Monday, December 28, 2009

Books of the Aughts: Top 5 non-fiction books I read this decade, not written this decade.

With the decade coming to a close, I'll take a look back at my book database as the year ends and the new year begins to give you my recommendations in various categories.

To start off, a list in no particular order of non-fiction works I've read this decade not actually written in this decade.

How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk,
Faber, Adele and Elaine Mazlish, 1999
My wife is really smart. I read this book "on assignment" from her, and found it to be transformative in my approach to communicating with our kids. Faber and Mazlish have been at this for over 20 years. The first edition of the book was published in 1980. They point out some of the most common and damaging ways that we relate to children and offer alternatives that can really work. They advise with a steady hand about something that's very nuanced and they pepper the book with examples to help the reader understand the principles.

Friday Night Lights, Bissinger, H.G., 1989
Before it was a decent movie and a great television series, Friday Night Lights was a superb work of non-fiction storytelling. A journalist moves to Odessa, Texas and writes about th
e season he spent with the Permian High School football team and its place in the life of the city of Odessa. Although I'd heard about this book from soon after it was published, I, like many, got interested in it again after a movie version was released in Fall 2004. The movie was a very condensed version, focusing on parts of the stories of the core players Bissinger focuses on in the book. The book has tons more content than was possible to put in a 2 hour movie. The phenomenon of fanatical boosterism and the decision-making process that went along with Permian's football preeminence is far too complex to reflect in a movie, the racism and unfairness suffered by minorities too ugly to get into. But Bissinger covers it all with both a journalist's eye and the fervent heart of a fan; he found the team and its Friday night games an irresistible spectacle.

Friday Night Lights made a lot of people in Odessa angry; its frankness about the fanaticism and the racism that characterized decisions around Permian cut to the quick. It was great to read Bissinger's afterword in the 10th anniversary edition, which details some helpful and hopeful things that came out of the book. It had a lasting impact, and it's an engrossing work of documentary literature.

Operating Instructions; A Journal of my Son's First Year, Lamott, Anne, 1993
This book is perfect, vintage Lamott. She tells the story of her son's birth and
how he develops through his first year. Of course, a lot of the story revolves around how she adjusts to being a single mom. Her community of friends and family are an invaluable support to her, most of all, her friend Pammy. Childless herself, she spent huge blocks of time with Anne and Sam that first year. Other big players include the people at Lamott's (almost) all black church and her mother, aunt and brother. Funny, confessional and helpful preparation for the first year that awaits us.
Stolen Season; a Journey Through America and Baseball's Minor Leagues, Lamb, David, 1991

My baseball book for the 2004 season (I try to read at least one baseball book, usually in blustery March or frosty April), this book was very satisfying. My friend Katherine Stikkers gave it to me as she was paring down her household in Pittsburgh. We've shared a love of baseball and played on a softball team together. Lamb is a journalist who has had a global career. His career started with a unique assignment covering the Braves from a distant fan's perspective for the Milwaukee Journal the year they moved from Boston to Milwaukee. The unique aspect of the assignment is that he was 14 that season.

This book is the story of a summer - 1989 or 1990 - when Lamb took off in an RV across the country going to minor league games and soaking up the lifestyle and stories integral to it. Many of his stops are chosen because the teams are part of the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system. Stops in Stockton, CA, El Paso and Peoria, AZ present the relationship of mi
nor league teams to their communities. This is a great book for baseball fans, even as it has aged. Lamb met players who have gone on to successful major league careers when they were still prospects or minor league stars. Of course, most of the players he meets never made it to the show or didn't last long enough to become household names. It's a charming book and a quick read.

A caution to wives: if your husband reads this book in spring, keep him off used RV lots.
Children of Israel, Children of Palestine: Our Own True Strories, Holliday, Laurel, Ed., 1998

My friend Maria Wahrenberger, a voracious reader, lent me this collection of personal narratives by Israelis and Palestinians in 2002. In the midst of the latest chapters of strife between the two countries, it was enlightening to read stories by people (mainly under 18 or writing from their experience at a young age) who live the strife of the two populations living side by side. Although Holliday explicitly says that she tried to maintain a balance between the polar views of the situation, the book tends to paint Palestinians in a slightly more sympathetic light than Israelis. Overall, though, the most striking thing is how violence becomes the outside actor that makes peoples' lives difficult, not the actual enemy. On both sides of the conflict, people (and especially children) live in dread of unexpected eruptions of violence. Despite green pastures that they sometimes walk in, they or their loved ones are in imminent danger almost constantly. The book brings home the blessings of freedom from genocidal violence that we enjoy in the US.


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