Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday Muse: More Than Just Good Reads

I've been trying to keep a list at GoodReads of the books I've been reading so that I can share some of the best of the titles with others. Looking at my GoodReads list I see readily that I've read a lot in the past year, many more books than I could mention in a single post. Below are 10 titles, in no particular order, that I found to be especially good reads. The books encompass nonfiction, memoir, and biography, and sometimes combinations of all three, as well as art, history, and science.

Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden (Bloomsbury USA, 2012) — This is a wonderful accounting of the life of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) who, beginning in her early seventies, taught herself the art of paper cutting — what Delaney called "flower mosaicks" — and left behind the most exquisite artwork, which today is housed in the British Museum. Physically beautiful, Peacock's book is full of fascinating information about the culture, social mores, traditions and customs, and politics of Delany's time.

The Paper Garden Website

Book Excerpt

Kristen Iversen, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats (Crown/Random House, 2012) — Iversen's memoir is not only about her growing-up years in Rocky Flats, Colorado; it's also a gripping story of government secrecy, dishonesty, neglect, and breath-taking disregard for the health and safety of life, human and not. It left me outraged, haunted, and even despairing. I think it's one of the most important books published in the last year and why it was left off widely disseminated and popular critics' lists is a mystery to me.

Book Trailer

Book Excerpts

Kristen Iversen's Slow Fire (Blog) and  The Fallout Report

Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present (Random House, 2012) — Prodigious intellect (Kandel is a Nobelist), graceful, accessible prose, penetrating curiosity, deep knowledge of art history, and fascinating psychological and biological insights into creativity and art-making (Kandel focuses on Austrian Expressionists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele) make this superbly written study of neuroaesthetics a standout. A substantial book (more than 500 pages) that requires attentive reading, it's literally an eye-opening approach to art through science.

Eric R. Kandel at Big Think 

Victoria Sweet, M.D., God's Hotel: A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine (Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2012) — Not in the least technical, Sweet's book should be on every med student's reading list. A combination of memoir and medical history, it underscores the importance of the "slow medicine" Sweet comes to understand and practice at San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital during its transformation from almshouse to modern healthcare institution. It's highly readable, wonderfully descriptive, and deeply thoughtful.

Book Excerpts

Christopher Benfey, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family & Survival (Penguin, 2012) — Unconventional in approach, even lyrically meandering, I admired this book for its skillful weaving of family history overlapping in brick-making, pottery-making, and education (Benfey's great-aunt and great-uncle were Anni and Josef Albers who helped found the pioneering Black Mountain College), and I especially appreciated how Benfey maps his story by making "the clay — whether the dark, iron-rich clay of red brick or the white clay of Cherokee pottery and fine porcelain. . ." a recurring motif that helps him uncover "a pattern in the wanderings of [his] far-flung family." 

Sylvie Simmons, I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (HarperCollins, 2012) —While Simmons does not cast much of a critical eye (it's clear what a huge fan of Cohen's she is), she leads us on a well-researched and in-depth romp through Cohen's life. . . and what a life it was, and still is!

Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House, 2012) — I knew Boo's Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism from The Washington Post and The New Yorker and so picked this up eagerly. Winner of the 2012 National Book Award, the book reads like an enormously satisfying novel. Boo writes with deep empathy and leaves you caring about the lives she so vividly portrays. It's a terrific piece of narrative nonfiction.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers Website

Katherine Boo Interview with Charlie Rose

Hali Felt, Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor (Henry Holt, 2012) — I learned about this biography through a friend who knows Felt. It's a book I did not see on anyone's good-read lists for 2012 but I'm putting it on my own, not only because it is interesting and well-written but also because it brings to light the important and pioneering scientific contributions of geologist and cartographer Marie Tharp, a woman I'd never heard of until I read Felt's biography. Felt rightly corrects an omission in scientific literature by giving Tharp the recognition her achievements deserve. 

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, Hiroshima in the Morning (The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2010) — This is a lyrical, often deeply moving account about forgetting and remembering, of surviving and being reawakened, of loving, leaving, and returning. Rizzuto beautifully expresses the conflicts she faces in trying to be daughter, wife, mother, and writer. Her book, Rizzuto writes, is just one story about how memories define us. It's a book I would read again.

One to One: Rahna Reiko Rizzuto (Interview)

Joe Wilkins, The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up on The Big Dry (Counterpoint, 2012) — Place is a motivating character in this memoir and the kind of man it makes of Joe Wilkins makes this a compelling read. Wilkins, who has published several collections of acclaimed poetry, is by turns poetic and unflinchingly objective in rendering his impoverished growing-up years and his struggle to create a better life than he was born into.

1 comment:

SarahJane said...

Ugh, just what I need - more books. Smile. Thanks for these short notes and recommendations. I put three of them on my list.