nonfiction

Thumbs up for Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik. Science.

Once I picked this book up, I couldn’t put it down. There’s no guarantee that a scientist passionately obsessed with their subject will be able to convey the beauty of the topic to a lay audience. Miodownik succeeds with ease. In chapters focused around everything from concrete to aerogel, chocolate to porcelain, he touches upon every level of the material, from the Why (does it act like it does) to the How (do we make it) to the What (do we use it for).… >> Read more

Thumbs up for A Book of One’s Own: People and their Diaries by Thomas Mallon. Literary history.

It is a crying shame this book is out of print. After contemplating at length what to say about it, I will have to bow to the supremacy of Phyllis Rose’s review on the back: “This is more than a book about diaries; it’s a celebration of life and the many ways people have of savoring it.” Yes, that.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski. Fashion history/Women’s history.

I read this in one sitting. The jacket blurb emphasizes the group of women called the Dress Doctors, who gave wardrobe advice to American women in the early- to mid-20th century; but it ranges much broader than a few personalities.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson. Literary history.

The publisher Quirk Books’s jawdropping and funny reference to vintage horror novels, Paperbacks from Hell, was one of my favorite books of 2017. When I saw they were publishing a history of women horror writers I got very excited.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morrison. History.

I was puzzled, at first, by this book: why in heaven’s name does it start with crime, punishment, and riots? The violent political backdrop of the Regency is certainly important, but starting there—in a somewhat academic style no less—immediately excluded this book from being what I thought it perhaps was: a narrative primer of the period.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Nonfiction.

My only excuse for not already having read Didion is that I don’t read many books of essays; and furthermore these essays are mostly about things I do not care about. That doesn’t matter. Her writing is so good it’s like the taste of water when you’re thirsty. Not many people can see truthfully or write beautifully; Didion does both.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Why Be Catholic?: Understanding Our Experience and Tradition by Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos. Religion.

Read for character research. I don’t usually read research books cover to cover, and therefore don’t review them, but this one was slim. I don’t think the authors present a convincing case for answering the title question in the positive; they are too fair-minded and honest, never discussing an ideal without also talking about its failures of execution.… >> Read more