Wednesday, 16 January 2008

A List of Non-Fiction You Should Read


In a previous post I give a list of fiction ( I think people should read (though I slipped a non-fiction in there anyway). Now I'm giving you a list of non-fiction.

The Truth About Stories by Thomas King: I've included this in the fiction list, so you can go there for my first impressions. I want to caution readers that Western tradition, contrary to what you may read here or hear from other sources, has ample oral culture in non-official, but still very influential, culture.

Danse Macabre by Stephen King: This is King's exploration of horror (novels, films, radio programs, short stories, and television). He discusses what it does, how it works, why people are drawn to it, and what purposes it serves. I suggest you first read Dracula, 'Salem's Lot, and at least a synopsis of Frankenstein (the real one by Mary W. Shelley) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Also, watch some horror movies (my suggestion: Psycho and Alien).

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis: This also snuck into my fiction list. Sorry.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger: This is highly interesting. It's about the reading of pictorial images (art and advertising). I will warn you, though, that it's rated 18A for sure, and I think I'd bump that to R, for nudity.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson: It's been a while since I read this, but I recall it being a fascinating read. I think the title is a bit of a misnomer, though I doubt Bill does. It is a parallel history of scientific thought and history of the physical development of the universe. Bryson seems to think that this does constitute everything, though I'd disagree. We see into the personal lives of explorers, innovators, and discoverers; we find out about how the forces of the earth works; we read amusing anecdotes and asides. It is also reader-friendly. However, it is also founded in rational materialism and (inevitably, it seems) atheism.

The Science of Harry Potter: I once had this book, and then managed to misplace it. This misplacing really disappointed me, since it's such an interesting read. It has two parts; the first explains magic in Harry Potter using cutting-edge scientific discoveries or inventions, and the second examines the belief in magic as a sociological phenomenon. Again, this presumes rational materialism, which is problematic, but it is still an interesting read.
[Edit 1 Dec 2009] I found this book again. It was written by Roger Highfield, and is subtitled How Magic Really Works.

The God Gene by Dean Hamer: This book is an account of Hamer's attempt to locate the gene(s) that determine a person's likelihood to be spiritual. This seems to be the third book in a row that I've listed which presupposes rational materialism, but in this case Hamer qualifies that his research has no bearing on the existence of God, gods, Buddhist 'emptiness', dharma, or what have you. To some extent I think this must be Faustian, but it's worth looking at, if only because of its intriguing asides and experiments.

[28 Jan 2008]

Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy: Considered by some to be an antidote to our society's sicknesses or answer to the middle class's entropy, this book gives radical gratitude as the solution for our spiritual malaise. And trust me, Leddy means it when she says 'radical.' I found that this expressed a lot that I already knew and gave insight into how I can start fixing the problem. It hasn't been particularly easy, though.

[3 July 2008]

Freakonomics by Stephen Levitt and some other guy: I've heard some people suggest that Levitt's work is questionable, and I'm certainly no economist, so I can't judge. That being said, I think it is insightful, witty, and more hopeful than you'd expect. And it's a lot of fun to read about crooks getting caught by clever strategies... As a synopsis, Freakonomics looks at a myriad of everyday events and highly specialized situations and applies to them basic principles of economics to ask new questions, find surprising answers, and solve a few crimes--or at least misdemeaners--along the way.

[1 September 2008]

The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis is an account of the author's exploration into the hidden world of vodoun zombis that reads like adventure fiction instead of academic fieldwork. It is at once exciting, intriguing, informative, and challenging. In the form of a scientific/religious studies mystery plot, it asks us to question our assumptions about death, secrecy, knowledge, and reality, while simultaneously showing us the social realities of 80's Haiti and the lives of real people in that society--academics, high school girls, ex-colonials, doctors, vodoun priests, vodoun sorcerers, former zombis, and the members and presidents of secret societies, among others. I've written a longer review of it here, and I strongly encourage you to grab the book now.

[5 October 2009]

Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Fyre is a work in literary theory, but fortunately does not call you, as a reader, to be overly familiar with the field before reading this book. Frye argues for a conception of literary analysis which is neither subjective nor reductionist, neither anachronistic nor irrelevant. I think that his book is fairly readable, though I suppose my knowledge of what's readable to the average high-school-or-higher educated Westerner is so far gone that it's in that hazy patch just before the horizon. He does mention many many books, poems, etc., and you can feel a little lost at times, but I haven't read a lot of what he references, so I'm sure most people will be OK. (The Book of Job is a must for getting him, though.) My point is that, if think of yourself as an intelligent person, you should give it a whack. At least take it out from the library for a bit and give it a whirl.

[1 Dec 2009]

God in the Alley by Greg Paul is great. I can't believe I haven't put it on here yet. The full title is actually God in the Alley: Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World. This is good stuff. I guess this will do much more for you if you're a Christian, but I'll just recommend it anyway. I sort of wish people who weren't Christian would read more Christian lit, since so many non-Christians have a weird and skewed idea of it is Christians think and do. But anyway...
The thing about this book is that the author is honest, the people are real, and the situations are fascinating (and heartbreaking and inspiring). On the cover there is a quotation from Eugene Peterson, which reads, "Greg Paul tells stories of whores and crazies, misfits and rejects, that sound as if they stepped out from the pages of the Bible."
If none of this appeals to you, then all I have to say is that this book floored me, and everyone I've spoken to who's read this agrees with me.

[26 March 2009]

The Wayfinders by Wade Davis, the second of his books that I've read, shows the breadth of the author's knowledge as The Serpent and the Rainbow shows the depth. The Wayfinders explores the numerous ways different endangered cultures around the world have looked at the world, and the dangers inherent in losing these perspectives. A central question in this book is, What would happen if we had focused all of our creative intellect since the Enlightenment not on science, philosophy, and industrialism, but rather on something else--peace, sustainability, self-knowledge? Davis shows us cultures which have done just that, including the titular Wayfinders, the pre-compass navigators of Polynesian open-sea canoes who know the oceans better than the Western world's best.
A word of warning: this book was written to be enabling, but the pall of destruction that hangs behind Davis' explorations set me on a multi-day bout of despair. Perhaps that was just my reading, though.

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