21st Century Literature discussion

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Question of the Week > What 21st Century Nonfiction Stands Above the Rest? (12/2/18)

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message 1: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2715 comments Mod
Although this group only selects fiction for its group reads, a great number of us still read nonfiction. Almost two decades into this millennia, are there titles you feel might stand the test of time or that have noteworthy literary quality? Feel free to share favorites even if you think they might not be remembered in time given that subject matter alone might limit such a book's shelf life.


message 3: by Robert (new)

Robert | 437 comments I think that Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind will definitely stand the test of time. It's very rare that a work of nonfiction keeps me absorbed. The last time being No Logo


message 4: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2715 comments Mod
Wow--thanks for kicking us off with such an impressive list, Hugh! I noticed quite a few fiction writers in there--I'm always fascinated to read nonfiction by writers who mostly put out fiction.


message 5: by Robert (new)

Robert | 437 comments Hugh wrote: "Most of what I read is fiction, but I can think of a few. I can't resist starting with a very recent one:
Under The Rock: The Poetry of a Place by Benjamin Myers. ..."


I've had the Electric Eden book on my shelf for years - Have you read his books on the Rough Trade and Warp labels? (or his recent book about Can?)


message 6: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2713 comments Mod
Robert wrote: "I've had the Electric Eden book on my shelf for years - Have you read his books on the Rough Trade and Warp labels? (or his recent book about Can?)"
No - neither of those particularly appealed to me...


message 7: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 652 comments Anything that Mary Roach writes. :) I'm half joking but half serious - her writing about science is so unique and makes reading non-fiction so enjoyable.


message 9: by Doug (new)

Doug Bretnie wrote: "Anything that Mary Roach writes. :) I'm half joking but half serious - her writing about science is so unique and makes reading non-fiction so enjoyable."

I've read all her books and she's a kick...also lives in my area. I don't read much non-fiction, but always look out for her books. They are unique, so wouldn't be surprised to see them stand the test of time.


message 11: by LindaJ^ (last edited Dec 04, 2018 07:53AM) (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2351 comments I think the best non-fiction, and true (at least to me) of my favorites, is that it tells the story of a place and/or a time. For example, if you want to know what it was like to live outside a city in the 1950's and 1960's and live through the assassination of JFK, then nothing gives a better sense of that than When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine. If you want to know about the key people and events of the first 3/4s of 20th Century, then read Caro's books about the life and times of LBJ. If you want to know what the arts scene was like in NYC in the 1970's read Just Kids. If you want to know about the Iranian revolution and its impact on women, read Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. And all of these are so well written.

Are there different criteria for a non-fiction book, as opposed to a fiction book, to stand the test of time? Will some non-fiction only be read by those interested in a particular era or time, perhaps for research purposes? Is some non-fiction, e.g., many of the books directed at the 2016 US presidential election, more limited timewise in their appeal? Is there a non-fiction cannon?

All this thinking about non-fiction put me in a different mindset than usual when I read this article about the best reviewed books of essays from 2018 - https://bookmarks.reviews/the-best-re....


message 12: by Marc (last edited Dec 04, 2018 08:44AM) (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2715 comments Mod
I think there's a non-fiction canon just like there is for fiction--usually includes standouts in history, science, philosophy, etc. Think Democracy in America, The Origin of Species, The Second Sex, etc. And certainly, every field/subject seems to have its own "classics" (cult- or otherwise). 21st century wise, I think of writers like Mary Roach, Richard Dawkins, Malcolm Gladwell, Bob Woodward, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxanne Gay, Michio Kaku, Tich Nhat Hanh, etc. I haven't read all of these authors myself.

My 21st nonfiction reading is relatively limited, but favorites include:
- Between the World and Me
- The Argonauts
- The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning
- How Fiction Works
- Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

There are lots more that I adored, but they're related to learning a specific skill or subject and not something I think will necessarily stand the test of time. I tend to wait even longer to read newer non-fiction than I do for fiction feeling that if I need cutting edge, it's probably going to come from articles and periodicals and anything else can take a few years to settle.


message 13: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2713 comments Mod
I must admit that my non-fiction choices are very selective, and rather dominated by landscape and nature writing. When I read memoirs they are usually by literary writers, or about music or sport, and I occasionally dabble in books about history and politics, and very occasionally popular science, but that still leaves plenty untouched, given that it is pretty rare for me to read more than 5 or so non-fiction books in a year.


message 14: by Nadine in California (last edited Dec 04, 2018 08:47AM) (new)

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 456 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "I think the best non-fiction, and true (at least to me) of my favorites, is that it tells the story of a place and/or a time. For example, if you want to know what it was like to live outside a cit..."

My thoughts exactly, LindaJ. To your list I'd add Taylor Branch's superb trilogy, America in the King Years: Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68. Each volume is pretty massive, but the pages flew by for me.


message 15: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2715 comments Mod
Well said, Hugh. I have to be interested or care about the subject matter for non-fiction in a way that I rarely do for fiction.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 456 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "All this thinking about non-fiction put me in a different mindset than usual when I read this article about the best reviewed books of essays from 2018 - https://bookmarks.reviews/the-best-re...."

Thanks for posting this LindaJ! Ever since November 2017 I've read only fiction books, but this list has popped me out of that bubble.


message 17: by Lily (last edited Dec 04, 2018 07:37PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2495 comments The one non-fiction book I will add to this discussion is one that probably won't stand the test of time nor can it be considered to be of particular "literary value," yet I think it contains information that I believe can provide valuable perspective about our current world for all of us:

Factfulness Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling

Having been moved by Jeffrey D. Sachs 's The End of Poverty a decade ago, I have found Rosling's book to be a valuable look at how far we have come -- and how far there is to go. Whether one agrees with the "facts" or the "conclusions" or the delineation of the major challenges ahead, there is food for thought and discussion here -- presented in a very readable way.


message 18: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2715 comments Mod
Lily,
After simply seeing Hans Rosling and his enthusiasm once, I'd read anything by him. This book looks timely and great!

He has a longer TED Talk, but this is a shorter version that gets across his charisma:
Hans Rosling: 200 Years in 4 Minutes


message 19: by Maggie (new)

Maggie Rotter (themagpie45) | 54 comments James Wood's How Fiction Works has delighted me for years as a look behind stage. I've given away several copies but always replace it. It is a richer read each time.


message 20: by Maggie (new)

Maggie Rotter (themagpie45) | 54 comments LindaJ Alexandra Fuller's Let's Not Go to the Dogs begins a 4 volume memoir. The final volume, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is a stunning conclusion, revealing her mother's life story and its effects on her children.


message 22: by carissa (new)

carissa I read quite a few cookbooks and Isa Chandra Moskowitz stands out as the best thing to come along in the past 20 years or so. I've been reading vegetarian cookbooks since I was 9, so finding her really stands out. She's this century's Deborah Madison or Alice Waters.

My favorite memoir is The Chronology of Water by fiction author Lidia Yuknavitch. It's also the best read of 2018, for me.

I've been sitting here trying to think of which Art books have been the most earth shattering, but keep coming back to the Art Journaling movement. It really has made making art for the masses not just about crafting. Need to think about, ya know, Art ART books though...hmmm....


message 25: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) This is the first time I've popped into the Questions thread, there are some great lists here. I, too, enjoyed H is for Hawk, and I would very much like to read Educated, it's on my wish list. However, I think the non-fiction book that has impressed me the most this millennium is The Tao of Equus: A Woman's Journey of Healing and Transformation Through the Way of the Horse. This book is as much about the future of the human species as it is about horses... you don't even have to know a horse to gain from this book.


message 27: by Elaine (last edited Dec 07, 2018 05:57AM) (new)

Elaine | 103 comments I like reading books on the current political situation. Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Below was a real eye-opener. It's about the rise of the white power movement, beginning with disillusioned Vietnam vets, and including white supremacists, the KKK, and the militia. I highly recommend it.

Also excellent is Masha Gesson's book on Putin, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Very informative and chilling.


message 28: by David (new)

David | 242 comments This topic is one that I don't really know how to respond to. When it comes to non-fiction, how much someone likes a book is much more likely related to the subject matter and the reader's interest in it than to independent, generalizable assessments of the book as a book. In this way the question seems more like asking people what subjects interest them. The same seems true of documentary films. When it comes to awards, often they go to the film that was judged to be "important" for the content of what it is about rather than for how well-made a film it is.

Of course, there can be better written and less well written books on the same subject. Some authors can be more engaging than others, and so on. But unlike fiction, people are much more likely to read a book based on the subject matter. Unless the book is something like In Cold Blood, one of my favourite books, the assessment is probably going to be more idiosyncratic than it will be with fiction.

The best non-fiction book I read recently is The Comedians by Kliph Nesteroff. It's a fascinating examination of American comedy, focusing mostly on standup comedians from Vaudeville days to the present. Is it good writing independent of the subject matter? I really don't know. It's certainly competent, because I would remember if it was less than that. But that's all I can say. Would I recommend the book to someone who isn't really interested in the history of comedy? No. But I would recommend it to anyone who is.

I like non-fiction books and documentary films, but I often find it hard to relate to them as art rather than as information.


message 29: by Lesley (new)

Lesley Moseley | 60 comments Tree A Life Story by David Suzuki by David Suzuki amzing book I read many times and recommended even more.


message 30: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Lesley wrote: "Tree A Life Story by David Suzuki by David Suzuki amzing book I read many times and recommended even more."

Which reminds me of another recent non-fiction that captivated me:
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World


message 31: by Lesley (new)

Lesley Moseley | 60 comments Janice (JG) wrote: "Lesley wrote: "Tree A Life Story by David Suzuki by David Suzuki amzing book I read many times and recommended even more."

Which reminds me of another recent non-fiction t..."


Janice (JG) wrote: "Lesley wrote: "Tree A Life Story by David Suzuki by David Suzuki amzing book I read many times and recommended even more."

Which reminds me of another recent non-fiction t..."


Thanks will look for this. Not non-fiction but my best book of the year is ABOUT trees .. The Overstory by Richard Powers


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