Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Humorous Non-Fiction

We all know that Non-Fiction books are written to teach us things, but sometimes authors like to mix a little humor in with the knowledge they are sharing. You can find funny memoirs (one of which includes taxidermy), probably more information than you wanted about cadavers, ponderings on the everyday lives of grocery shoppers (and their lists), adventures on the African safari, funny letters and tweets of famous people, and even conversations overhead in barbershops all over America. Give these books and try and laugh while you learn.

Lisick had spent her life avoiding anything that promotes or claims to provide any "self-help," until one New Year's, when she decides that she needs to make some changes in her life. So she spends one year trying to "change" herself with the help of some of the self-help "experts." She not only reads the books, but she also attends seminars and classes. The book covers her journey and thoughts.

Mary Roach
Although it may be a difficult subject for many people, Roach delves into the various ways that human bodies have been utilized after death throughout history. In the past 2000 years, bodies have been used to test theories, to figure out biological processes and surgical methods, and even to determine the decomposition process in different conditions for the solving of murders.

Dave Barry
Dave Barry is Not Making This Up
814.54 BARRY
Dave Barry is well known for his humor column in the Miami Herald that he wrote until 2005. This book is a collection of his humor columns and includes subjects on everything from exploding Pop-Tarts to the worst song lyrics, ever. There are also illustrations throughout the book by cartoonist Jeff MacNelly.

David Sedaris
Me Talk Pretty One Day
814.54 SEDARIS
David Sedaris is an essayist and NPR commentator, who is well known for his sharing his often hysterical life experiences. In this work, Sedaris discusses his move to Paris, his attempting to learn French, and his life in his new city. There are also other interesting and funny stories from his life.

Carlip, a performance artist, has always found it interesting to collect people's old shopping lists and imagine the lives of the people who use them. So she decides to become the people she imagines and go grocery shopping as they would. There are 26 characters and the stories (and photographs) that go with them.

Steve Martin
Steven Martin has over 1.4 million followers on Twitter, and he is known for his ability to convey his cleverness and hilarity in 140 characters or less.

Craig Marberry is a journalist and author who traveled all over the country listening in on the conversations going on in barber shops. There, he heard conversations ranging from funny first-haircut reminiscing to serious lessons in black history. Marberry was eager to share the stories of everyday barbers and customers. People he thinks are the, "nation's funniest comedians and sharpest pundits: real characters with fascinating stories to tell."

Charles Osgood
Funny Letters from Famous People
Charles Osgood is a broadcaster and humorist who has, in this work, collected often hysterical correspondence from politicians, such as Abraham Lincoln; authors, such as Mark Twain; and other celebrities, such as Groucho Marx and Julia Child. At a time when very few people still correspond with others by sending letters through the mail, this is a glimpse into the lives of these people, even though it is mostly a funny one, and the matters that they would share in a letter.

Peter Allison grew up in Sydney, but in 1994, at the age of 19, he traveled to Africa and started giving safari tours. In this book, he shares some very funny stories from his time in Africa and from the tours that he has given.

Bill Bryson
A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
917.40443 BRYSON and LP 917.404 BRYSON
Bill Bryson decided to reintroduce himself with America, after living in England for twenty years, by walking the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail (going from Georgia to Maine). Bryson is known for his funny ways of sharing information on subjects, such as the English language or history of the home, and this book is no different. Bryson shares stories of the characters that he meets along the way, the beauty of the landscape he witnesses, and the history of the trail.

Lawson is known for her blog, The Bloggess (at In her memoirs she shares funny stories of her life that show her (and us) that even though we all have moments that we wish we could "pretend this never happened," they are the moments that often define who we are.

You can find more humorous Non-Fiction books here, and there are paper copies of the bibliography next to the catalog computers.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe

I read this book many years ago and took it up again in the hope of finding a book still relevant to our time, although it was first published in 1958.  The author, deceased just this past year at age 82, was Nigerian, and considered foremost in a movement which introduced African literature to the world, showing the coherence and complexity of tribal traditions and how they were often misinterpreted and vilified by those seeking to colonize these tribes for religious or civil purposes.

The chief character in the book, Okonkwo, is a man of good standing in his village in Nigeria, a skilled wrestler, a hardworking farmer, and a brave warrior.  Achebe, through simple narrative depicting Okonkwo and his family and fellow villagers, brings the reader into familiarity with all the aspects of their existence.  Their cooking, their farming, how Okonkwo’s compound, with his own and his three wives’ houses, is run and managed on a daily basis.  Simple details like the dark night, the silence of the forest around them, how one can hear the pounding of the woman’s mortar who always cooks later rather than in the daytime – all of these quietly inform us, so in a while it feels like we know this routine ourselves.  All the villagers are governed by strictures handed down from their ancestors, which can change sometimes in the form of demands made by their resident spirit, who lives in a nearby cave and communicates through one of the female villagers. 

Achebe does not hold up this world as a paragon of virtue, then to be sullied by the outside colonial forces.  There is injustice, as in the stricture commanding any twin babies to be cast into the forest on their birth, as an affront against nature.  But there is justice as well.  When Okonkwo’s rifle explodes in a noisy celebration, inadvertently killing a young participant, he must leave and take refuge in his mother’s village.  Because the killing was accidental, he can return after seven years.  And the missionaries, when they make their appearance, are not pictured as wholly negative in their influence.  Okonkwo’s son, a convert, seems to hear an answer in the images of the missionaries’ songs, of a light in darkness, an answer to the suffering he has seen in his life. 

Achebe’s power is in depicting the strength of the tribal traditions which have been sifted for so many generations, and yet showing their vulnerability to the foreigners, those who come on “an iron horse” (what they call a bicycle).  Okonkwo disowns his son when he converts to Christianity…he wanted his son to be like him, a warrior.  But a warrior’s days, like Okonkwo’s, are numbered.  The colonial administration, first there to protect the missionaries, is soon to be reckoned with as an established presence, one that will thwart tradition rather than try to accommodate it.

We have this book as the first in a trilogy.  To see it in our catalog, click here.  For learning about Africa, even a part of Africa that is fast disappearing, Achebe seems to be one of our best resources.