21 June 2019

5 Books about Ourselves and Our World: June Nonfiction

A few days ago I was involved with an email conversation with a blogger friend of mine about the path our reading lives have taken in the last couple of a years. We were in agreement: we find ourselves turning more and more to escape reading (with some nonfiction thrown into the mix) and less and less to heavy, deep books. Coincidentally, I saw a similar conversation between two other blogger friends on Twitter just yesterday.

Perhaps it's the political climate or perhaps it's 11 years of blogging. I don't have the answer, but I'm happy to know that I'm not alone. Today's post is all about June's nonfiction that I still plan to read. I've made some headway on some of these, and hope to have fuller thoughts soon.

summary of Childfree by Choice by Amy BlackstoneChildfree by Choice by Amy Blackstone (Dutton, June 11): This look at "redefining family" is written by a research sociologist and professor who is herself, child free by choice. Blackstone's book (and her research) explores why choosing not to be a parent is still controversial, how that choice affects a couple's relationship to their extended families and friends, and what it all might mean for our world at large. Spoiler: she sees many positives. Granted, you might dismiss her as defending her own lifestyle choice, but Blackstone backs up her conclusions. You can get a sense of her work and her humor on her popular blog, We're {Not} Having a Baby. Why I want to read this: I'm drawn to Childfree by Choice for a couple of reasons. First, I too am child free, mostly by choice and somewhat by failing to choose. Second, I'm interested in the author's academic viewpoint, which I suspect will differ from some of the more popular (trade) reporting on what it means to opt out of parenthood.

summary of Giants of the Monsoon Forest by Jacob ShellGiants of the Monsoon Forest by Jacob Shell (Norton, June 11): This is a kind of ethnography written by a geology professor about the relationship between humans and elephants in Burma and India. Most of us have two visions of elephants: wild and roaming the African savanna or serving the tourist industry in southeast Asia or perhaps doing tricks in a circus. In fact, elephants of the southern Asian rain forests have had a long relationship with humans, similar to the Western idea of humans and horses. They work with and for people, and develop lifelong attachments to their riders. In this book Shell introduces to the forests, the elephants, and the people who bond with them and we learn how even though the Asian elephant is not bred to be domesticated, these intelligent animals nonetheless help humans and at the same time may save an ecosystem. Why I want to read this: I jumped at the chance to read Giants of the Monsoon Forest first and foremost because I have a lifelong interest in animal behavior. In fact, my undergraduate thesis was on nonhuman primate behavior. I also have a love of elephants that I inherited from one of my grandfathers, who liked all things elephant.

summary of The Ice at the End of the World by Jon GertnerThe Ice at the End of the World by Jon Gertner (Random House, June 11): This book, written by a journalist, focuses on Greeland's melting ice sheet and its implications for our future. Did you know there were entire branches of science devoted to studying ice cores and that Greenland is one of the places to go if ice is your thing? Ice cores reveal not just Earth's history--climate, creatures, polutants--but they also hold keys to our future. Gertner talks about the island's transformation from hostile wilderness to major scientific  laboratory and then introduces us to contemporary scientists who are racing the climate-change clock to recover as much data as possible before Greeland's trillions and trillions of tons of ice melt into the sea. In addition, he gives us perspective on what it means now and what it will mean for younger generations when Greenland at last turns primarily green. Scary and fascinating stuff. Why I want to read this: If you follow my blog then you know I love nonfiction about the cold regions of our world, so The Ice at the End of the World seems a good fit for me. I'm of course interested in climate change and the fate of our planet, And, finally, I've met one of the leading ice core scientists (he's the husband of a woman I know through fiber arts), and I've been curious about his and his colleagues' work for years.

summary of The Way Home by Mark BoyleThe Way Home by Mark Boyle (June 11, Oneworld): This modern-day Walden story, set in Ireland, is written by a former businessman. Most off-the-grid memoirs have an element of wacky about them, but Boyle's experience of living without electricity (and thus without the internet) in a house he build himself follows in the footsteps of Thoreau. He's no isolationist, either, and his story is as much about life in rural Ireland as it is about reconnecting with self and nature. It's my understanding that is also an account of living without money (or very little of it), which has both benefits and risks (though healthcare is less of a worry in Ireland than it is in the United States, though I digress). Why I want to read this: I realize it wouldn't be the life for everyone, but when I was younger, I was drawn to the homesteading idea The Way Home describes a similar experience. I also like the fact that Boyle is not a cultist; he's just a guy who found a way to live with less in a world that always seems to want more, whether that's money, things, or connectedness.

Summary of One Giant Leap by Charles FishmanOne Giant Leap by Charles Fishman (Simon & Schuster; June 11): This history of how we went from a president's speech to a moon landing in less than decade is written by a journalist. Perhaps in this day and age of technology, the idea that United States successfully landed two men on the moon isn't all that shocking, but at time when color television was definitely not in every household, it was a pretty amazing accomplishment. Fishman gives us the backdoor look at the people, technology, and politics behind the moon landing. We visit the research laboratories, learn about how space suits where made, and discover the engineering behind the Apollo program. It's a story of invention and bravery and everyday acts of devotion to the project. Why I want to read this: I grew up with the manned space program and still remember watching the moon landing on our family's (black-and-white) television. I'll never stop being fascinated with space. This is the 50th anniversary of the first human to have walked on the moon and this book is just of many that tell the story.


bermudaonion 6/21/19, 8:02 AM  

I've been drawn to nonfiction lately so these really appeal to me, especially The Way Home.

shelleyrae @ book'd out 6/21/19, 8:36 AM  

I really want to make more time for reading nonfiction.
I with the decision to have, or not have, wasn’t so divisive. I have 4 children, but my best friend of 30 years has none, it’s never been an issue between us. We are both of the opinion that to do either is a personal choice. Personally I think there little worse than a child being unwanted.

Kay 6/21/19, 8:56 AM  

Interesting about the Childfree By Choice book. I recently read a fiction book by Nicola Moriarty that had 'children by choice' as part of the storyline. Our daughter and son-in-law are probably going to be childfree. They are still not completely certain, but as time passes, it seems more and more likely. And it is controversial with a lot of people we know. They keep telling me not to 'lose hope' for grandchildren. I will admit that my husband and I are a bit sad about having no grandkids (or likely not), but I don't give her a hard time about it. We only had one kid, so there it is.

Kay 6/21/19, 8:57 AM  

Ah, correction to my comment above - the book I recently read had a 'no children by choice' aspect.

JoAnn 6/21/19, 9:03 AM  

My nonfiction reading is close to 50% this year - the highest ever! I'm also turning to lighter fiction more often. Unfortunately, I seem to have completely abandoned classics. It's been an unusual couple of years for sure.

Gayle Weiswasser 6/21/19, 11:24 AM  

I am definitely reading more to escape than anything else these days. That's why I find nonfiction - except memoir - harder and slower to get through. I don't necessarily want an education; I want to be transported.

Jackie McGuinness 6/22/19, 6:54 AM  

Child less by choice here. So very interested in this book too.

Bryan G. Robinson 6/30/19, 9:54 AM  

Childfree by Choice looks interesting to me too, because my wife and I are childfree by choice too. We'll have to check out the blog too. Thanks for the recommendation.

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