I've been reading a lot of fiction this year. An awful lot of fiction. Of the 35 books I've read since January, a scant 5 of them are nonfiction. In an effort to tip the ratio away from such a fiction-heavy rotation, I decided that September would be "nonfiction month." I have many more fiction books that I'm eager to check out, but it seemed like a good idea to take a month out from the world of the made-up and invest a little time what actually is and has been.
My best-friend-in-law Tasci recommended this book a few months ago, so I was willing to take a chance on this seemingly bland topic. Get it? Salt? Bland? Nevermind. Salt is something we don't think much about these days, but for thousands of years it helped shape the course of history. Up until a hundred years or so ago, salt was a relatively rare substance and those who controlled the salt controlled the power of commerce. The book was really interesting, but a bit dry at points. I really enjoyed the parts discussing the scientific makeup of salt, as well as the role salt played in early US history. If you're a history buff, it's worth checking out, but be prepared for a few slow parts.
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlanski -
I'm an introvert. I know this may surprise a lot of people reading this, but it's true. It's not easy being an introvert in an extrovert's world, but that's the situation I've found myself in for the past 34 years. This book does a really nice job detailing the differences between introversion and extroversion, and makes the case for a better understanding between people of each persuasion. Really, though, I mostly recommend this book for people who have important people in their lives who are introverts, whom they want to understand better, especially extrovert spouses and parents of introverts. It will give you a good introduction into better understanding how we work.
Boom. There it is. "The N-Word." In the history of the spoken word, perhaps no other word has had as much power to anger, infuriate, subjugate, or at the very least make people uncomfortable. This book covers the history of the word, the history of its acceptance and use in the popular culture, and the way in which it has been dealt with in recent history since becoming widely recognized as taboo. It was definitely an uncomfortable read, but sometimes uncomfortable subjects need to be addressed. I'm not certain I agree with the author's conclusions about the words appropriateness or the way it should be handled, but I think it's a subject should perhaps be tackled head-on instead in hushed whispers behind closed doors.
Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy -
After reading Stephen King's 11/22/63, I was really interested in the idea of how American history -- and world history -- has hinged on a series of small events, and how radically things might have been different had things gone another way. Then Everything Changed explored this very question in a handful of specific events: The near-assassination of JFK in 1960, JFK's assassination in 1968, and a critical gaffe in during the 1976 Presidential debates. After getting into this book, I'm not sure that it's accurately categorized as "nonfiction," as the assumptions the author makes about these "alternate histories" take a few liberties that could be construed as far-fetched. Obviously, we have no way to know what actually would have been, but Greenfield makes an entertaining guess. Definitely recommended for history buffs who want to debate the author's story, but also very much recommended for people of my generation, born just after these events took place, who don't know a lot about the twenty critical years in US history before the 1980's.