Archive for Non-Fiction

Death’s Acre by William Bass and Jon Jefferson

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , on September 9, 2008 by Lisa

Cross posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Death’s Acre by William Bass and Jon Jefferson

Did you ever read Patricia Cornwell’s The Body Farm? Watch Forensic Files? Bones? Death’s Acre is the non-fiction version of that. Subtitled “Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales ,” this book is about the Body Farm (as you may have guessed by now.) The Body Farm is in Knoxville, TN and is a research facility dedicated to death. The brainchild of Dr. Bass, anthropologists there study every conceivable aspect of death to determine how and when a person died.

The book is a series of chapters about various case studies beginning in 1981 with the opening of the Farm. It tells in great detail about what a person can learn from a dead body and what can and can’t be hidden. For example, it’s hard to burn a body, if a body rests on a coin, the coin will be imprinted on the corpse, maggots appear almost immediately, and the soil under a body will show traces of the body’s decomposition. Both fascinating and a little bit gross, the book held my interest and I flew through it. My only complaint is that at times it was painfully obvious that Dr. Bass was in charge of the writing as it would veer into weirdly self-congratulatory talk. I was unable to read their first fiction novel for the same reason- the writing style- so if the writing bugs you this might not be for you. Otherwise, if you’re at all interesting in the forensic sciences, you should pick it up. This book would be a nice companion to Stiff by Mary Roach as well.

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Helping Me Help Myself by Beth Lisick

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on June 29, 2008 by Lisa

Crossposted at Books. Lists. Life.

Helping Me Help Myself: One skeptic, ten self-help gurus, and a year on the brink of the comfort zone has a great premise. On New Year’s Day Beth Lisick wakes up and takes stock of her life. She’s not so happy with where she’s at professionally or personally and she’s looking for a way to get back on track. Initially full of disdain for self-help books, she decides to read one each month and fully commit herself to it’s guidelines. She starts off in January with Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. She’ll eventually work her way through Steven Covey’s Seven Habits, Suze Orman, John Gray, Julie Morgenstern, 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan, Julia Cameron, Deepak Chopra, a cruise with Richard Simmons and a night with Sylvia Browne.

As the subtitle would suggest, she’s pretty skeptical that all this will help her solve her problems. She disdains the idea of a life coach like Canfield. She spends (literally) the last of her money on a two-week trip to Italy. She sees Chopra as “spirituality lite.” She is funny and sarcastic and makes fun of just the right things. She goes on a Richard Simmons cruise and falls in love with the man himself. (Honestly, the Richard Simmons chapter makes the whole books awesome. I find myself a little in love with him now as well!) At the end of the year, Lisick feels a bit smarter, but watching her journey I’m not convinced that she really learned anything. I am also not totally convinced she was completely honest with us- she continues to tells us again and again how very broke she is, but still manages to spend money on things like a trip to Italy. It seems like some aspects of her life are a bit exaggerated to make for a better story. Despite this, I still found the book to be enjoyable, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a very light memoir.

1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , , on June 1, 2008 by Lisa
Review also posted at Books. Lists. Life.
One of the books that I read while on maternity leave was 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose. As you can probably tell by the title, this was about Hurricane Katrina.  Rose is a writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and chronicled the aftermath of the hurricane in it’s pages. This book is a collection of his columns spanning the next 18 months or so. He addresses the death, the smell, the expectations, the mayor, the New Orleans Saints, Mardi Gras and, near the end, depression and PTSD.

I feel odd saying this was a great book. It seems a little cruel to enjoy a book about such a tragedy. However, it’s a very readable book. Since it began life as a series of newspaper columns, it’s written in a very conversational way. You can imagine Rose sitting there and telling you these things over coffee. Rose is very open about his own life and how he was directly impacted. His family evacuated and his house was not lost and he doesn’t pretend otherwise. He does, however, take you on a tour of the areas that were devastated.

Rose addresses the topic of how people can go on over and over. Why have Mardi Gras? Why celebrate the return of the N.O. Saints? Why spend money to rehabilitate small businesses instead of building homes and streets? All of these things are directly tied to the morale of the city. New Orleans is a city people love. It has a personality and a character all it’s own and those who live there are invested in recovering that feeling. At times it seems an uphill battle and near the very end of the book Rose includes this editorial about his depression following the hurricane. I found this particular one, and the one that immediately followed it in the book to be very powerful. I highly recommend that anyone who loves New Orleans pick this one up.

This is the second book I’ve read about New Orleans post- Katrina lately. The first was fiction (The Tin Roof Blowdown) and this is non-fiction.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. Does anyone have any suggestions for other New Orleans flavored reading, fiction or non-fiction?

Bonk by Mary Roach

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on May 20, 2008 by Lisa

With a subtitle like The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, how can you resist reading this one? Bonk is Mary Roach’s third book exploring a taboo topic. This one, obviously, is about sex. The previous two- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife were both pretty popular. I’ve read Stiff and I have Spook in my giant TBR.

It’s a little odd to me to talk about a book about sex.  I admit, I didn’t take this one around with me. Despite this, it was a great book. The prologue is called “Foreplay” if that gives you an idea of the book. Roach is hilarious- the book is full of footnotes and it is clear that she can’t help but make mention of irrelevant things she finds amusing. For a book about science, and don’t be fooled, it IS about science, it’s incredibly easy to read. (The same could be said for Stiff.)

What did I learn from the book? Way more than I ever dreamed about the sex life of pigs. How penis implants work. How erections happen. If female orgasm is necessary for conception. How Kinsey did his research, and where. It was fascinating. I’m not going to go into greater detail, I can’t imagine what kind of people are gonna find this blog now anyway, and I’d just as soon stop here. If you are at all interested in this kind of book, I highly recommend it as a great read.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , , , on March 22, 2008 by Lisa

(crossposted from Books. Lists. Life.)

One day last weekend while I was confined to my chair by the weight of a lethargic almost-three-year-old I was faced with the problem of having no book within reach. My laptop was here, but I’d already read all of the internets. So I did the unthinkable, I asked my husband to choose a book for me. I should have known better. My husband reads as much as I do, but our tastes very rarely overlap. He has a strong preference for non-fiction, specifically relating to WWII, Mt. Everest, business, and baseball. He is often saying things like, “you should read this one, it’s really good!” and I say, “Sure dear, one day.” Well, that day finally came.

The book he handed me was Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. Now, we have entire shelves devoted to baseball. We watch a lot of games. It is hard to live in this house and NOT pick up on some of the names and facts. So this book didn’t come as a complete and total shock. I’d heard bits and pieces of it before. Regardless, it’s sat on the shelf for a couple of years while I said “Sure dear, one day.”

The short version of what the books is about is: it’s about how the Oakland As continue to win despite having the second lowest payroll in MLB. The long version is: oh my god there are some SERIOUS baseball geeks out there (and I’m married to one of them.) See, Oakland realized that if they didn’t do something different that they didn’t stand a chance against teams like the Yankees who have huge bankrolls. There was no way they were going to be able to buy star power. They had to find a way to work with what they could afford and still have a winning team.

They start by not listening to the scouts. They needed an all new way. They hired Harvard grads and stock traders and analysts who knew how to read the numbers. They didn’t go with “wow, he looks great” but rather “THIS stat is the one that directly correlates to wins. Who can do THAT?” When they lost s great player they carefully determined how to go about replacing what he really meant to the team. There are entire chapters devoted to single players (ie Jason Giambi). It talks about why pitching isn’t the most important factor, as I believed. There is a chapter devoted to Bill James, who is near unto a god at my house.

I wasn’t surprised that I found this interesting. I mean, it’s hard to live with baseball as much as I do and not be a little interested. I was surprised to find it entertaining. It’s really easy to read (except when it’s NOT because it does go a little over my head in places.) My only complaint is that occasionally there was a sentence in need of an editor. I don’t claim to be the world’s best at grammar- I can’t use a comma correctly to save my life- but there were way too many instances where the sentence was missing something vital- like the verb- or where the clauses didn’t match up or something. (Please note this lovely sentence I have crafted to describe my complaint!) Overall, thumbs up. If you (or someone you love) is obsessed with baseball I’d recommend reading this one.

Judy Blume and Sex.

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on February 17, 2008 by Lisa

In the past week I’ve finished two books that are similar enough that I’m going to review them together. Both of books of essays, written by women, about being women. Both are about growing up, although different aspects of growing up.

The first one I finished (but the second one I started) was Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume. 24 essays by various authors on what they learned from Judy Blume’s book and how those lessons helped them to feel normal during adolescence.  Authors include Meg Cabot, Megan Crane, Julie Kenner, Beth Kendrick, Cara Lockwood and Alison Pace. It seems every young girl read Judy Blume at some point and I know I did too. I was really looking forward to discovering that my favorite authors had the same junior high experiences that I did, but quickly discovered that I don’t really remember Judy Blume all that well. My clearest memory is from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret– “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!”  Nevertheless, this was a fun little book about junior high and high school- if such a thing exists.

The second book of essays was Sex and Sensibility: 28 True Romances from the Lives of Single Women.  I’ve never really been single so this seemed like it would be a fun look at how the other half lived. The single half, that is. I started this one months and months ago, but because of it’s location in my home, I only read it a few pages at a time. Most of the essays were pretty entertaining, if completely different from anything in my experience.  Authors on this one included Jennifer Weiner, Laurie Notaro (this one nearly killed the whole thing for me, Notaro really annoys me), Pam Houston, and Lily Burana. I was a bit surprised at the amount of honesty some well-know authors were willing to put out there- the essays are about sex, after all.

I have a lot more books of essays in my TBR pile.  Essays are great for the pregnant-mother-of-a-toddler attention span.  I have Perfectly Plum, Toddler, Cracks in my Foundation, and quite a few of those annual Best Of essay books.  Of course, I also have a ton of everything else in there as well. I better get reading!

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on February 10, 2008 by Lisa

Talk to anyone who has known me for more than a couple of years and they’ll be surprised to learn that I read a book about a politician (not counting long dead ones.)  In the last few years I find myself caring more and more, and becoming more interested in what is going on around me. I’ve written letters to my local representatives- something I wouldn’t have even considered 6 years ago. I am still woefully lacking in a political education. I don’t understand a lot of the political process. But I’m trying and, for me, that’s huge.

I started The Audacity of Hope several weeks ago.  The beginning was pretty hard for me because it referenced a lot of political history that I just didn’t know about.   Once of the side effects of pregnancy is that I’m tired all the time, and staying awake to read about political history (however lightly written) was tough. After this section Obama breaks down his feelings on various aspects of our country: education, race, family, and religion among others.  It’s not heavy handed, in fact, it’s very conversational.  I found that the book was making me depressed, not because I didn’t agree, but rather because I DID. It was very hard to ignore the things I’ve been ignoring when someone is pointing them out to you.  Obama doesn’t blatantly blame anyone, but does point out areas where he feels change would be good.  It’s not a book of his position or his platform on any of the topics.  Reading this doesn’t tell me what he’s going to DO, but it does tell you how he FEELS.  This might not be what you’re looking for in a book by a politician. Or, if you’re me, it’s exactly what you’re looking for. It was hard to read but I’m glad I read it.

Cross posted at Books. Lists. Life.