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Mini Reviews – Non-Fiction

Still catching up on December reviews.  Yesterday, I wrote fiction mini-reviews, today it’s non-fiction.  I have been reminded all year how many great non-fiction books there are out there.  I’ve read some memoirs, but I’ve also read a lot of history of one kind or another – foodie, political, social history.  It’s been a good year for non-fiction reads.

Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz by Cynthia Carr, Kathleen (Kathy) Barber.  David Wojnarowicz has been one of my favorite artists since I first discovered him in the early 1980’s.  He is remembered most for his controversial works and the conservative backlash against them.  He was a gay man and much of his subject matter considered his sexuality and the AIDS crisis.  He was a street kid for a period of time and wrote a comic about that time period that I adore, 7 Miles a Second (I just saw that it’s being re-released by Fantagraphics this February).  His work is deeply personal and done in many mediums.  He was a prolific writer, as well, and published a number of semi-autobiographical works.  I admire his body of work, his courage, and the journey of his life.  He died of AIDS in 1992 – a sad loss – but his works remain controversial everywhere they are exhibited.  Fire in the Belly is a very good, very detailed biography of Mr. Wojnarowicz diligently researched and well-written.  A no-holds barred read, this is highly recommended.

Publishing Info:  Bloomsbury USA – July 17, 2012

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay.  A social/oral history of life in Bletchley Park during WWII.  It’s easy to forget how incredibly heroic the British were during WWII – all that they endured, all that was sacrificed.  It’s good to be reminded and to be inspired.  Breaking the Enigma Code and turning the information into actionable intelligence was the work of many people from crossword puzzle enthusiasts to dons in Mathematics from Cambridge and Oxford.  There were military men, scores of young women, and all the logistics associated with running a top secret operation without letting the enemy know it was happening.  This book was fascinating and interesting and made me want to read more about this incredible endeavour.  It also made me wonder what it would take for such a disparate group of Americans to come together to work on a problem – think we could figure out how to feed more of our own people, or maybe how to get more people off the street, or improve our schools?  I know we have governmental bodies that work on these issues, but the notion of getting lots of people in a big complex and giving them free rein has a lot of appeal in these days of gridlock.

Publishing Info:  Plume – September 25, 2012

Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney.  Shannon Moroney is a woman coming to terms with her husband’s horrific crimes – the kidnapping and rape of two women who were brought to their home to be violated while she was out of town on business.  The crime is shocking and its aftermath is pretty horrible.  Ms. Moroney bravely shares her journey – one that leads her into the field of victim advocacy for family members of criminals.  I’ll be honest and say that I often disliked her in this book – she seems self-centered and justifying, focused on the effect of what happened to her over the broader implications of the crime and its two victims.  It’s easy for me to judge, however, sitting in my nice chair in front of my nice computer next to my wonderful husband who’s never hurt anyone.  Who can say how you’d react?  This is one woman’s story and one woman’s voice and it’s definitely worth reading.

Publishing Info:  Doubleday – October 11, 2011

Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer.  I’ve been working in healthcare for six years now and within the world of a large urban hospital for about a year.  Twelve Patients is a wonderfully written memoir of just what it’s like to be in the belly of the beast – the homeless, the chronically ill, the mentally ill, criminals, ordinary people, and the army of staff that keep hospitals running 24/7, 365 days a year.  Mr. Manheimer tells wonderful stories, truly connecting the reader to what is happening.  He has opinions and uses many of the stories to illustrate his opinions and this is also effective.  Full of heart and humanity I cannot recommend this one enough.

Publishing Info:  Grand Central Publishing – July 10, 2012

Lost at Sea:  The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson.  Lost at Sea is a collection of essays by Jon Ronson, a writer well-known for writing about the weird and whacky with thoughtful consideration.  Ronson has a unique voice and if you’ve ever heard him on This American Life you will hear him reading his essays to you in his head.  Warm, wonderful, deeply personal, these essays are a collection of some of his best works.  Funny and engaging and a great read.

Publishing Info:  Riverhead Hardcover – November 27, 2012

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