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Top Nine Favorite Non-Fiction Books and Memoirs

July 9, 2012
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When I quit teaching other people’s children full-time, I found I was hungry.  Ravenous, starving may be more accurate descriptions.  My mind was not being filled with new ideas and thoughts.  Instead I was contemplating if really, my tiny could really be hungry again or surely my tiny could sleep longer than that at one time.  I planned play dates with other mamas and we sat around and talked about our husbands and our littles.  I was ravenous.  My brain needed more than talk about relationships and parenting.  I needed to learn.

It was when my children were little that I learned to love non-fiction.  Yes, I had read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Christian books, but  I hadn’t done much more with non-fiction than that, and even that was very sporadic.

This was a fun list to make.  With the collecting of the books, I remembered distinctly what time of life I read it.  I also love this list because it is so telling about the things that I love and am interested in.

This list is in no particular order.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.  I loved this book, in fact I read it several times which is something I rarely do.  I loved the window into Iranian culture that it provided.  It also became a reading list for me–because of this book, I read Lolita and finally discovered Jane Austen.  Oh how I love Jane Austen!!!  Thinking about this book makes me want to read it all over again.  It may be moving off the stack and back to my night stand.

Ordinary Resurrections:  Children in the Years of Hope, Amazing Grace, and Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozel.  When I first moved to Austin, I worked with an organization that had an after-school and summer camp program for homeless children.  Growing up in a small town in Virginia, I didn’t quite have the background I needed.  Kozel helped get a little of the background that I needed through his books.  I think it is a good practice to remember regularly how much disparity is in our country and that what happens to the least of these also affects the rest of is.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  A book about food!  A book about gardening!  Set in an area of the world I am most familiar with!! (Appalachian region of Virginia).  This book changed my life.  It changed how I bought food.  It changed how I made food.  It changed how ate food.  I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) after reading this book.  I told all my friends about eating sustainably, and through years, probably 5 – 10 of them have also signed up for a CSA.  I started a food blog about eating local, seasonal food.  I started eating strange things and discovered if I eat enough eggplant and cabbage that I would learn to like them.  I cooked more and tried new recipes with more international flavors.  This is in turn has led to having a daughter who loves all sorts of raw vegetables—cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, red bell peppers, brussels sprouts (???), snap peas and kids who think nothing about eating vegetarian several nights a week.

I, Rigoberta Menchu:  An Indian Woman in Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchu.  This book was required reading for my cross-cultural to Central America by junior year of college.  This book is on the list because it represents learning about the injustice that exists in the world (I’ll leave it at that to avoid a political ranting).  During this time, I truly learned that life is not fair and I have so, so much.

Best Practices:  New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools by Steven Zemelman, Harvey Daniels, and Arthur Hyde.  While this may be a boring textbook sort of book, I loved it and still think about it, even though I am not teaching in a school now.  If I was teaching in a low-income school, I wanted to provide my student’s with the same sort of education those with more money would have.  I wanted to teach my kids to think for themselves and make good decisions.  This book helped guide me.  If I go back to teaching, I’ll be referring to this book again.  A lot.

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I realized there were more books about food out there.  While Kingsolver changed how I thought of vegetables and fruits, this influenced my meat-eating decisions much more.  Meat became an occasional part of our meals instead of the centerpiece of every meals–especially because we couldn’t afford meat that I wasn’t scared to feed my children very frequently.

Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Catherine Hockman-Wert.  I couldn’t have all of these books of food on here without also including a cookbook.  That’s nonfiction, too!  🙂  With this book, I could have also grouped Extending the Table and More-with-Less which are also World Community Cookbooks (commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee–the mission arm of the Mennonite church).  While I don’t use this cookbook much any more, I think I have probably made at least half to two-thirds of the recipes in this cookbook.  It was especially helpful when we first joined our CSA and I was trying to figure out what some of the vegetables were and how to use them.  In the front of the cookbook, they have pictures of many of the vegetables, how to cook them, measurement equivalencies for them, and nutritional values.  All the recipes are also in metric and English measurement systems.

52 Loaves by William Alexander.  In 52 Loaves, Alexander chronicles his attempt to make the perfect loaf of bread.  His adventures take him through many visits to bakeries, growing his own wheat, building a stone oven in his backyard, and finally traveling to a monastery in France.  In France he practices the hours, even though he isn’t a Catholic or a Christian.  This isn’t a spiritual memoir, but he does share considerably how his views of organized religion chance during his time at the monastery.   I, one sometimes take analogies too far, couldn’t help but think about how we define those who reach out too–not just those who like the new large churches with sermons on a videos and loud, praise music.  Maybe there’s a lot of people like Alexander too, who the living and the daily hours, the contemplative is more appealing.  Maybe more people need to know that it is possible to experience the wonder and mystery of God in making bread as well as walking in nature, watching children play, and a growing garden.

Good and Angry:  Exchanging Frustration for Character in Your Children by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.  I don’t tend to read parenting books, but this is a parenting book.  I must be honest, I haven’t read the whole book yet, just a chapter here and a chapter though.  As I see a trait emerging in my kids, I read that chapter.  Then I loan the book to a friend (which is why it isn’t pictured) or set it down for months on end.  I like this book in that each chapter can stand alone.  I like this book because it says that anger is natural and anger in and of itself isn’t evil–it’s what we do with the anger that matters.  Each section also gives a very concrete script to use to help alleviate problems.  My favorite part?  It seems to work considerably.  The problem lies in myself to it’s effectiveness.   Lack of consistency is definitely my problem, not the author of the books.  I suspect I’ll be reading and using this book for years.

Yep.  This is definitely an all over the places sort of booklist.  However, it captures the things that have filled my life in the past and is filling my life now.

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