Nonfiction November To-Be-Read

When I was working on my Master’s degree I read at least a nonfiction history book a week. Since I graduated in May 2016 I have read one work of nonfiction, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time; a far cry from my usual nonfiction picks.

The last couple months I’ve been a bit anxious about getting back to reading history monographs, so when I heard about the Nonfiction November reading challenge I was excited for a little push to get back to my academic roots. The challenge is supposed to follow four vague prompts, but I’m going to the beat of my own drum and reading two history books and two travel books.


The Unwomanly Face of War — Svetlana Alexievich

I’m cheating a little bit here, having begun this book last week. I just couldn’t wait to start this book, though. This is the first book by Alexievich, who has written other histories of Soviet Russia. The Unwomanly Face of War is an oral history of Soviet women who fought during World War II. What really drew me to this was that Alexievich was not allowed to publish it until Perestroika began in the mid-1980s, and even then in a highly censored version as it defied the official state version of the war.  The interviews are harrowing and tragic and utterly engrossing.

Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco — Gary Kamiya

I visited San Francisco in 2014 and absolutely fell in love with the city. I randomly found this book in a discount bookshop near my apartment and picked it up because I love the feel of San Francisco. This is a travel book of snapshots of 49 different place in San Francisco, from Golden Gate Park to Chinatown.

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall — Anna Funder

Another oral history about Communism in Europe; this time focusing on the German Democratic Republic. As part of my Master’s degree, I studied the history of Germany from World War I until reunification. Most of the books that I read for this focused on the political process, so this, which focused more on personal stories, will be an interesting addition to my previous knowledge.

Down Under — Bill Bryson

I have lived in Australia for almost three months now and I don’t know much about the country. Bill Bryson is a relatively famous travel writer and has an excellent sense of humor. To demonstrate this, in the first page he remarks on how Australia once lost a prime minister (he was walking along the beach and fell into the surf, never to be seen again). I’m excited to dive into Bryson’s other observations on this country.

I think this is going to be a good month for reading. What nonfiction books do you have on your TBR?

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Rakowicki Cemetery

Rakowicki Cemetery (Cmentarz Rakowicki), a rambling cemetery located in Old Town Krakow, was established in 1803 and over the course of the last two centuries has been expanded several times. The cemetery is notable for its architecture as well as being the resting spot of many famous Poles.

 

Spring in Krakow

I like the wildness of spring in Krakow. I like how the plants are untamed, and the weather is unpredictable. Saturday is balmy, and Sunday rain will come down in sheets. Life, for a bit, is festive, as the market comes again to the Rynek, and post-Easter Emaus is a spectacle of kitsch.

Monthly Reads — March 2017

In March I had lots of books started, but only managed to get through three of them. The jury is still out on whether or not I really enjoyed what I read this month.

Time Bites — Doris Lessing

This is the first book of Lessing’s that I have read, and I’m not sure if it was a good place to start with Lessing’s work. Time Bites is a collection of essays, most of them dealing with literature or topics closely related to literature. I really like to read essay collections. I find they are relatively easy reads, and I like that I don’t necessarily have to read it in order or continuously. Time Bites is quite long, and after attempting to read every essay in it for the last two month, I decided to pick out about 20 of the ones that interested me the most. The problem was, though, that these essays bored me, even the ones that  I thought would be really interesting. Also, there were periods where Lessing would randomly bring up how much she disliked “political correctness” and it seemed very out of place whenever she did it. Overall, most of the essays I found were just boring or off-putting.

We Should All Be Feminists — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I had been hearing about We Should All Be Feminists quite often in these past two months. Based on Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, this is a short book that is a really easy read. I don’t have anything really critical to say because it’s not an overly complicated book about feminism or feminist thought; it’s just a very fun but thoughtful look at Ngozi Adichie’s views on feminism.

Circe and the Cyclops — Homer

This was another really short book that took two stories from The Odyssey — perhaps the two most famous stories from it. I’ve never read the entire Odyssey, so this was nice to just pick up and get a sense of what the whole poem is like. Also, the book cost me 5 złoty (about $1.50).

In addition to these books, I started reading Sofia Kahn is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik, Mortal Engines by Stanisław Lem and The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugrešić.

Five Travel Books I Want To Read

In a Sunburned Country – Bill Bryson

“Sunburned” can mean only one country: Australia. Bill Bryson is one of the more prolific travel writers and has written about everywhere from the Appalachian Trail to Liechtenstein. In a Sunburned Country covers everything from modern-day Australia to Australia’s convict past. Bryson is supposed to be a hilarious writer and keeps his books fun and informative.

 

The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton

Of course, it’s always fun to read a good, fun-filled travelogue about one person’s journey through the Amazon or Russia, but sometimes you need to sit down and think about the philosophy of travel. Philosopher de Botton looks at the concepts behind travelling and how people are affected by it. What really draws me to this book is that de Botton uses poetry, artwork, and his own experiences to give the reader an understanding of what it means to travel.

 

West with the Night – Beryl Markham

This is less of a travelogue and more of a memoir about a not-often-heard-of remarkable woman. Markham was born in England in 1886, but lived most of her life in Kenya, and was the first female bush pilot in Africa. She was also the first woman to fly across the Atlantic from East to West. These memoirs seem like an interesting read about Colonial Africa and aviation in the early 20th century.

 

The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries – Jessa Crispin

I first came across this book over the summer and was instantly intrigued. This book is part memoir – of Crispin who left her life in Chicago for Berlin – and part examination of famous women expats. The book explores “exile,” and while it’s not so much of a travelogue, it still sounds fascinating.

 

Journeys – Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig is an author who has become increasingly popular over the last few years. In fact, his work inspired Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m a fan of his short stories, which look at a “lost” Europe from before World War I and the inter-war years. Journeys is Zweig’s travels through post-World War I central Europe. I think this would be very interesting for anyone travelling through central Europe who want to know a bit more about what the area was like in the past.

What are the books about travel that you intend to read?

Reading While Abroad

Here is my problem of the year: Books weigh a lot. And it’s rather a nuisance to try to travel when you have a whole collection of “to be reads” waiting for you at home.

I’ve been away from home (and away from my book collection) for almost a year. Over the summer I was interning in Washington DC, and only brought five or so books with me. I was lucky that I ended up subleasing for a couple that had numerous books in English (and Latvian! But as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t read those), and could add on to my reading list without having to worry about how to transport books home. I also began to use my phone’s Kindle app more and downloaded some poetry books.

When I left for Poland I brought three books with me. Only three! They were Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (which would be a re-read for me), and Wisława Szymborska’s poetry collection Here, which I brought to practice Polish, as it has the poems in Polish as well as the English translations. I was worried that this wouldn’t be enough books because I was sure I would have too much extra time and no friends and I would be bored … etc., etc. But I eventually took the advice of my mom and didn’t spend half of my baggage weight on books.

But between the end of September and the end of December I finished exactly one book: The Land of Green Plums (which I had started when I was still in Wisconsin). And guess what, the reason I read only one book that entire time was because I was busy, and I had friends, and I was never bored.

I began to read more after Christmas. This is usually the trend with me – I tend to read more during December and January. This is probably because I usually get quite a few books for Christmas, and have a lot of downtime. This year there were no Christmas books. In late January, missing this tradition I took myself down to the major English-language bookstore and bought myself two books: The Passport by Herta Müller and Time Bites by Doris Lessing. During this time I also had access to an actual Kindle (not just the app on my phone!). While I’m not a Kindle-or-Bust person, I did find that I really enjoyed reading on it.

Since January I have read four books. It’s not a lot, but it’s not a number I’m ashamed of. All but one of these has been in physical form. And this may be a problem when it comes to me leaving Poland, because I’m a bit of a book hoarder, and I would like to bring all of my books back with me. But that’s not going to be possible so there will have to be some culling of the herd in June.

So, with that long ramble of a tale of my reading while abroad exploits, I have a few tips on how to read while abroad:

  1. If you’re going on a short trip (up to a month), bring a paperback or two that you have no attachment to. These are relatively lightweight, and if you bought them for cheap (I recommend bringing the books you bought on clearance or at a library book sale), you won’t feel guilty leaving them in a hostel lobby once you’re done with them.
  2. If you’re travelling with friends, bring along a book to trade with each other when you each finish your book.
  3. If you’re staying in a country long-term, and are in a relatively large city, find a bookshop that caters to ex-pats. If you’re lucky the books should be relatively affordable, and there may be the possibility of selling books back when you are going to leave.
  4. If you can’t invest in a Kindle (like me), I would suggest downloading the free app on your laptop or phone. There are also a lot of resources to find cheap or free eBooks online, such as Project Gutenberg (yay classics!), this Reddit forum, and Book Riot’s “Deals of the Day.”

Happy reading, and great travels!