10 things Tuesday on Wednesday: non-fiction books I love

I am obsessed with lists these days and with tagging and categorizing things. 10 things Tuesdays is filling that need quite well. Today, I bring you 10 non-fiction books I love in no particular order. These books are not on this list because they are the paragons of non-fiction; they're here because I love them and it's my list. What are your non-fiction must reads?

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Memoir by Alison Bechdel

My good friend, Joe, suggested I read Fun Home and I read it in one weekend. I loved Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For web comic and had no idea she'd written a memoir. What I love about Fun Home beyond the story itself is the way it makes me think about the possibilities and limits of narrative. I cannot imagine this story any other way.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

I have the desk calendar born from this book and am always finding out something new and interesting about language. I loved the way this book makes what may seem like a boring subject, grammar and punctuation, interesting. I consider myself incredibly lax about grammar, especially for an English teacher, but what I realized while reading this is that there are certain punctuation issues that bug me. I'm a punctuation snob. I can't stand for 's to be used when s (plural) is appropriate. So, if you're a nerd like me, you'd probably like this book.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

An incredibly disturbing book to read and considered the first non-fiction book, Capote tells us the story of the quadruple murder that destroyed Kansas community of Holcomb in 1959 . Capote spent six years investigating the murders, talking to the grieving villagers, the detectives who worked on the case and the murderers themselves. Again, narrativity is bent and non-linear. Capote crafts a story out of facts and from different perspectives--though how he makes us feel for the murderers is quite a feat. There's a seamlessness to the story which amazes me considering how varied the perspectives of the crime were. I've read the book four times now and each time, I'm amazed by Capote's craft.

On Writing by Stephen King

I love the anecdotal sections of King's advice book on writing but many of his approaches helped me get my dissertation finished. I really enjoyed hearing how King found inspiration and certainly needed reminding of the perseverance it takes to be a writer. Even if you aren't interested in pursuing writing, King's book is incredibly readable. It's really more of what King does so well: tell stories.

Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality by Thomas Lynch

Lynch is an undertaker and a poet. His essays are rich and lovely. While you might think this would be a maudlin read, it's actually quite funny. Lynch has an amazing way with language. There's wonderful depth in Lynch's experiences and something incredibly familiar about the stories Lynch tells and I think it's probably related to my upbringing as a preacher's kid. And it doesn't escape me that this is the second book which involves a funeral home.

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton

I just read an interview with de Botton where he talks about the ways we expect traveling from one place to the next to change us in some way. But ultimately, we end up expecting the place to do the work instead of our own reflective practices. de Botton is, I suppose, a cultural philosopher. I read the Architecture of Happiness as part of my dissertation research and soon sought out other de Botton texts. What's great about this book is de Botton's approach to the topic and his prose is beautiful. I like books that make me think about something common, something I see everyday (like architecture) in a new way and this text did that for me. As I studied place/space theory which can get didactic at times, de Botton's work while running along similar lines was a breath of fresh air and infused my energy on the topic.

Like Fun Home, Art Spiegelman's Maus is a graphic novel covering a difficult subject. With FH it's coming out, with Maus it's concentration camps and memory. One of my colleagues teaches this text and I'm impressed with his stories of how students respond. The text is open in its difficulties in narration and I love how the composition process becomes part of the narrative itself. I heard Spiegelman speak at a conference and found him to be searingly honest and yet, humorous much like his narrative. Spiegelman is amazingly talented; you can see painstaking detail in the choices he makes within the narrative and with the illustrations which are both subtle and yet, somehow, blatant simultaneously.

The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg

I enjoyed Bragg's other "memoirs" Ava's Man and All Over But the Shoutin' but I particularly love The Prince of Frogtown, perhaps because I listened to it on CD, which means, very literally, that I heard Rick Bragg tell the stories he so beautifully writes. Perhaps I am biased. As a Southerner, it makes sense to me that stories meander. As a creative writer who writes about my own experiences, I understand that stories never end where you expect; they always seem to be about something else than you intended to write. Bragg writes about being a stepfather honestly and with the kind of masculine swagger that he writes most everything but it doesn't bother me so much here. The imagery is rich and sensual and doesn't get in the way but rather shows that our stories are as much about time and place (and nostalgia) as they are anything else.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

I talk about this book in my "Books that Changed my Life: Undergraduate Edition" post and I don't want to repeat it all here. But I will reiterate that I think the power in Berendt's wonderful narration of true events, is about understanding. As I mentioned in the post, Berendt is an outsider. He can both see and not see certain things in the community. It's an interesting and familiar position for a journalist and Berendt moves between the outsider and insider throughout the story. Ultimately, as readers, we grow to understand the grey areas, the subtleties we often fail to see in our own lives and the consequences of secrets. I love this book for many reasons and you can read more about why by following the link above.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

To say I've been a fan of Didion's since I was an undergrad would be an understatement. I talk in the Master's Edition of Books that Changed my Life about my love of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and I am pretty sure for many female college students, Didion's voice provides an outlet for their own feelings. She did for mine. This book, however, is very different. Some critics have said the book is cold, that it is not poignant enough, that Didion is not emotive as "she should be." In my opinion, that's exactly the point. She's commenting on our expectations of her own expectations and dismissal of what grieving should look like. The book may not be her most expertly crafted, but it isn't meant to be. As I've said before about Didion's work, it's how she gets to the conclusions that keep me reading.