2010 at 5am Posted by Rebecca Joines Schinsky
The Bare Necessities is a series in which authors and book industry professionals share annotated reading lists of books they love.
Some of the best books I’ve read this year were recommended to me by Michele Filgate, who works as the Event Coordinator at River Run Bookstore in Porstmouth, NH, keeps a wonderful bookish Tumblr, and tweets prolifically as @readandbreathe. In addition to her general fabulousness, Michele is credited with first bringing Tinkers to the Pulitzer committee’s attention, and I’m happy to call her a friend, colleague, and fellow member of the extended Bookrageous family.
Some people read to be entertained. I read like a prospector, searching for that perfect nugget of a sentence or paragraph. Although I don’t need a book to be entertaining in order to enjoy it, it’s absolutely delightful when a book is well written and has a fascinating story.
When I was trying to come up with a list to write about, I opened my Moleskine notebook and looked at my list of books read over the past couple of years. One thing was immediately apparent: I’ve read quite a bit of fiction, but barely any nonfiction. That’s odd to me, because I studied journalism in college and some of my favorite books are true stories. I’m not sure why I’ve slacked in the nonfiction department, but in 2011 I plan to read a lot more nonfiction. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my favorite books in this genre.
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson- I never thought I’d be interested in a story about diving. I’m the girl who dangled her legs in the pool during swimming lessons but refused to jump in. The water always terrified me, and although I’ve since gotten over my childhood fear, I’ve never been particularly fascinated by nautical books. I didn’t have a pressing reason to pick up this book. Except I did, and thank god for that. Holy crap, this book is a page turner of the finest kind. It’s about a German U-boat being discovered off the coast of New Jersey during the 1990s, and divers traveling to dangerous depths to unravel the mystery. Just writing about Shadow Divers makes me want to go back and reread it. Ever since reading the book, I’ve kind of become obsessed with books set at sea. I read Moby-Dick this year, and it’s definitely one of my favorite books of all time.
Let’s Take The Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell- We live in a society where everyone is writing a memoir. There are a lot of bad ones out there, but there are several that are absolutely perfect. Caldwell’s memoir is perfection with a capital P. The Pulitzer Prize-winning former book critic for The Boston Globe writes about her deeply moving friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp. They bonded over their dogs and their shared struggle with alcoholism, and became the absolute best of friends. I honestly can’t think of any book that has ever made me sob as much as this one. Read it, and then get a copy for your best friend.
Without A Map by Meredith Hall- Hall’s book is another example of an exemplary memoir. The author shares her incredibly personal and painful story about getting pregnant at sixteen in 1965, and being ostracized by her family as a result. After she gives up the baby for adoption, she takes a long time to find herself. Hall’s story of that journey is as moving as any novel can hope to be.
Teaching A Stone To Talk by Annie Dillard- Anyone who has read Dillard knows that she is a master of her craft. How can you resist the opening paragraph of the first essay of the book?
It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread. It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering. We had crossed the mountains that day, and now we were in a strange place–a hotel in central Washington, in a town near Yakima. The eclipse we had traveled to see would occur early the next morning.
(from “Total Eclipse”)
Dillard’s nonfiction prose is just as astonishing as the natural world she writes about. Bonus: Read this equally stunning essay by Alexander Chee, on studying with Annie Dillard.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson: No one ever said nonfiction has to be a linear, straightforward narrative. Nelson wrote a lyrical book that can be considered a hybrid between an essay and poetry. I first discovered this slender but powerful book when I read a glowing review by Peter Rock over at The Rumpus. Nelson writes about philosophy, the color blue, a failed relationship, and more. Bluets is as sadly spectacular as the color it gets its name from.
- The Bare Necessities—Sandra Brannan (IN THE BELLY OF JONAH)
- The Bare Necessities: Julie Klam’s “Desert Island” Dog Books
- The Bare Necessities—Peter Geye (SAFE FROM THE SEA)
- The Bare Necessities—Karl Marlantes
- Tough Love: Four YA Novels That Aren’t Afraid of the Truth (The Bare Necessities—A.S. King)