Monday, November 27, 2017

The "Non-Fiction November" Tag

It's hard to believe that November is drawing to a close, and with it the reading challenge of Non-Fiction November.  As you'll see later this week, November wasn't a particularly prolific reading month, with holiday preparations and other life commitments taking up more of my allocated reading time than so far this year, but I did finish a few non-fiction books.  As a way to reflect back on reading non-fiction as a whole, I present you my responses to the Non-Fiction November Tag.

Why do you read non-fiction?

I read non-fiction because I love learning about the world around me.  It's not that you can't learn from fiction/poetry/etc. but the scholarship involved in non-fiction has a special place in my heart and my reading life.

Where in your home do you read most?

As I read quite equally between physical and digital books, I read most anywhere.  When my partner and I have joint reading time, we usually occupy the reclining sofa in our living room; put on some relaxing music in the background and curl up under some blankets and it's just heavenly.

Share a non-fiction book that is set in -or- is about your home country...

Not just in my home country, but in my home area of Pennsylvania is Slavery & the Underground Railroad in South Central Pennsylvania by Cooper H. Wingert.  It discusses the presence of slavery in America up until the American Civil War, as well as the function of and prominent people involved in the Underground Railroad, the secret organization that spirited enslaved peoples to freedom in the North.

What book on your Non-Fiction November 2017 TBR related to the word "home" are you most excited about?

I had two books on my TBR - Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library by Scott Sherman; and Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson - neither of which did I read in November.  I'm still excited to read them...eventually.

What books do you love to read the most within non-fiction?

I've found my favorite niche of non-fiction are books about food and wine.  I'm no chef or sommelier, but I enjoy reading books written by them.  If the writing is well-crafted, you can't help but be moved by their passion for their craft.

Give a non-fiction recommendation related to the challenge word "love"...

I would really recommend either of the two books on my TBR for the challenge of "love", both of which I finished in November - Devotion by Patti Smith and Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living edited by Manjula Martin.  If you love Patti Smith's previous works and are interested in her creative process, Devotion is a must-read.  If you're interested in peeking behind the curtain to the real world concerns of authors, and why they love what they do, then Scratch should be on your TBR.

Non-fiction is a great way to introduce us to people who inspire us to be better.  Name a person of substance that you've enjoyed reading about...

I absolutely adore Toni Morrison, and find her to be absolutely compelling and brilliant.  In fact, I'm toying with the idea of working my way through her oeuvre in 2018.  I had her recently-published lectures The Origin of Others on my Non-Fiction November TBR, but I don't expect that I'll finish it before the month comes to a close.

What non-fiction book would you recommend that has a lot of substance to it?

There's only one I can think of that fits this description - Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.  This is an almost-600 page tome that tackles the ways that racism have pervaded the culture and society of America from long before it's founding.  Dr. Kendi has indeed written a book with tremendous amounts of substance to it.

What book related to the word "substance" are you most excited for on your non-fiction TBR?

Unfortunately I don't expect that I'll read either of the two books on my TBR - The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison and The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo.  Thankfully, they'll live on my shelves until it's the right time to read them.

Non-fiction can teach us a lot.  What subject or topic have you learned a lot of because of your reading?

In the past two years, I've made it my mission to expand my understanding of the ways that America has (and, more appropriately, has not) dealt with race.  While there are innumerable fiction and poetry works that accomplish this well, I've found a lot of non-fiction books that have been tremendously valuable in opening my eyes.

What non-fiction book would you recommend that teaches something well?

Jolie Kerr's My Boyfriend Barfed in my Handbag...and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha will teach you step-by-step how to deal with real-world messes and keeping your home/clothes/etc. clean.

What book related to the word "scholarship" are you most excited about reading this Non-Fiction November?

I had two books on my Scholarship TBR, and have read one of them - Cork Dork: A Wine Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste by Bianca Bosker.  Therefore I'd say I'm most excited to read the other TBR selection - Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the 21st Century by Nato Thompson.

So I didn't get to all of the great non-fiction books that I wanted to during November, but that's okay.  Non-fiction isn't just for's for every month!  I try to include some non-fiction reading every month, and I've spent time with some great ones thus far in 2017.  If you're participating in Non-Fiction November, or are curious about reading more non-fiction and want to do this tag, consider yourself tagged.

Librorum annis,

Monday, November 20, 2017

Books I'm Thankful for in 2017

This Thursday, November 23, is our American Thanksgiving.  Originally designated as a feast shared by the British colonists and the indigenous peoples, it's become a day for us as individuals to reflect on those things we're thankful for in our own lives.  In 2017, with so much horror and disaster in the world, this is no easy task.  Human rights around the world are in jeopardy, wars are dividing loved ones, and natural disasters are remaking the face of the world.

While they won't accomplish physical needs like restoring electricity or bringing clean water, books can help.  They can change hearts and minds, encourage empathy, and bring us closer together.  That's why I'm thankful for books in 2017.  In particular, I'm thankful for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.  I've selected three books that encapsulate my reading life this year, all of which I read for the first time in 2017.

Thankful for Fiction

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

While most people read Jane Eyre in their childhood years, I came to it as an adult.  Charlotte's nineteenth century novel reads as surprisingly feminist for the time, and is as relevant today as it was when it was first published.  Jane's story of growth and staying true to herself amidst the horribleness of her step-mother and step-sisters, the brutal school where she is sent to be educated, the family she and her time spent at Thornfield Hall and with the Rivers' clan made an impression on me.  So much so that Jane Eyre has acquired a place amidst my Favorite Books of All Time.

Thankful for Non-Fiction

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

This amazing work of scholarship (which the author told me took him 3 years just to do the research!) has won just about every award out there.  In order to fully tell the story of racist ideas in America, Kendi chose to focus on five specific individuals whose lifespans extended across major points in America's history - Puritan minister Cotton Mather, US President Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, scholar W.E.B. DuBois, and activist Angela Y. Davis.  He demonstrates how and why racist ideas were created, how they have proliferated and mutated over time, and how they continue to exist today.  To better understand the world we're living in, especially as Americans, we should all read this incredible book.

Thankful for Poetry

My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, by Aja Monet

2016 was the beginning of my re-discovery of poetry, and it has continued into this year.  While I've read some incredible poetry collections so far in 2017, the one that stands out as one I'm especially thankful for is Aja Monet's My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter.  The way she employs language to tell stories of women - Palestinian, American, enslaved...all women - will leave you gobsmacked.  There's so much passion, fury, wonderment, and insight shining through each poem that you might find yourself swept up in emotion.  I certainly did.  If you'd like a taste of her work, check out this video of her reading the title poem in the collection.  I'm thankful and grateful for this magnum opus.

I'm giving thanks and raising a glass to books, and to these three in particular.  There'll be no post this Thursday, so I hope everyone who's celebrating enjoys their Thanksgiving!

Librorum annis,

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Toast to Beaujolais Nouveau 2017 - Books and Wine

Today, November 16, is Beaujolais Nouveau Day!  Under French law, the third Thursday in November is the day that the first wine of the 2017 vintage, made in the Beaujolais region of France, may be released for sale.  This wine is extremely young, with the Gamay grapes often having been picked only weeks beforehand.  As a result, the flavors are extremely light bodied and fruit-forward, sometimes with an earthiness that makes them special.

In celebration of this special day, I wanted to share some of my absolute favorite books featuring wine.  All of these picks are non-fiction, so if you're participating in the #NonFictionNovember2017 challenge, consider picking up one (or more!) of these.

The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, by Tilar J. Mazzo - This is a biography of both the well-known French champagne producer Clicquot and the woman who oversaw its growth, Barbe-Nicole  Clicquot Ponsardin.  Barbe-Nicole's husband died when she was only 27, leaving the Veuve (widow) Clicquot to take the helm of his industry, in the wake of the French Revolution and when the Napoleonic Code made it clear that a woman's place was in the home.

Pairing: A glass of something bubbly, preferably Clicquot if it's in your budget.

To Cork or Not To Cork, by George M. Taber - Did you know that there's controversy around the material used to stopper wine bottles?  Cork is the traditional material you encounter at the top of an unopened bottle of wine, but modern winemakers are sometimes using other goods, like screwtop lids, plastic stoppers, and even glass.  George Taber takes readers through a deep dive into these three materials, and the reasons they might be used, and why.

Pairing: Any bottle stoppered with cork, plastic, glass, or screwtop

Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me How to Live for Taste, by Bianca Bosker - Have you noticed that wine books tend to have really long titles?  Bosker was working as a tech editor for an online news site, and decided to quit her job to focus on wine.  She begins this new life in the bottom of the barrel (pun intended!) as a cellar rat in a fine-dining restaurant, and works her way through many different areas of the wine world.  Throughout the work, she meets some really interesting people, hones her tasting skills, and prepares to take the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier Exam.  While maybe a little overwhelming for a wine newbie, it's compulsively readable and absolutely fascinating.

Pairing: As many different wines as you (and, even better, a group of friends) can get, to do a blind tasting together.  Bonus points if the bottles are covered in aluminum foil or knee socks, so you get the true Bosker experience.

Exploring Wine, by Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith, Michael A. Weiss - So you've read Cork Dork and now want to increase your own wine knowledge?  Then this is the book for you!  It's the textbook that wine and beverage students use at the Culinary Institute of America, so you know that it's well-researched and comprehensive. You will go in-depth into the details of wine growing, grape variety profiles, wine regions around the world, information on some individual wineries, wines, tasting notes, proper cellaring, serving, etc.  The book is 800 pages long, so it's perhaps NOT something you'd read from cover to cover, but it's so full of interesting information and photos that you may not want to put it down.

Pairing: Literally any wine, because it'll be in the book somewhere.

Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine, by George M. Taber - Man, George Taber writes so well about wine!  This time, he focuses on a blind tasting that took place between wines from well-established French wineries and wines from the at-the-time nascent California wine industry.  Steven Spurrier was a British wine merchant, working in Paris, who sold only French wines.  He organized the tasting event as a publicity occasion, fully expecting the prestigious wine tasters to find the French wines superior.  However, the results, and their implications for the wine industry as a whole, were shocking to say the least.

Pairing: French Red Bordeaux/Napa Valley Cabernet, French White Burgundy/Napa Valley Chardonnay

Whether you're a wine aficionado or just curious, I hope that you'll find something interesting to pick up from this list.  I have absolutely loved each and every book here, and come back to them often.  Happy Beaujolais Nouveau day!

Cheers!  Librorum annis,