Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Books Unblogged

So, the other books (besides Twins) I’ve read but not written about turn out to have something in common: they’re nonfiction.

I enjoyed all three but I think I know why I don’t have much to say about them here: they were best-sellers and easy reads. What’s to say? It’s like offering up an English-to-English translation. I can see, however, why nonfiction so far outsells fiction: decent nonfiction just skips right along. You get a ripping good story, a pleasant sense of the author’s voice, and lots of information, but, really, very little thinking is involved. The point of view doesn’t shift, the metaphors are deliberately pedestrian--making the unusual common rather than the other way around, and the pacing intends to just pull you right along.

So, yes, I liked the book-length Freakonomics as devoutly as I’d enjoyed the article in the Sunday Times. And though I found Julie Powell annoying at times, I got a lot of pleasure out of Julie and Julia. Finally, Simon Winchester’s great tale of the origins of the OED, The Professor and the Madman, did not disappoint.

None of these books disappointed, in fact.

I do want more, however. Deep in Woolf’s diaries, behind in my reading for the LitBlog Co-op, and otherwise feeling the pressure of looming Woolf deadlines, I am pondering, somewhat abstractly and abstractedly, where to turn next…


Sally said...


I'm in a nonfiction book club that I love, have been in it for years and will freely admit that I've read less fiction than I should have by now because of it. But there's nonfiction and then there's nonfiction. Tim Tyson's Blood Done Sign My Name is written by a historian with the soul of a novelist. It will make you think. Others though I've often thought were no better than Sunday Times sketches. A book on polio comes to mind (it won a Pulitzer!). So thanks for putting these thoughts down.

Unknown said...

Thanks for that, Sally!

I got schooled by another reader who doesn't publish his comments (but makes them known at dinner) that it was wrong of me, a scholar of, fan of, and advocate for the essay to imply that nonfiction was inferior.

I could use a shot of Tyson, for sure.

And I didn't mean to imply anything other than the way that these nonfiction bestsellers go down like maple syrup.