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Topic: 2014 TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION NF CHALLENGE - DISCUSSION THREAD

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Subject: 2014 TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION NF CHALLENGE - DISCUSSION THREAD
Date Posted: 1/1/2014 9:42 AM ET
Member Since: 8/27/2005
Posts: 4,123
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TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION

There are 16 categories to choose from, and 3 levels of participation.

DABBLER - Read books from 4 different categories -For those who don't read a lot of nonfiction but would like to add a little to this year's reading

WELL READ - Read books from 8 different categories -For those who like NF but want to leave room for lots of fiction too

ENCYCLOPEDIC KNOWLEDGE - Read books from 12 categories -For those who love NF and want to read a different category each month

The Categories:

1. Anthropology (Physical, Cultural, Linguistic or Archaeology)

2. Arts (Fine or Performing)

3. Biography/Memoirs

4. Current Events

5. Entertainment

6. Food/Nutrition/Culinary Arts

7. History

8. Medicine/Health

9. Nature/Animals

10. Philosophy/Spirituality/World Religions

11. Science/Math/Technology

12. Social Science

13. Sports/Recreation/Physical Fitness

14. Geography/Travel

15. True Crime

16. Reader's Choice

Some categories overlap a little, so you can use your judgment where to put any particular book.

PARTICIPATION BONUS To complete the participation bonus, you should post in the discussion thread at least a couple of lines about each book you finish--telling us what the book was about, and why you liked or disliked it. You should also mark the books in your list "completed" and the date.  Anyone who completes EIGHT OR MORE books for this challenge, and follows the Participation Bonus guidelines, will receive a PBS book credit at the end of the year! (In order to receive a credit you will have had to create your list no later than 6/30/14 and have posted in the discussion thread about your first book read no later than 9/30/14.)

There's a separate thread for lists.

HAVE FUN!

Diane

 

 

 

Date Posted: 1/1/2014 9:45 AM ET
Member Since: 8/27/2005
Posts: 4,123
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By the way, if anyone can come up with an interesting sub-challenge to add this year I'll offer a credit to people who complete that also.  Any ideas?

I'll send credits for the 2013 challenge soon.

Diane

Date Posted: 1/2/2014 8:05 AM ET
Member Since: 5/31/2009
Posts: 2,857
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Did it and it was fun!   So many of these reads were fascinating.

1. Anthropology (Physical, Cultural, Linguistic or Archaeology):   The Lost Daughters of China: Adopted Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past by Karin Evans, 2/22/2014, 4 stars.  A fascinating tale about the adoption of Chinese girls, its history, background and reality from an adoptive parent's viewpoint.  I found it particularly interesting that Pearl Buck, author, had founded the first adoption agency to find homes for Chinese children and had herself adopted many children.  Well worth reading.

2. Arts (Fine or Performing):  Spin a Silver Dollar :: Alberta Hannum,  7/24/2014, 5 stars.  How a talented young Native American artist is discovered and his talent nurtured.  Beautiful color plates of some of his work included.  The artist has since died.

3. Biography/Memoirs:  The Story of My Life (Watermill Classic) :: Helen Keller, 1/2/2014, 4 stars.  Chose this one because I read about Helen Keller many years ago.  This one is written for the younger reader but the last few chapters are more appropriate for adults because she discusses her college years, the authors she loved and why, and her literary friends.

4. Current Events:  Still Ours to Lead: America, Rising Powers, and the Tension between Rivalry and Restraint by Bruce Jones (A Goodreads first read) 3 stars - Fascinating look at how countries of the world work together to meet their needs and how America fits into the picture.

5. Entertainment:    The Road to Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum  (humorous read), 3/27/2014, 3.5 stars  This is a funny tale about a trip taken by four people who plan to kidnap the pope for a ransom of $1 for each Catholic in the world.  "Why not?"  says the pope.

6. Food/Nutrition/Culinary Arts:  In Defense of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating by Michael Pollan, 5/23/2014, 2 stars  One of those books written by someone who doesn't always research what he says.  Author has several inaccurate statements in this book.  

7. History:  John Adams by David McCullough, 3/7/2014, 4 stars.  The is a lengthy but thorough biography about John Adams life.  He love to write and did it often.  I was enchanted by his love for his wife who was certainly his soul mate.  Whenever they were parted both felt incredibly lonely.  No one to share one's inner thoughts.  The only fault I found was the length, due partly to extraneous information about other that I felt was not necessary.  Since I had previously immersed myself in the life of Thomas Jefferson, I found the extensive comments about his life redundant.  Nevertheless, I would recommend this read.  Adams is a most honorable man and would that I could have known him I would feel most happy.  

8. Medicine/Health:   The Diving Bell and the Butterfly : A Memoir of Life in Death by Jean-Dominique Bauby, 8/5/2014, 3.5.  Author is stricken by a stroke and finds he can only communicate with one eye.  He writes the book with the aid of a very patient person who deciphers his blinks.

9. Nature/Animals:  In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex :: Nathaniel Philbrick (sunk by a sperm whale), 1/7/2014, 3.5 stars.  This is the story of a most unlucky captain and his ship whose decisions seem destined to destroy his career and many lives.  The book is about much more than the title would suggest as much information is given about the whaling industry, the Quakers of Nantuket and the island itself.  This story is the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick.  He, himself was a whaler for a time.

10. Philosophy/Spirituality/World Religions:  Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America by Ranya Tabari Idliby 3/17/2014, 4 stars.   A look at a family who is practicing their Muslim faith in the US and how it affects their lives.

It's not a long book but it's one that I found myself pausing often to consider what the author was saying. I realize that 9/11 caused many people to consider those who pursue the Muslim faith as terrorists. The planes that took so many lives on that tragic day made us aware of our own mortality. Many lost friends, relatives and family. 

Who stopped to think that as there are good and evil people who call themselves Christians just as there are good and evil Muslims? We once did the same with our Japanese Americans, the Irish, Germans, Jewish people and others. Many Muslims were born in our country and love it as much as those of other faiths, celebrating our holidays and traditions. 

The author gives many illustrations of what her children have experienced in post 9/11. She urges them to make their own decisions and hopefully understand what is happening. Those who pursue the most conservative paths, say she is not a Muslim. At best she is a progressive Muslim! There is so much food for thought in this book that I can only suggested that you pick it up and read it for yourself. I'm glad I read it and recommend that others do as well. After all, our country is based on diversity. 

Goodreads sent this book to me as a first read and I recommend it.  It's enlightening.

 11. Science/Math/Technology:  Hedy's Folly:  the Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes, (L), 8/27/2014, 4 stars  A beautiful movie star enjoys inventing, keeping a drawing board by her dressing room so she can jot down her ideas and illustrations.  Many people doubt her dedication to science so her contributions are not recognized until she is an old woman.  Good, good read.

12. Social Science:   The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, 4/2014/2014.`What a read! The depth is astounding. It's not an easy one. It helps to know Spanish and something about the history of the Domican Republic. I found myself cringing as I read about some of the incidents under Trujillo's regime but it was reality. I thank the author for giving a view of that life and helping us begin to understand how difficult it is to move from one culture to another. The past doesn't go away. It can haunt us. 1/4/2014

13. Sports/Recreation/Physical Fitness:  How Sports Began by Don Smith, 3/28/2014, 3.5 stars  The book gives a brief history into the background of numerous sports some of which began in ancient times.  Fun read!

14. Geography/Travel:  Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Vintage) :: Cheryl Strayed, 6/4/2014, 4 stars   The author hikes the Pacific Crest Trail to help recover from a divorce and discovers she is ill prepared for this strenuous endeavor.  However, the trek helps her find her inner strength and peace. 

15. True Crime:    The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, 12/21/2014, 4 stars.  The author takes a close up look at those thieves who steal the valuable antique maps found in museums and personal collections.  Much of his discussion focuses on the unassuming Gilbert Bland who is a master at both creating new identities and stealing the maps.

16.  Reader's Choice:   Truman :: David McCullough, 1/12/2014, 5 stars.  Fascinating read about a simple man whose honesty and compassion for others earned him a place in history.  He won the love of his life in spite of a mother who believed that he was below her daughter.  He was a man for the times who pursued the answers to whatever puzzle was put before him from ending WWII by dropping the bombs on Japan to drawing a line to Russia's expansion into the world.   



Last Edited on: 12/29/14 1:45 PM ET - Total times edited: 46
Date Posted: 1/3/2014 3:43 PM ET
Member Since: 8/15/2007
Posts: 10,261
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I read a lot of non-fiction in 2013, but fizzled out on updating the challenge list.  I vow to do better this year!  yes

Date Posted: 1/12/2014 2:25 PM ET
Member Since: 3/9/2009
Posts: 8,982
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I've read Thunderstruck by Erik Larson.  It's basically two parallel stories.  It follows Marconi's work in creating the radio and Dr. Crippen's murder of his wife.  While it was both entertaining and informative, I don't feel the two stories meshed well.  Flipping back and forth between the two narratives disrupted the flow of the story.  I would recommend the book but with reservations.

Date Posted: 1/19/2014 12:36 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
Posts: 318
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Last Edited on: 2/4/15 2:56 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/21/2014 9:51 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
Posts: 1,930
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Lisa - I LOVED Thunderstruck! I agree that the flow was not optimal but the subject was fascinating. Larson did a better job with the alternating stories in Devil in the White City IMHO. I got the final Jeopardy question right a few weeks ago because of what I learned in Thunderstruck :-) 

Date Posted: 1/21/2014 9:56 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
Posts: 1,930
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My first book completed for the challenge is "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Really interesting history of cancer - grim subject matter but I liked the approach the author took. The book did drag some and the sections on how they obtained $ for research was less interesting to me and could have used some editing. However, the overall book was very readable and left me a better understanding of cancer, the tremendous advances in treatment options and a glimpse at what the future holds. 

Date Posted: 1/25/2014 12:22 PM ET
Member Since: 8/17/2009
Posts: 929
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I just completed "Reading the Man" by Elizabeth Pryor for the Biography/Memoir category.  For this book, which is as much social history as it is biography, the author perused thousands of private and public documents and letters, some previously unknown, to create an interesting and painstakingly detailed analysis of the life and times of Robert E. Lee. Each chapter begins with one or more letters as a starting point to explore an event or time period of Lee's life and the development of his character and beliefs. It was long and detailed, but very worthwhile.  5*****

Date Posted: 2/24/2014 10:14 PM ET
Member Since: 12/26/2005
Posts: 12,167
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Just finished Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear.  I have mixed feelings about it.  Well written, very readable, but didn't hold my interest consistently. 

A big chunk of of it is about the "fearless eaters" concept, meaning eating basically anything that can be chewed and and swallowed.  After a while it started to feel like people were just one-upping each other for the shock factor rather than from any real sense of culinary advancement. 

I did learn a bit from it, but was fairly grossed out at the same time.  indecision
 

Date Posted: 2/25/2014 9:26 AM ET
Member Since: 6/30/2008
Posts: 2,607
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Anthony Bourdain talks about courageous eating or fearless eating also. I think for him it is related to all the street food he used to eat in his travels.

Date Posted: 2/26/2014 12:04 AM ET
Member Since: 12/26/2005
Posts: 12,167
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I think to qualify you have to be able to think, "Food poisoning?  How bad can it be???"   :)
 

Date Posted: 3/3/2014 12:06 AM ET
Member Since: 3/9/2009
Posts: 8,982
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I read both The Fruit Hunters by Adam Gollner and The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey in February.  The Island of Lost Maps follows the life and thefts of a enigmatic map thief while discussing the creation and rise of the map trade, the historical background of maps and historical/intrinsic/informational value of maps.  The Fruit Hunters discusses the fruits we eat, their history, how they're grown, stored and marketed and discusses the fruits we don't eat-why we don't eat them, can't eat them, and efforts to change that.  Adam Gollner goes to exotic locations and describes the foods to be found in wonderous terms.  Note: Do NOT start or attempt to stay on a diet while reading the passages regarding eating the fruits.

Two different books about two different subjects that ultimately were actually about obsession.  About the desire to own, to control, to have what others don't, to immerse oneself completely in something to the exclusion of all else.  Both books discuss the money, the corruption, the power brokers and the access or lack of that the ordinary people have surrounding their subject.  Both are very well done and I would absolutely recommend them.



Last Edited on: 3/3/14 12:07 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 3/4/2014 5:41 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Last Edited on: 2/4/15 2:52 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/5/2014 10:02 AM ET
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Posts: 2,607
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anybody read Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. this was a page turner for me. sorry I have forgotten the author's name.

I would second the book In the Heart of the Sea. that was very interesting. I have read 3 of Philbrick's books. Mayflower is interesting. There was a small mention of the Pilgrims selling Indians into slavery during King Philip's War. I had never heard of that.

Date Posted: 4/12/2014 7:39 PM ET
Member Since: 11/15/2008
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I just read Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, The Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift by Carolyn and Sean Savage. They tell their story about undergoing an IVF transfer only to discover that another couple's embryos had been implanted. They chose to continue the pregnancy knowing that in the end the baby would need to be given to his genetic parents. It was an emotional story and thought provoking in terms of how do we responsibly manage our use of technology in situations that have the potential to uproot people's lives.

Date Posted: 4/27/2014 7:01 AM ET
Member Since: 8/17/2009
Posts: 929
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I completed two books in March for the challenge, both by Joseph Ellis.  His Excellency:  George Washington is an analytical biography of Washington in which Ellis attempts to portray Washington, the real life man, rather than the larger than life myth.  It's difficult to draw too many conclusions about Washington's private thoughts and motives because so little of his personal communication remains.  4****

In Revolutionary Summer, Ellis does a good job of showing the various political forces at play during the summer leading up to the beginning of the American revolution.  He makes the case that the policies of King George and the British parliament had a large role in forcing the issue.  It was a quick and interesting read, but Ellis doesn't break any new ground here.  4****



Last Edited on: 4/27/14 7:02 AM ET - Total times edited: 2
Subject: Does the Noise in my Head Bother You?
Date Posted: 5/21/2014 10:37 AM ET
Member Since: 4/7/2007
Posts: 335
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The Noise in Steven Tyler's head bothered me a little. I anticipated reading the lead man of Aerosmith's memoir so anxiously, but about halfway in realized I had no idea what was going on. I think Steven's impression was that his reader would have already read the memoirs of his former wives, daughter, and bandmates, which was not the case. Although I liked the early chapters about his childhood and teen years in Sunapee, New Hampshire and New York, once he got into the Aerosmith years, the narrative lost coherency. It's obvious that he's a brilliant songwriter but I found the book rambling and didn't really get any closer to knowing what was going on in his life than I knew before (which was nothing).

And... he sneakily left ear worms with almost every chapter! I spent all yesterday humming "Dude Looks Like a Lady!"

Date Posted: 6/7/2014 1:41 PM ET
Member Since: 8/26/2006
Posts: 9,321
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One good thing about this challenge: it pushed me to write a review of the book(s), which I often don't take the time to do.

1. Anthropology (Physical, Cultural, Linguistic or Archaeology) : Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms by Ralph Keyes

This ended up being the equivalent of a non-fiction beach read.  It had some wonderful nuggets, one being the delightful relationship between the words testify/testimony and testicles, all derived from the Latin word for witness.  (Apparently, when swearing an oath, it was common practice among ancient Romans to clutch their own or their monarchs's testicles.)  Another was changing the name of an ugly unpopular fish from Patagonian toothfish to Chilean sea bass, and taking the slime head and renaming it the orange roughy.  In both cases, sales took off.

There were times, though, when I wished the author had dug deeper.  He mentions that pig-eating English speakers call the animal's flesh pork, but doesn't explore the reason for our language's interesting division between the animal and the meat: pig/pork; cow/beef; sheep/mutton, dating from a time when England had French-speaking royalty who ate the meat, while Saxon-speaking peasants raised the animals.  I sometimes wished he would spend several pages on an interesting tidbit, rather than hopping from fact to interesting fact.

The last few pages on the euphemizing instinct were fascinating, and could have been a whole book.  They touched on the difference between swearing as an interjection and all other language.  People who have lost all other language function still sometimes use expletives.  The author posits that cursing may be a type of proto-language.  It's possible that language and the use of euphemisms are closely connected with the growth of complex thought.  Finished 7/14/14

2. Arts (Fine or Performing)

3. Biography/Memoirs : American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante

Completed 6/6/2014

Through an accident of British church politics -- her father spent time under house arrest for his heresies when Anne was young -- this uncommonly intelligent girl received an education in theology and logic that showed up later in her trials. I found the direct quotes from the trial transcripts to be fascinating and often dense. I reread many of them several times.

I began this book knowing virtually nothing about Hutchinson. The author allowed me to explore the concept of what happens to a thinker and teacher who is not supposed to think or teach.

Hutchinson was by no means a modern woman caught in the wrong century. Her argument was not with a woman's status. Instead, she took up rhetorical arms to defend theological points that seem arcane to modern thought (and perhaps even incomprehensible to many people of her time) because God had revealed these things to her. She would not move on points that had come to her through revelation. And since the church of her time did not accept individual revelation, and especially not to a woman, there was no room for compromise.

Hutchinson is not held up as a model for tolerance or freedom of conscience. She had little patience for those who disagreed with her concept of salvation by grace alone. And yet I am left wishing that the historical record left us more than the trial transcript to give us insight into her thinking. She may have held a great deal of spiritual influence as part of the founding community of Rhode Island. I'd have love to have heard her thoughts on the language in the Charter of Rhode Island (issued after she had died in New Amsterdam) holding that "No person... shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in option in matters of religion... but that all and every person and persons may... freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments."

The author's research was impressive and generous. At times I needed to set aside the author's opinion on a point to reach my own conclusion.

4. Current Events

5. Entertainment

6. Food/Nutrition/Culinary Arts

7. History

8. Medicine/Health

9. Nature/Animals

10. Philosophy/Spirituality/World Religions

11. Science/Math/Technology

12. Social Science: White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why it Matters to You by Somon Johnson and James Kwak -- Completed 7/18/14
The title refers to a congressional desire by a very new nation to support a war but not the funding of that war, and the string of financial and political decisions leading to a British invasion and torching of the White House.  The book goes on to examine the role of national debt in the context of history, and to offer scholarly analysis and possible solutions that cross party lines without ignoring political reality.  A fascinating read.

13. Sports/Recreation/Physical Fitness

14. Geography/Travel: Rick Steves' Venice 2014

Reading

15. True Crime

16. Reader's Choice



Last Edited on: 7/18/14 6:13 AM ET - Total times edited: 6
Date Posted: 6/19/2014 8:09 PM ET
Member Since: 8/17/2009
Posts: 929
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I finished Beyond the Beautiful Forevers:  Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo, which I used for the Social Science category.  It's a true account of families living in extreme poverty in a large Mumbai slum.  There are many difficult passages and unforgettable images in this book as the author relates the struggles of these families just to survive amid all the filth, disease, corruption, and hopelessness.  5*****

Date Posted: 7/26/2014 3:05 PM ET
Member Since: 8/17/2009
Posts: 929
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For the science category, I read The Age of Radiance:  The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era  by Craig Nelson. 

I admit that whenever I hear words like "enriched uranium" or "thermonuclear fusion" my eyes glaze over, so a book about atomic energy is probably the last thing I would have thought to find on my reading list. But "The Age of Radiance" is an excellent book that offers a fascinating overview of the history of the atomic age, written so that it's comprehensible even to a non-science person like myself.

In it we find the key players in the foundation of atomic energy, from the beautiful Marie Curie (who knew she was a bit of a red hot mama?) and the brilliant and affable Enrico Fermi to the enigmatic Oppenheimer. As a generation of scientists gradually unlock the power of the atom, the world is at war, and the race is on to use this power to create the first atomic weapon. From Los Alamos and Nagasaki, to the Cold War years and, finally, the reactor disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, Nelson brings the era to life with clarity and the suspense of a thriller. Highly recommended!

 

Date Posted: 8/10/2014 10:01 AM ET
Member Since: 8/17/2009
Posts: 929
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For the Animals category, I read In the Heart of the Sea:  the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.  It's a true story about the early whale industry off the coast of Nantucket and was the basis for the novel "Moby Dick."  A huge sperm whale rams and sinks the Essex with horrific results for the crew.  A well written book that won that National Book Award but the gruesome details made it a tough book to read.