Kate Klassa serves up some non-fiction books to get your teeth stuck into this summer
In a fast action world where news comes via tweets and soundbites, it’s much harder to make time for in-depth discussions of real life events. Here are five new(ish) nonfiction reads that make learning something new and discovering different perspectives worth your time.
Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean
Sharp is an exploration of some of the most influential women writers of the last century. Almost every chapter explores a different woman’s writing, giving details of their childhood and adolescent years as well as the intimate details of their writing careers. Dean differentiates this book from other collections of short biographies by considering the writers’ impacts on each other rather than writing about them in isolation, and by covering the writers through a feminist lens, not as a strict modern definition, but rather in their attitudes towards the mainstream feminist thought in their day and how they thought about and related to other women in their field. My one critique is the lack of inclusion of women writers of color. There’s a short half chapter devoted to Zora Neale Hurston, but otherwise there’s not a single mention of one in the whole book, which is a shame for an otherwise excellent work.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya
Wamariya, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, holds nothing back in her memoir on how the atrocity has affected her life. She was six when she and her older sister fled their home and were separated from their family, and she recounts their journey for safety country by country until they reached the US. Wamariya doesn’t shy away from or diminish her dark emotions but gives full weight to her anger, sadness, and fear. She gives an individual voice to a horror that seems too overwhelming to think of, and captures the very real sentiments of destruction, disorientation, and finality.
Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard
A fascinating series of essays on all the topics I love to be nosy about, Sunshine State covers some of the odd aspects of Floridian culture through the lens of Gerard’s personal history with the state. Gerard’s chapters are long, and cover topics like homelessness, the Amway capitalist cult, and house hunting in great detail, switching back and forth between the straight facts and her own experiences. Even for someone not wholly familiar with Florida I still found Gerard’s collection of essays to be an intriguing read.
Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen
Suzy Hansen, an American journalist living in Turkey, wrote Notes on a Foreign Country as a way to explore her evolving perception of the United States, what it means to be an American, and how American history has impacted foreign nations, based on her experiences abroad. Hansen interweaves her own experiences and travels with articles, books, and musings from historical and modern day writers to create a book that challenges Americans to dig deeper into their own country’s history and influence on the rest of the world. While this may be of most interest to Americans, it’s a fantastic read for anyone a bit baffled by the US’s self-perception and relationship with the rest of the world.
I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice
Even as someone who struggles to connect with personal memoirs, I easily found this one to be one of the most honest, heartfelt, and beautiful books I’ve ever read. Ruth Fitzmaurice’s husband, Simon, has Motor Neurone Disease, which leaves him motionless and only able to communicate via an eye gaze computer. I Found My Tribe is Ruth’s explanation of her married life — written not in a chronological timeline but switching back and forth as she tells of her relationship with her husband, their five children, and her friends. She alternates between tales of what goes on inside her home and her own head, and how she and her friends — the self-named Tragic Wives Swimming Club — cope with their life challenges by swimming in the sea. Ruth’s words are equally humorous and lump-in-throat-forming, and I Found My Tribe is a delight to read from start to finish.
Words by Kate Klassa