. I could hear you just crying out for my views on that!

    Also, I think Bill Bryson is the awesomest choice to start non-fiction on- I dare anyone to read him and NOT laugh!

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    1. If you like How to Be a Woman and Female Chauvinist Pigs, you'll pretty much definitely like Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Plus it's got a sparkly cover, so what else could you want :)

      That's exactly how I feel though. Snow White never did me any harm, and I'm a soap box feminist! As long as your parents explain the differences between fairy tale and real life, and you don't try and BE Cinderella, I don't see what the problem is really.

      And I was definitely crying out for your views! *cries* See? :)

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  7. I haven't read, or heard of some of these, but I am going to look into a couple of these.

    Beth ^_^
    http://sweetbooksnstuff.blogspot.com/

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  8. Wonderful recommendations here - I loved Female Chauvinist Pigs too. And I want to read both We Bought A Zoo and Howard's End is on the Landing.

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  9. Oooh! I love Female Chavinist Pigs - great choice! I've really been meaning to read The Happiness Project and Cinderella Ate My Daughter...must get the audiobooks from the library soonly!

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  10. How to be a Woman sounds good, reminds me of some of the conversation's I've had at work! Bill Bryson's 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' is really good too and I think it flows a bit better than 'Shakespeare' although it's a while since I read either.

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  11. I've always wanted to read Cinderella Ate My Daughter, it sounds like an interesting read.

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  12. Psst... The Psychopath Test is half price at WHSmith at the moment. Of course, I discover this AFTER I bought it full-price. I guess you can't win 'em all.

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    1. Ahh, you're a star! I requested it from the library but I'm third in line (although I'm surprised that have it in stock at all!) and I don't want to wait that long.

      I'm heading into town tomorrow anyway so I'll have a nosy, thanks :)

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  13. I had Wishful Drinking on my to-read list ages ago, but for some reason it seems to have fallen off. I may have to add it on again!

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  14. I have honestly never read any of these books! So I will definately have to check some of them out. I really want to read " I bought a zoo" before I go see the movie!

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  15. I really liked The Happiness Project as well. I thought it was authentic and original, and I loved the entire concept. Every time she suggested a tip, I wanted to start implementing it in my life as well!

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    ReplyDelete

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