'Tis strange - but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!
How differently the world would men behold!
- George Gordon Byron, Don Juan
I don’t read non-fiction very often, but when I do it’s usually because the premise is something that really captures my interest, generally, when a book addresses something out of the the ordinary, something controversial, or something my parents would never read... in public. Non-fiction isn’t all dry facts and straight-to-the-yawn history; trends in this genre now seem to lean more towards the creative, so they can be just as entertaining while at the same time being twice as educational as any novel. Here are some truly entertaining and simultaneously brain-expanding (for the most part) non-fiction titles you might want to add to your reading list.
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs, is pretty radical, if only because of the lengths Jacobs goes to in his attempts to live this literal biblical life. At times discomfiting, many times hilarious, and surprisingly thought-provoking, it will definitely have you mulling thoughtfully over the relevancy of the ancient book’s many edicts (although Jacobs has some interesting and giggle-worthy interpretations of “stoning adulterers” and approaches to “the no-lying commandment”).
For a just as interesting but alternate perspective, there’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master, by Rachel Held Evans. Evans takes the female side of biblical edict and explores directives that you may or may not agree with but will definitely find interesting in modern context.
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean, approaches the periodical table of elements with a creative and wandering (but discerning) eye, skillfully blending science with history, psychology, some physics, and a dash of sodium chloride. I've never quite managed to develop a taste for chemistry, so I was at first just a teeny bit hesitant to read it, but it’s definitely worth it if you like knowing interesting but random facts, like why Ghandhi hated iodine, or that Lewis and Clark's expedition could be traced by following their *ahem* bathroom breaks, or that Marie Curie had a reputation beyond that of brilliant female scientist that might surprise you.
The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code, also by Sam Kean, is an informative, conversational, and fascinating exploration into the world of DNA, and all of the wonderful/crazy/amazing/strange things it has created out of the human race and the abundant life that surrounds us. Ranging from things like how some people can survive a nuclear bomb, to where Einstein’s genius actually comes from, to DNA itself and the amazing discoveries in the field today you may not have known about, it willl definitely get your neurons firing and have you looking at cat-ladies in a whole new light!
French Kids Eat Everthing: how our family moved to France, learned to love vegetables, banished snacking, and discovered 10 magic rules for raising healthy, happy eaters, by Karen Le Billon, is a personal but enlightening view on cultural eating habits and child-rearing. The author describes her family’s experiences moving from America to France, and the commonsensical approach French parents take to getting their children to behave, gastrically (for the most part they don’t snack, they aren’t allowed to be picky-eaters, and they certainly do not take their own ketchup into restaurants).
Let's Bring Back: An encyclopedia of forgotten-yet-delightful, chic, useful, curious, and otherwise commendable things from times gone, by Lesley M. M. Blume, is a great, meandering jaunt through decadent days past for those of us who like to reminisce, or dwell in retrospective thoughtfulness on the wonderful things of the past we wish were here again (you never know, they very well might be). Things like corsets (just don’t pull them too tight!) and courtship (the kind with flowers, and letters, and lovely romantical words), or Tutti Frutti Ice Cream and midnight birthday suppers. Humorous and definitely nostalgic, it’s a light but noteworthy read.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach, is as strange as it sounds, but is also unexpectedly witty, informative and, yes, funny. From cosmetic surgery practiced on bodiless heads, to crash-test dummies, to defenestration-test dummies (i.e. being thrown out of a window), Roach delves into the macabre with a deft touch that leans more toward the academic than the morbid. Probably not for the weak-stomached. Click here to check out her other books that are just as inappropriately informative, irreverent, and humorous, such as Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.
Click on any of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website to reserve a copy today!