Saturday, January 12, 2008

Best of 2007, Part III: Nonfiction

One of my best "discoveries" this year wasn't a book but a website about books: Goodreads. Great way to share what your reading with friends, and to get their recommendations, though it can be addictive for  compulsive list-makers like me.  Actually I love having one place with all my book related lists (list for the library, wish-to-buy list, list for the boys, etc).

13783847 And it was from goodreads, specifically Wendy Smedley's list, that I rediscovered The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Bloom. I first read it in 8th grade, during a phase of reading Holocaust memoirs, but found it just as moving today. Corrie, her sister, and father were part of the underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Holland, and were eventually sent to concentration camps. Corrie is the only one who survived to tell their story---especially the story of her sister Betsie, and of the power of perspective and faith even when surrounded by hell itself.

It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh is a book I wanted for a long time, but couldn't0743292642_3  justify buying when its central theme is to acquire less. I gave in on a roadtrip, and am so glad I did. Like those TV shows that deal with debt, part of the pleasure is hearing about people who have a much bigger challenger than yourself. Suddenly the over-flowing file cabinet doesn't feel so shameful when reading about people who can't use rooms of their house. I've never seen "Clean Sweep,"  his show on one of those home improvement channels (our cable includes C-SPAN, WGN, TBS, and that's about it), but I really enjoyed his writing style and tone.

Unlike most organizational books, he says getting more boxes or systems or organizational tools aren't going to solve the problem. Clutter is caused by having too much; you have to get rid of stuff. I know this, but I still can't hear it often enough (especially since everything else in our culture is sending the opposite message: "you need this"/"you need more").

I also loved his point that while it is great to have a few objects that hold memories for you, or that are about future plans, the majority of things in your home should be about the present. Glad I bought this one, because I need to constantly remind myself of these lessons.

7b1e35b97f97d446c480f1768e72250fc27 Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver was a library check-out, also a good decision. Otherwise I don't believe I'd have finished it. As much as I enjoyed learning about the mating habits of turkeys and the creative solutions her family arrived at during their year of trying to eat locally, I was equally annoyed with her often smug attitude and inaccuracies.

She makes sweeping generalizations about Americans, suggesting that few people and "none of our children" could answer any of her basic agricultural questions, such as when various fruits and vegetables come into season, or when to expect the last frost in spring. Maybe she just lived in a big city for too long...I don't know one person who couldn't answer those questions in our town.

Her intentions are good, and I'm glad I read it. I still buy bananas and pineapples (the "Humvee" of produce) on occasion, but I ask more questions about where our food comes from, especially our meat. She has all the recipes posted on a website, and her pizza crust has become a Friday night staple in our house. She even has me considering an asparagus bed in our garden.  I still love her prose, especially her explication of Thanksgiving as Creation's birthday party. Yet any recommendation would have to go with a warning : Condescension ahead.

A library check-out that I wish I owned is Harold Kushner's When Children Ask about God. I'm a big227494_when_children_ask_about_god  fan of Rabbi Kushner. The second chapter's title reads, "If God isn't a bearded old man in the sky, then what is he?" I love his acknowledgment that no one has all the answers, after all we are finite beings attempting to understand the infinite. Therefore all these discussions with one's children are open-ended, and children are given permission to learn as they go, to develop their own relationship with their creator, instead of establishing a "grandfather" relationship of being expected to simply inherit their parents' beliefs and conclusions. I know some people are turned off by the title to Kushner's classic, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, but if you haven't read his very personal battle to understand the pain in the world, you're missing out. Skip all these titles and go get that one.

Honorable Mentions: Understanding Exposure (for SLR-newbies like me), Siblings Without Rivalry (because it's never too soon to prepare) , The Forest for the Trees, and A Mind at  Time (which I read out of order and still need to finish...).

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