Top Five Friday: Nonfiction Favorites

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but when I come across something from that genre that I like, I tend to get really attached to it. Usually, if I’m going the nonfiction route, I read memoirs, but sometimes I enjoy reading informational books if the topic is one I’m interested in and the writer’s style is approachable. So this Friday, I present my Top Five Nonfiction Favorites.

 france 1. My Life in France by Julia Child. I didn’t know anything much about Julia Child until I read Julie and Julia and watched the movie. I thought Meryl Streep did such a great job in that movie that I decided to give My Life in France a try, and I am SO glad I did. I can see why Julie Powell, after spending a year cooking and immersing herself in Julia-lore, started thinking of Julia child as her own personal fairy godmother. In her memoirs, Julia’s voice is friendly and conversational, and she spends lots of time talking about one of my favorite things – food! Reading this book made me wish I could go to France with Julia as my tour guide. She would have known the best restaurants, the best markets, and the best places for sightseeing. Her life with Paul Child was fascinating, and you get a good look at their years in one of the many places they lived abroad in this memoir.
 stiff 2. Stiff by Mary Roach. For someone who does not enjoy blood and guts books, this seems like a surprising choice for my list. This book is all about human cadavers – Roach takes a good look at what happens to our bodies after we die and the various ways that human cadavers find a new life in death. To research her book, Roach gets up close and personal with cadavers who are being used as crash-test dummies, test subjects for experimenting with new types of body armor, or practice models for plastic surgery seminars. Roach talks about grave robbers and cannibals and, in her search for the different ways that our bodies keep going once we’ve left them behind, she explores some of the philosophical reasons why people feel the way they do about what happens to their earthly remains. I was really surprised by how funny this book was – it’s an interesting topic for sure.
 orange 3. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. People have been telling me for months that I’ve got to watch this series on Netflix. Well, I finished the book last week and started the series afterward. I’ve got to say, keeping in mind I’ve only seen three episodes, I like the book better than the show. This is Kerman’s story about her year in federal prison following her conviction on drug charges. She goes to jail over a decade after committing her crime, and her story is a really interesting mix of coming to terms with her culpability, forging relationships with her fellow inmates, and trying to survive life in prison without getting left behind by her family and friends outside. The Los Angeles Times did a great job of pinpointing one of the most interesting things about it: “This book is impossible to put down because Kerman could be you. Or your best friend. Or your daughter.”
 part of the pride 4. Part of the Pride by Kevin Richardson. I have a fascination with big cats, so I thought this was a great book! Kevin Richardson grew up in South Africa, and even from childhood, he knew he would work with animals. He talks about his unsettled years as a teenager and how he transitioned into working with some of Africa’s biggest predators. He is extremely controversial among animal behaviorists because he breaks almost all of the established rules about working with wild animals, but his book is not intended to be a how-to guide to owning a pet lion. He freely admits that he doesn’t recommend his methods to anyone else, and he includes one particularly frightening story about what happened to him once when he forgot himself and tried to make a particularly fierce lion he calls Tsavo do something that the lion did not want to do. His experience with Tsavo is scary, but incidents like that are outnumbered by the truly amazing stories of interacting with his lion “brothers” Napoleon and Tau, teaching the lioness Meg to swim, and raising the hyena Bongo from a cub. He currently owns a Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa, where he educates visitors about wild species preservation and fundraises to help prevent habitat loss, hunting, and illegal trade. It’s a really interesting read, and the pictures are incredible.
adulting 5. Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown. I’ve already written all about this book, but it really was a fun read. I felt like I picked up several helpful tips, and I laughed a lot. I particularly loved her charts and illustrations.

Beth, it just occurred to me that you loaned me 3 out of these five books. You have excellent taste. Xo.

Happy Friday!

Adulting

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I don’t read that much non-fiction, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a self-help book before.  But my friend Beth loaned me her copy of Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown and told me it would make me laugh and make me feel less like a failure at being a grown-up.  That sounded promising to me!

The subtitle of the book is “How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps.”  This is not a joke.  This book really does contain 468 things people could (and frequently should) do in adult-world.  468 is a lot of steps.  This seems intimidating to me.  But Kelly’s style is approachable, and she freely admits which of these steps she struggles with or flat-out cannot do.  She also admits that these are not 468 things she came up with all on her own – she asked everyone she knows and several people she doesn’t for tips, including her mechanic, a maid, a therapist, and a financial counselor.  Kelly doesn’t write like an expert who has it all under control and is trying to force her methods on you.  She keeps things simple, she’s frequently hilarious, and she adds little drawings and diagrams that are guaranteed to make you smile.

Here are my favorite examples of her illustrations:

On the importance of not forgetting about the produce in your crisper

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On mentally coping with unkind people by imagining them as jellyfish

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On real vs. ideal way to react to spills:

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The format of the book breaks the 468 steps down into 10 categories which become chapters, like “Domesticity,” “Cooking,” and “Fake It Till You Make It.”  For someone who is twenty-eight, has a job, and has successfully moved her belongings into new apartments multiple times, some of the earlier steps seemed like common sense to me (excellent work, Mom and Dad).  But I felt like some of the chapters, especially the one about money, had new suggestions for me or some that, even if I’d heard them before, were worth repeating.  The chapter about maintenance was also excellent.  The main theme of that chapter is, “It’s okay to have nice things as long as you treat them like nice things.”  I am embarrassed to admit that the ratio of times I have ignored my “Change Oil” light vs. times I have spent $25 (the price of an oil change!) on an impulse pair of shoes is frighteningly lopsided.  Again, common sense, but it’s nice to have the gentle reminder to take care of the things that are important.

Kelly says that her book’s spirit animal is a thank-you note.  I think maybe Kelly is my spirit animal.  There were so many times where I laughed out loud because I was positive Kelly was talking directly to me.  Examples:

  1. “Getting a job isn’t optional unless you are phenomenally wealthy, in which case enjoy hanging out in your own private baby animal menagerie.  Mine will have a bouncy castle full of red pandas.”
  2. “Don’t put tacos in your purse.”
  3. “Are you allowing leggings to usurp the rightful place of pants?  Leggings can never be pants.”
  4. “Plants are the ultimate passive thing: they never tell you what they want, they just sort of wilt and die if they don’t get it, like tiny green Katie Holmeses.”

Amazing.  It’s like she knows me.

This book’s target audience is definitely women in their early twenties.  I don’t think it would be useless for guys, but Kelly does spend a bit of time talking about specifically female concerns.  I would say that regardless of your life experiences up to this point, there will be at least a few things in this book you could try, and probably several that will make you laugh while you think, “Yup – been there.”