Tuesday, November 3, 2020

#NonFicNov - My year in Non-Fiction

 


The opening week prompt is:

Your year in nonfiction: take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions - What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you've been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in nonfiction November?

Definitely the two best nonfiction reads for me were books I reread: (so I must like them, right?)

Brian Dillon's Essayism

Charles Olson's Call Me Ishmael

Both of those are works of literary criticism, though Essayism has some memoir blended in. Without intending it, this does seem to have been a year reading literary criticism. Part of that was because of the Moby-Dick readalong. I blogged about The Cambridge Introduction to Melville which was also in that category. I read Delbanco's biography of Herman Melville at the very end of last year.

Two other works of literary criticism I didn't blog about but I do recommend: 

James Huneker's Egoists: A Book of Supermen. Huneker was a newspaperman, first in Philadelphia and then in New York, who died in 1921. He covered cultural issues: music, theater, literature. This volume is about writers of the time. The essay about Stendhal, whose diaries were just being published, I thought especially good. He also looks at Baudelaire, Huysmans, Ibsen, others. And, as the title might suggest, Nietzsche.

Vivian Gornick's The End of The Novel of Love. A collection of essays that had previously appeared, I assume, but I hadn't read any of them before. Good on individuals as different as Clover Adams and Grace Paley. She closes her essay on Willa Cather, "Today Jean Rhys seems dated, Virginia Woolf important, and Willa Cather wise." Which, though I'm not sure about Jean Rhys, otherwise struck me. The title essay was also very good.

A related, but not identical, category: author's memoirs. I read and blogged about Isaac Bashevis Singer's book on his early years in Poland, In My Father's Court. I thought it was very good. I also read his memoir of his first years in New York City, Love and Exile. I liked it, but I didn't find it quite as interesting.

I also read Huneker's autobiography, Steeplejack. Definitely read his criticism first. 

Two classic works on women's issues:

Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own

Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Not much history this year, which surprised me. I read Daisy Dunn's joint biography of the two Plinys, Shadow of Vesuvius. It was good, but I didn't blog about it. Some other classical history, as well.

I mostly avoided contemporary issues at book length--I couldn't much bear it. I did read Zadie Smith's short book of Covid essays, Intimations because I read pretty much everything of hers, but my favorite essay in the collection was the one that had the least to do with what's going on now. I also read Sarah Burns' book The Central Park Five. Not a brilliant book, but a good introduction to the facts. What a miscarriage of justice. Though the man in the White House (as of today, but hopefully not much longer) still doesn't acknowledge it, or his part in it.

The complete collection of my nonfiction posts for this year can be found here.

16 comments:

  1. What a great nonfiction year you've had so far! Zadie Smith's Intimations is on my TBR for this month. I actually haven't read her before, so it'll be my first!

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  2. Certainly a strong theme for you this past year. Looking forward to your further posts this month!

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  3. All my good intentions to read more about Melville or even Nathaniel Philbrick's book about the real Moby-Dick are still waiting in the wings....how quickly we (I) move on!

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    1. It's funny, isn't it? I haven't read anything else either. On the other hand, it seems to keep showing up! (20000 Leagues under the sea, for instance...)

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  4. I think it is interesting that several of us were influenced by our Moby-Dick read to read further. I wonder where my lengthy read of War and Peace will take me.

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    1. That could definitely lead to some good things! I'm not reading along this time--I've read it before a couple of times--I've got a Tolstoy biography I haven't read, but bought after reading either W&P or AK.

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  5. Guy Davenport and Wm Hazlitt have seen some dabbling by me this year... Bagehot and Froude a taste, also... nice change to read something beside the Perils of Pauline, occasionally, which is my usual tendency...

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    1. I've only read Guy Davenport's translations of classical poetry, and I've been curious about his other things.

      As for the Perils of Pauline, well, it keeps us going as readers, in more ways than one!

      I managed to make my own comment disappear, I see, with Blogger. Grr! Now it's here, I hope.

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  6. Hi Reese! What a wonderful list of non-fiction--it almost makes me repent my ways (at one time I was primarily a non-fiction reader, with only an occasional novel or two thrown into the mix. That changed). I've jotted down several of your literary criticism reads, as it's a genre I very fond of; I have a copy of Brian Dillon's Essayism, which I haven't yet (surprise) read. I know what you mean about avoiding reads about contemporary issues, as I do the same thing myself (I honestly don't know if I can survive four more years, if things go badly in the next few days). I am, however, slowly working my way through Isabel Wilkerson's Caste. It's incredibly powerful, if very painful reading, so I'm doing it in small doses.

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    1. I've been pretty consistently 10-15% non-fiction for years. I sometimes think I should break out of that, but I never do.

      I've been meaning to read The Warmth of Other Suns for a while now, especially as (I think) it features my hometown of Chicago. But there you go: while the past reflects on the future, and vice versa, of course, I'm more interested in the historical one of hers. I get the impression Caste is more present focused. (Though I could see reading it, too, at some point...)

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. 2020 has been the strangest reading year....ever for me. I reacted 180 degrees opposite than you did! I could NOT avoided contemporary issues at book length. Pandemic/USA politics and USA race relations...just overwhelmed my reading plan. I hope as soon as a result of the USA election is decided..I hope to get back to some other topics. I like 2 of your choices and will add them to my TBR... "In My Father's Court" and The End of Novel Love. I'm looking forward to 2021 and some new non-fiction!

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    1. I was already reading the news so much, reading books just felt like it would be overkill for me. The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times...I felt like I needed to be reminded of funny stories of people growing up. (I'm in the middle of David Copperfield at the moment.)

      I don't know what's the cause but I also read a lot more poetry than I usually do.

      I'm also looking forward to 2021 & seeing what you read. Happy Australia Reading Month!

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    2. HARRAY!! the @&$^%* is out! (amost)

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    3. There's been a bit of celebration around here this afternoon!

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