Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nontraditional Nonfiction

 

"Until we have found our own ground and connection to the Whole, we are unsettled, grouchy, and on the edge of falling apart...afterward, you know you rightly belong in this world, and that you are being held by some Larger Force.  For some seemingly illogical reason life then feels okay and even good and right and purposeful." Richard Rohr

Nontraditional Nonfiction: This week we will be focusing on the nontraditional side of reading nonfiction. Nonfiction comes in many forms. There are the traditional hardcover or paperback print books, of course, but then you also have e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, and enhanced books complete with artifacts. So many choices! Do you find yourself drawn to or away from nontraditional nonfiction? Do you enjoy some nontraditional formats, but not others? Perhaps you have recommendations for readers who want to dive into nontraditional formats. We want to hear all about it this week!

I thought this week's prompt was going to be one I couldn't do, as I almost always read print books, but after reading some of the other blogger's entries, I decided to broaden my thinking a bit about what I consider "reading."

I have discovered that nonfiction is often easier for me on Kindle than in print.  I think partly this is because on Kindle, I don't become discouraged by the sheer volume of so many nonfiction books.  Spillover by David Quamman, for example, is a book I have been struggling to finish for over two years.  I would make a little headway, then set it aside and not pick it up for months, until September when I decided to try it on my Kindle while I was in South Africa.  Once I migrated to Kindle, I finished the last half of the book in a little over a month.  It had taken me two years to read the first half.  I also find that I seem to be able to focus better on my Kindle than I do on print books.  I know this is counter to the experience I'm supposed to have.  I've read the studies.  I don't know how to explain it.  Maybe my brain processes backwards.  That would explain a lot, actually.  I think my next Kindle project is going to be Annals of the Former World by John McPhee.  I've been watching Making North America on PBS, and I read somewhere that this was a recommended read by the series host, Kirk Johnson.  I'm a sucker for a science book. I also like Kindle for my daily self-help type reading.  Right now on Kindle, I'm reading Richard Rohr's Breathing Underwater, The Upanishads, and re-reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

Audiobooks seem to be a very popular nontraditional format for a lot of people.  My only real success with audiobooks has been comedy, David Sedaris in particular.  His voice is absolutely perfect for his stories.  I don't have a lot of time to listen to audio, and I find my mind often wanders when I try.  With the coming of winter, I hope to be walking at the indoor track more.  If anyone has any recommendations for audio books to listen to while I walk, please share them.  Just remember the options need to be light and fairly easy to follow, or I'll zone out.  Walking into a wall is not beyond the realm of possibility for me if I get too intent on what I'm hearing.

Although it's been several years since I read one, I have thoroughly enjoyed the graphic novels I have read.  Three that stand out in particular are Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.  I've had Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi on my shelf for years.  May be a good time to get to that one.

Another different way I read is via email.  I subscribe to Richard Rohr's daily email, and most days I read it before I even get out of bed.  It's a good length for a quick but thought-provoking read.  In the last several months, he has published series on Buddhism; Jung; Nonviolence; Myth, Art and Poetry, and on AA's 12 Step program.  Check him out.  I love his work.

My last nontraditional format may be a bit of a stretch, but if audio books count, Podcasts should count too.  At one point I was trying to listen to TED talks, The Moth, Literary Disco, and several others, but I was getting overwhelmed and not really listening to any of them, so I've narrowed my Podcasts down to On Being with Krista Tippett.  I have never been disappointed with these weekly, thought-provoking conversations.  This week's interview with Lisa Randall (here) is especially appropriate for a Nonfiction November post. Now I want to read all of her books.  Sigh.  So many books, so little time.  I need to retire.











Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Whole World Sparks and Flames


photo by Amy Brandon

"But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn't flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames."  Annie Dillard

This week's Nonfiction November topic suggestion to pair a nonfiction book with a novel is easy for me, as two of the books I've recently finished lend themselves to pairing in multiple ways:  both are narrated by mountain-loving, independent-thinking women, both are set in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, both revel in the beauty of the natural world, and both are books I loved but would hesitate to recommend to everyone.  If all of that's not enough, my edition of Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith sports an endorsement by Annie Dillard, the author of the nonfiction part of the pairing, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  

I recently blogged about Fair and Tender Ladies (here), an epistolary novel which tells the story, through her own words, of Ivy Rowe, a Virginia mountain woman who is wedded more completely to her precious home mountain than to any member of the human race.   

The second part of this post is going to be a bit more difficult, not because I liked Pilgrim at Tinker Creek less, but because I loved it more.  I loved it more, in fact, than about ninety percent of everything else I've ever read.  Maybe I'm overstating, but probably not.  Now before you get all 1-Click happy and buy you a copy, hear me out.

There have been many times I've jumped blind and head-first after a book based on a blog rave and then been completely taken aback when I thought I was getting A Tale of Two Cities and ended up with an engineering text on city planning.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is not a novel.  It is not linear.  There is no catchy dialogue, no clever character development, no plot twists, no climax, no denouement. What exactly it is defies definition.  It is poetry.  It is beauty.  It is a prayer, a meditation, and a continual revelation. It is water and light and wind and wild and earth and luminosity and brilliance and obscurity.  At its simplest, it is the journal of one woman's year on Virginia's Tinker Creek.  At its most complex, it is, well, I don't know, because I haven't grasped it all yet.  In between, it is theosophy, philosophy, theology, biology, entomology, and lots of other -ologies I can't name.  I am already re-reading it.  I suspect I will be constantly re-reading it over and over again.  It must be read slowly and thoughtfully and much of it must be felt instead of understood.  It is a balm for the weary soul.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek taught me to see. And oh, the things I have seen:

  • a dragonfly hovering right at eye-level, facing off against this odd-looking interloper in his territory on a paddle board,
  • a globular spider launching up and down, up and down, spinning against the back-lit, blue pink, twilight sky,
  • a hognose snake reared up and puffed up like a cobra looking dangerous and angry but in truth benign and terrified
  • scores of schools of fish, silver-bright twisting and turning in the jade waves as they break and reassemble all around me, my skin slippery with their quintessence
  • a pin oak leaf spinning in a crazy dance on a barely visible web filament in a breeze so gentle I missed it until I saw it transform a dead leaf into a gift of extraordinary, exquisite beauty.
I've spent countless hours looking at nature before.  I've been awed and inspired by her beauty before.  But usually, I was looking for the big picture, the grand view, the obvious impression. How many of these small, lovely things would I have missed simply because I never thought to look?  We see what we expect to see, and I fear this is more curse than blessing.  When you open your eyes, really open them, and look around, you find something breathtakingly beautiful in every minute, even it it's just the bright, iridescent green fly occupying the space where your hand will soon be on your car door.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Nonfiction November

 


Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?


After I decided to participate in Nonfiction November and read the first set of questions (above), I looked back over my year of reading and realized I had only completed two nonfiction books.  That's just sad.  It doesn't mean I haven't been reading nonfiction, just that I haven't been completing it.  I'm still in the middle of Spillover by David Quamann, which I find fascinating but have to be in a certain mood to read, and I'm also still in the middle of Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr, which I am enjoying but need time and silence to absorb, both of which are in very short supply for me lately.

One of the books I have finished is one of the best, most unusual books I have ever read:  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.  I don't usually have favorite books, but this one may be an exception.  That said, this book is not for everyone.  It is not easy.  It cannot be read quickly.  It requires patience, and parts of it will defy understanding on certain days and in certain ways.  I loved it, but I hesitate to recommend it, knowing how difficult it is and how hard it is for me to know who will love it and who will be like:  huh?  One day I will tackle the task of blogging about it, but not today.

In the spirit of Nonfiction November, I just went to the library and checked out four nonfiction books to dabble around in this week-end.  I don't limit myself to topics or types, although I tend not to like biography.  What I hope to get out of participating in Nonfiction November is the specific goal of finishing or at least making good progress on Spillover, as well as possibly finding my next Nonfiction read.