Tuesday, May 1, 2007

What the Writers Read: "Truth"

Compiled by Andi

One of the most joyful parts about editing Estella’s Revenge is the sheer amount of recommendations I receive and the amount of chatting about books that I’m able to do on any given day. For some time now I’ve had it in mind to mine the ER writers—all hopeless bibliophiles—for their recommendations to go along with the month’s theme. Since this month is “truth,” I surveyed our book-loving contributors to find out about their favorite non-fiction picks. Here’s what they had to say…

Chris Buchner, our resident expert on comics says:

I'd hafta give it up for the Bruce Campbell auto, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. The book was just a great read cover to cover, because it was written in the dry, sarcastic wit Bruce is known for. Ever since being captivated by the Evil Dead Trilogy, I've become a total Bruce whore. I'll watch anything he's in at least once because he's in it. The dude is just funny as all hell, and even though he's unfortunately never risen above B-movie status he can improve anything he's in with a snappy one-liner (minus the movie Alien Apocalypse...nothing could've saved
that). The book gives his history, from childhood to acting with humorous
anecdotes and tales, as well as a lot of background info on the Evil Dead
flicks. It's a book no Evil Dead or Bruce fan (of which I am both) should
be without.
Melissa, monthly contributor and May’s Book Tour author writes,

The best non-fiction book I've read lately is Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey. (Click HERE to read Melissa’s review.)
It is a memoir of her childhood in India during the 1930s and
1940s. It's an extremely well-written memoir, at turns exotic,
evocative and funny. And, above all else, it's made me brave enough
to try Indian food.
BadgerDaddy, regular writer and reviewer says from across the pond,

Favourite non-fiction to date is Nathaniel Hawthorne's In The Heart Of The Sea. A great mix of fact and the author's own conclusions, dredged up from historic material of the incident which inspired the young Melville to write Moby Dick. It's utterly gripping, informative and pretty damn sexy.

Oh, I also love and adore The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, probably the greatest football book out there. An American writer spends a season with an Italian Series B team, which is spending its first season in that division. It reads like the most unbelievable but most human soap opera. It's beautiful, funny, tragic and, for a sports fan, ultimately devastating, much like football (real football, that is...) itself.
Mizbooks undoubtedly offers up the most intriguingly titled suggest when she says,

My fave nonfiction book is Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell. It's a very out-of-the-box Christian book that talks about different aspects of Faith. I love it because Rob doesn't "pussy-foot" around issues... he just tells things with plain honesty, and to me that's refreshing. I like that he gives insight into Jewish culture at the time Jesus walked the earth, and how he uses funny stories throughout the book to "lighten things up".
And in a fit of indecision (which I can more than relate to), Jodie offers three favorites for you to drool over:

I think probably my favourite three would have to be Chris Bonnington's collected autobiographies, A Short History of Everything by Bill Bryson and my absolute favourite is Making the Cat Laugh by Lynne Truss. It's hilarious! How can anyone not laugh at sentences like 'I have spent about 80 per cent of my adult life in proper committed relationships, yet at the moment all I can clearly remember is that I once startled my boyfriend by asking, out of the blue: 'Why aren't you a pony?' One of my favourite parts is about the author's encounter with a man during a blackout. In bullet points she concisely points out how this simple incident shows exactly what is wrong with the male mind. A book full of laughs and indignation by a truly happily odd woman makes for great reading.
Quillhill, “From the Bookshop” columnist writes:

My favorite non-fiction book is probably The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander. This is a very entertaining and gripping history enriched by stunning photographs. The story is better than fiction, full of conflict, courage, friendship, heroism, and the sheer will to survive. Just when you think the worst has happened, something twice as bad occurs--again and again. When I first read this book, I was amazed that I had never heard of the events before, and wowed by what the crew of this ship accomplished. For me, this is the ultimate story of survival.
Heather F., co-editor, technology guru and interview goddess (see this month’s interview with Joshilyn Jackson) chimes in with one of my personal favorite non-fiction books:

It is hard to pick a fave non-fiction. I don't read a whole lot of it (even though I have lately, odd) and a lot of it doesn't stick with me. But, I thought about it a lot this weekend (I was weeding books) and I remembered Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. I would have to say it is, by far, my favorite. It has stuck with me the longest with its macabre subject, yet witty and humorous delivery.

A couple other faves would be A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (almost made me want to hike the Appalachian trail) and Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain.
Feature writer, April Boland picked a classic:

I'm gonna say In Cold Blood even though that's probably cliched. I can't help that I read it for the first time when all of this Truman Capote interest surfaced. I love it because it felt like a novel, only my emotions ran so much deeper because these people were real, and these things really happened. I like the literary applied to reality, and that book has been hailed as the very first example of creative nonfiction (or the nonfiction novel), a genre I am hoping to work in myself one day.
Nancy Horner came to a bibliophilic realization recently. She loves memoirs! Particularly:

Autobiography by Benvenuto Cellini - Cellini's life story may be embellished, somewhat, but it reads like an adventure novel in the Alexandre Dumas vein. He was in and out of favor with royalty, sometimes wealthy, occasionally imprisoned or forced to run for his life. His description of the aftermath of a storm with bowling-ball sized hail is just awesome.

Stand Before Your God by Paul Watkins - Writer Paul Watkins was sent to England to attend boarding school as a child, and his memoir tells not only of his experiences and his growth but his aching for home and family, the loss of his father, and the beginnings of his writing life. I was impressed by his strength of character.

To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy - I love this book as much for the incredible sense of atmosphere - you can almost hear the bombs falling all around - as I do the fact that he was a tremendous raconteur and when one of his friends' deaths is described, you feel the pain because you've come to know each of his comrades so well. The fact that he was uncommonly courageous is also awe-inspiring.

Those are just a few favorites. I think The Sex Lives of Cannibals (by J. Maarten Troosth) just hit the all-time favorite memoir list.
Lisa G., The Bluestalking Reader herself, chose a book I’ve been hearing rave reviews about all over the blogosphere:

Fave NF book, one of the best I’ve read in the last year or so was Elizabeth Gilbert’s absolutely edible memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert’s coming to terms with the aftermath of a messy divorce in this book, and she’s fortunate to have been able to be paid to travel and work out her life issues, writing a sort of travel/self discovery/new age/self help memoir in the process. She has so much wisdom to offer about grieving, not in this case the loss of a life but the loss of a way of life, and she does it all with honesty and humor. Definitely a favorite book of mine.
And, I can’t help but throw in my own two cents-worth of non-fiction love. Like Nancy, I’ve realized in the last couple of months that when my attention span is nil and life is swirling uncontrollably around me, I really enjoy living someone else’s life between the covers of a book. Some recent favorites include:

The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama – While I’m sure my politics are showing (giggle) I can’t help but adore Obama’s centrist political views and seemingly genuine concern for this country and its populace. And on top of everything, the man is a fantastic writer!

The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures, by Louis Theroux – I was taken enough with this book to trip all over myself trying to get an interview. Luckily for me, Mr. Theroux was kind enough to grant my request and the result is the illuminating set of answers he submitted to my dolty questions. To see my complete thoughts on the book you can browse back through the April reviews, but I will certainly say that this book won’t be leaving my brain (or my house) any time soon.

I’m in total agreement with Nancy (bookish soul mates it seems) on J. Maarten Troost’s travelogue, The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, and I was equally delighted with his second offering, Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu. Again, you can read my wordy burblings of praise in last month’s issue. Don’t hesitate to go buy both and read them in one swoop.

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