Some Recent Non-Fiction

It wasn't until a few years ago that I really started giving non-fiction some solid time in my reading schedule. Currently, I try to read one a month (not counting listening), but this month a few have piled up, varying very much in subject matter and enjoyability. A quick look:

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco
I listened to this relatively short audiobook (not even six hours) and I desperately wish it was twice as long. Mastromonaco worked with Obama when he was a senator as his Advanced Scheduler and then in the White House as the eventual Deputy Chief of Staff, so her perspective and insight is particularly interesting. Her narrative voice is spectacularly hilarious, honest, and insightful and she does an outstanding job narrating her own text. The book isn't about Obama, exactly, but about her role behind the scenes in politics, looking at everything from the work required campaigning, how it is to transition into the White House, the logistics of traveling abroad with POTUS, and how she had to work to control her own flaws and issues to be successful (reigning in her emotions, having IBS, being a workaholic, etc...). It was the perfect blend of politics, personal stories, harmless gossip, inspiration, and humor. #imissobamasomuchithurts 

Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga 

by Pamela Newkirk
This was someone's pick for book club and I was intrigued when I started it, since most of our selections are pretty solid, but this one fell incredibly flat. For those who aren't familiar with Ota Benga's story, he was taken from Africa at the turn of the twentieth century and placed, most memorably, in Central Park in the Monkey House. There was a great deal of controversy regarding the inhumanity of it (YOU THINK?!?!?!) and problems with the responsibility of his care. The book documents all of this, plus his life before and after very well- but that's the problem, the documentation. Newkirk provides a ridiculous amount of of evidence and information for every tiny little thing she mentions (for example, a group of men walk into a city building for a meeting and she briefly discusses some of its architectural historical background; now multiple this by 150). I hate to say this, but the dry, academic, extraneous detail-heavy style of this book detracts from the emotional affect and nauseating implications about recent humanity. Obviously we can read between the lines, and imagine the horrors on a more sensitive level, but it bothered me throughout that Newkirk was so detached.

By the Book 

by The New York Times, Edited by Pamela Paul
This book took me a few months to get through this, since it was the book I picked up at home when I just had a few minutes to read. This collection compiles the articles from the series of the same name in the The New York Times, which asks writers questions from a bank of twenty or so each week. The questions range from their perfect reading location, to what they think the President should read, to childhood literary heroes. Some of my absolute favorites were interviewed, including Ann Patchett, David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, and Jhumpa Lahiri. Each interview takes only five or six minutes to read, so it's perfect for when, say your kid is in the bath or your waiting for dinner to finish up. 

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