Today’s feature is Top Ten Tuesday. Basically, it’s a list of ten things that I like in a particular subject/area/what-have-you. Today, I’ve decided to talk about my top ten non-fiction books. I haven’t been reading non-fiction in any great amount for very long—I really started doing so about six years ago or so. I’ve found some wonderful titles as I’ve poked around, and I’d like to share them with you all.
These are presented in no particular order.
- A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
This was the first hiking memoir that I ever read, and honestly, it’s what really got me into non-fiction. Previous to this book, I’d only occasionally read non-fiction, but I started picking up more after this. In this book, Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Along the way, Bryson talks about the people they meet, covers the history of the trail and its creation, and touches on issues with everything from the Forest Service to the National Park Service. It’s fascinating stuff, and even better, it’s hilarious. I re-read this one at least once a year.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
After seeing this one being used by multiple classes at the college where I work, and after hearing many interesting things about it, I picked it up. It enthralled and appalled me in equal measure. The book chronicles the story of a poor African American woman whose cervical cells were harvested without her knowledge. They became the first “immortal” cell line, capable of living and reproducing in a lab. The cells have been instrumental in thousands of medical breakthroughs, and yet her family still lives in poverty in the rural South.
- Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
This read was partly sparked by the outdoors kick I was on (thanks to Bryson) and partly by the Everest series on the Discovery Channel. While I have no desire to climb a mountain like Everest, I applaud those who do manage it. I also applaud Krakauer for his brutally honest account of what went wrong during the 1996 Everest climbing season. He does not discount his own role in some of what happened and he tries to be as balanced as possible. It’s still a wrenching read.
- The Red Hourglass by Gordon Grice
This book is a series of essays on predators, and not the kinds you’d expect. No tigers or wolves here. Grice focuses on the smaller threats, like spiders and snakes. There are plenty of anecdotes, many witnessed by the author. Fairly warned, this book will probably give you the heebie-jeebies, but it’s worth it for stories like the tarantula and the screaming woman, or the man who deliberately let a black widow bite him to record the venom’s effects.
- Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper
A lovely memoir about living life with a blind cat and learning life lessons from him. Homer was found as a stray 2 week old kitten with a severe eye infection that cost him his sight. Cooper adopted him and was amazed at his resilience and good spirits. You will be too! My favorite parts are the story of Homer chasing off a burglar and the author’s experience of the day the Twin Towers came down.
- Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg
Another animal memoir, this one about Alex, the African Gray Parrot that learned to count, could identify shapes and colors, and even had a concept of zero. Pepperberg worked with Alex as part of a scientific study, but they formed a wonderful bond. The science isn’t overwhelming, but you’ll get a good sense of Alex’s intellectual progress.
- Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Who here hasn’t read a comic at some time in their life, even if it’s just the daily strips in the newspaper? Bet you didn’t know that there are reasons why this kind of storytelling works the way that it does. McCloud presents this book in the style of a graphic novel and gives an entertaining look at this unique art style.
- On Writing by Stephen King
The writer’s life is no picnic sometimes, and King spares himself nothing as he lays out his writing career. This is another one of those books that earns the phrase “brutally honest”. The book comes in three sections: King’s life as a writer, ruminations on the craft, and a final section talking about his near-fatal accident. An author may not seem like an interesting subject for a memoir, but this is one of the best.
- Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
Roach is one of the most entertaining science writers out there, and this one tackles the space program with humor and wit. The author did research into such things as early training for astronauts and delves into the deep questions of how you go to the bathroom in space. Read this and you’ll get an appreciation not only for how ingenious humanity is in getting off the Earth, but also an appreciation for the brave men and women who launched themselves into the unknown.
- Quiet by Susan Cain
Oh, the perils of being an introvert in today’s society. It can be hard to understand us (and yes, I’m one too) because it is considered an asset to be assertive and extroverted, and so that’s what people tend to gravitate towards. Cain explores what it’s like to be an introvert in various aspects of life, such as work and relationships. She compares and contrasts introverts and extroverts in such a way that you really get an idea of how each personality type works. Frankly, I want to give this book to everybody I meet and beg them to read it.