One Sentence Summary: Journalist Joshua Foer spent a year immersing himself in the art of memory, culminating in competing in the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship.
One Sentence Review: Foer’s book is wonderful when exploring the ideas of memory, but lacks the same sort of passion when Foer focuses on himself and tying his experiences to broader themes.
Why I Read It: I usually enjoy books written by journalists who spend a year immersed in a quirky subculture, so this book seemed right up my alley.
One Sentence Summary: Demick uses extensive interviews with North Korean defectors to write about what life is like in the most closed-off country in the world.
One Sentence Review: Nothing to Envy is a book that’s hard to read and hard to put down because of how well Demick is able to construct what life is like in North Korea.
Why I Read It: Nothing to Envy got on my radar because it was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in nonfiction, but I chose to read it because Demick is a journalist and I’m fascinated by nonfiction stories that are almost impossible to tell.
One Sentence Summary: In Candyfreak, Steve Almond goes on an exploration of how the world of candy in the United States in changing and what that might mean.
One Sentence Review: Candyfreak has lots of mature themes about corporate takeover and the role of food with memory, but it’s best feature is the fact that it’s a book that loves and glorifies candy – yum.
Why I Read It: Candy is my favorite part of Halloween, so this seemed like a perfect sort of read to pick up around this time of year.
I got one of my first e-mails from a new reader yesterday, asking about literary journalism. I ended up writing a rather involved response, which I thought other people might find interesting. Here’s the question:
Hi! I just found your blog, it has been very helpful. I am trying to get into literary journalism, I have read a lot of Mark Bowden’s work. Can you suggest a few of the more well-known books in this genre to get started with!
And here’s a slightly edited and improved version of what I had to say (links go to my reviews, if applicable).
Reviews of Minority Report by Philip K. Dick and The Necklace by Cheryl Jarvis.
One Sentence Summary: Competitive bird watching is a real thing, and 1998 was a banner year for one of the sports’ oddest competitions.
One Sentence Review: The Big Year is an entertaining and well-paced look at an obscure hobby and the people who love it.
About three months ago, Boyfriend and I were invited to join a wine tasting group here in Madison called WASTED – it’s an acronym for something, but no one can see to remember what!
We’re heading off to another WASTED meeting this afternoon, which made today seem like the perfect time to review a narrative nonfiction book I just recently finished about the history of wine in the United States, The Wild Vine by Todd Kliman.
Two Sentence Summary: Ted Conover wanted to write about being a correctional officer, but the New York State Department of Corrections wouldn’t let him shadow a guard for a story. So Conover became an officer for a year and was assigned to guard at Sing Sing.
Two Sentence Review: Conover’s book is a oft-cited example of strong literary journalism, and for good reason. It’s gritty and honest without engaging in stereotypes and grapples with some challenging ethical questions, all while being an engrossing read.
Summary: New Yorker journalist David Grann set out to solve one of the biggest exploration mysteries of the last 100 years: What happened to explorer Percy Fawcett when he headed into the Amazon to find the mythical Lost City of Z?
Book Review: Some parts of The Lost City of Z are quite good, but the whole isn’t as entirely satisfying as I hoped it would be.
One Sentence Summary: After a devastating cyclone hits Burma and the corrupt totalitarian regime refuses international aid claiming everything is fine, journalist Emma Larkin returned to the country to chronicle life after the storm.
One Sentence Review: Despite a compelling story and careful writing, Everything is Broken lacks the type of forward momentum that characterizes truly great narrative nonfiction and therefore left me a little disappointed.