Top Nonfiction Books of 2011

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I find comparing books of fiction to books of nonfiction too difficult. All in all, the experience of reading fiction versus nonfiction is very different, though one of the books below might be the exception to that rule. And separating the two provides an opportunity for another list. So here are my top nonfiction picks of 2011.

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat:  Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals, by Hal Herzog.  Great and well written assemblage of the growing body of research in anthrozoology.  Herzog is neither condescending nor incomprehensible in reporting on fascinating studies about the connections between human and non-human animals.

As Always, Julia:  The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon.  This book will make you fall in love with letter writing, as well as these two women.

Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, by Lauren Slater.  This is the book mentioned above that blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction.  Which is what Slater is all about.  How much of this “memoir” is true?  How much of any memoir is true?  How much of my account of yesterday is true?

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles:  Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, by Jennifer 8 Lee.  These next two books I discovered in my quest to learn more about the world of Chinese restaurants, and the lives of Asian immigrants living in small towns like Madison.

Bento Box in the Heartland:  My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America, by Linda Furiya.  This is such an undiscovered little gem.  Furiya grew up just up the road in Versailles, Indiana, and this book is  lovely and honest examination of food, identity, gender, family, immigration, community, childhood.  And…recipes!

The Unlikely Disciple:  A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, by Kevin Roose.  Questionable methodology in obtaining his story, but it’s an interesting one all the same.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.  I’ve written about this book several times.  I might have finished my first read in 2011.  But I’ve started reading it again, so it counts either way.  Like all great books, there’s even more to be learned in reading this again, especially now that I have the vaguest sense of what Dillard is up to here.  This book led me back to the woods, and helped me remember the peace that’s there for the taking.  It inspires me as a writer to be able to create that kind of beautiful, cagey, humorous and sophsiticated prose.  It may be on my list of top nonfiction for the rest of my life.

The Road from Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway.  This might be an honorable mention.  This book sat on my shelf all year long.  It begins with about 10 pages describing in great detail the landscape of the Australian bush.  I couldn’t get past that.  And then in the last two days I did, and saw exactly why she starts with 10 pages describing the Australain bush in great detail.  This memoir is a reflection on what it means to be a woman, Australian, a scholar, a daughter, a historian and a product of landscapes, internal and external.  I’ll hopefully be doing a review here soon, but there’s also now a Masterpiece Theatre production of this book.

What nonfiction books knocked your socks off this year?

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