Here are six nonfiction books that are among the best featured in FEAST in 2009. Any one of them would make a welcome gift for those that love this genre!
Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife, Marie Winn. Picador 2009. Remember the story of the Pale Male, the Red-Tailed Hawk in New York City that drew the attention of so many? Marie Winn wrote the book Red-Tails in Love. Now she explores further details of a natural world that flourishes in the midst of a massive city, a world of nocturnal beasts, insects, and slugs, a dark teeming ecosphere hidden twixt and tween the bright lights and traffic of Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. As Elizabeth Royte of the New York Times, says, “I’d follow Winn into the park at any hour.”
Power in the Blood: A Family Narrative, Linda Tate (Ohio University Press 2009). This fascinating new book traces the author’s journey to rediscover the Cherokee-Appalachian branch of her family and provides an unflinching examination of the poverty, discrimination, and family violence that marked their lives. Although it is a memoir, Tate had to “imagine” some of the details of her search for her family’s story. She did it beautifully. With all the facts and memories woven in, her research over many years in Appalachia made the imagined parts more informed than not. She also used pseudonyms for some family members who may not have wanted their stories shared. But, in essence, this is Linda’s story, her life, and her family through generations. The writing is lively and compelling and at times she is painfully honest about childhood events. But it is the spare beauty of that honesty that makes this book extraordinary.
Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams. Pantheon 2008. Terry Tempest Williams has written an artful book, fashioned like the mosaics she uses throughout as analogies. At first it may seem that she is writing of disparate topics, yet as the volume continues, the reader begins to see they are all related, all are essential pieces of the whole. She writes openly and honestly about some very difficult personal and global issues—from environmental challenges and prairie dogs at risk of extinction in the United States to repeated genocides in Rwanda, from life-risking efforts to save lives to global indifference at human suffering—and she frames it in terms of the healing that can come from art, love, and compassion. A truly lovely book that provides insight and much to contemplate. For more information on this author: http://www.coyoteclan.com/
The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery, Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin. HarperCollins 2008. This is an absolutely fascinating story about how French Architect Jean-Pierre Houdin and his wife became obsessed by the mystery of how the Great Pyramid was built. Using advanced 3-D modeling, Houdin worked ten hours a day for five years to finally discover evidence that the pyramid, contrary to all previous theories, had been built from the inside via a mile-long, corkscrewing ramp, unseen for 4,500 years! I could not set this story down. Through forensic architecture, Houdin and a team of others (who joined the journey as his ideas became known) made discoveries that supported the mounting evidence. The technology alone that is used is amazing and what it will continue to reveal next makes the imagination fly. Easily readable, not at all dry, if you get into this book, don’t skip the appendices OR the end notes—both just add to the experience. A case of truth being stranger (and more absorbing) than fiction.
Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness, Tracy Kidder. Random House 2009. Tracy Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, and many other literary prizes, is a thorough professional and engaging writer of nonfiction. He picks the hard topics and struggles to portray his subjects without bias, to tell their story instead of his—an exceptional quality in times when personal spin has gained greater acceptance in society. This is an astounding story of one survivor of genocide in the small African country of Berundia—against all odds and through providential events—who manages to escape the violence and come to the United States. Kidder writes a deep exploration of what horror can do to the human psyche, the fight to remain human and to achieve a measure of success in spite of one’s past. The story of Deogratias (Thanks to God) puts an individual human face on events so massive, so brutal, as to be nearly incomprehensible. It is, indeed, a story of a people’s terror and loss, but it is also a story of regeneration and of hope that such stories can one day end.
Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. Viking 2009. This book about the power of travel to birth spiritual connections and inspire creativity is jointly written by a mother-daughter team, giving us a generational perspective on a series of events they experienced during travel to France and Greece over a period of years. Sue’s journey begins as she approaches her fiftieth birthday and begins to realize she is ending an era as a younger woman and entering a period of transition that will move her toward her eldest years. She finds herself seeking spiritual guidance from feminine symbols and icons, hoping for new directions in her work, greater understanding and closeness to her daughter, and a graceful entry into the next stage of her life. Ann’s journey is also a period of transition, one from loss and rejection that culminates in a search for the work she is meant to do. The icons and symbols that guide her are different from her mother’s but in their mutual search they discover each other anew as adult women. It’s an inspiring book, thoughtfully written, and one I very much enjoyed. It provides a framework for seeking transitions and destinations for any woman who wants to enhance the meaningfulness of her years.
Happy Holidays to all and happy reading in 2010!