Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Fact or Fiction

on January 19, 2011

Choosing a favorite book, for me, is like choosing a favorite relative–no, that would probably be easier.  It all comes down to genre.  Are we talking fiction? Non-fiction? If we’re talking non-fiction, history? sports? art? sociology? medicine?

So, rather than make the gut-wrenching choice of one book over another, I’ll share a few  favorites.  This way, I don’t actually have to make a real decision, and nobody feels left out.

Taking the fiction category in a walk is Middlesex by Geoffrey Eugenides.  This book is a true epic (in the actual sense of the word, not the diluted internet sense) spanning two continents and three generations.  The story follows the unlikely protagonist (a gene) on its journey through time, space and blood until it is realized in the form of a young hermaphrodite named Cal(liope).

The story is driven by characters and the events that shape them take hold of the plot and steer it toward its inevitable conclusion.  It’s dark at times, light at times, and always reminding you that time moves forward, actions have consequences and family secrets will out.

Admittedly, this is a classification of non-fiction into which I don’t often dip my toes.  But, I read an article in the New York Times about this book and couldn’t help but pick it up.  Once I grabbed it, I was hooked.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall weaves the story of an amazing ultra-long distance race with the biology, physiology and psychology of running.  Human beings are designed to run, far.  We’re designed to chase things and outlast them.  And we weren’t designed to do it in shoes.  Our ancestors, roaming the savannah, hunting deer, were not doing it in Nikes.

This book made me want to run.  Barefoot.

Ok, this one’s a tie, but only because I can realistically sub-divide the category of History into two subcategories (completely for my own selfish purposes): Human History and Physical History.  (Again, these subcategories are a construct, created for the sole purpose of allowing me to choose two history books as my favorites.  They will not help you locate either of these books at your local bookstore.)

Human History
My current favorite book about Human History is At Home, by Bill Bryson.  Again, this is a current favorite, which could be due to the fact that I finished it only a few weeks ago.  Bryson is a great storyteller.  He’s witty and thorough and manages to weave several disparate threads into a coherent narrative, which we all know, makes for a neat story, but is rarely the way that history actually unfolds.

Physical History
Ok, it’s another Bryson book, but it’s just freakin’ rad.  I’m talking about A Short History of Nearly Everything. In A Short History Bryson takes us through the history of Earth from before there was an Earth: the  beginning of time.  Again, he goes about making things I learned in high school interesting and fun.  Part of the charm is Bryson’s status as a non-scientist.  He does his research and talks to scientists, but in the end, he’s just a person trying to understand the how’s and why’s of physics and earth sciences.

Ok, this one might be cheating a little on the category, but The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande (who is a surgeon and has written other books about medicine) deals with the medical field, so I’m leaving it categorized as is.  This book details Gawande’s task, with the WHO of designing a checklist to reduce the incidence of post-surgery infection. Along the way, he goes outside of his field, into the airline, construction and engineering industries to find out what experts know about checklists.  I’m not making it sound super-exciting, but trust me, it’s worth reading.

One of my most recent favorite genres is the essay.  Since I commute on the bus, an essay is the perfect little bite-sized helping of literature. One of my favorite essayists is Sarah Vowell, and my favorite of her books is The Partly Cloudy Patriot (taken from the famous Thomas Paine line: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot, will in this time of crisis shrink from the service of their country.”)   Vowell is a patriotic American, but not someone who allows her patriotism to sugar-coat her understanding of reality in America today.  Indeed, she shines a light on the absurd in our country as well as the admirable. Oh, and she’s really funny.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

I’m sure there are a ton of others, but I can’t think of them all now.

*Images courtesy of Amazon.com* obviously.


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