I don’t usually read a lot of nonfiction, but a few friends have recently published books that I’ve loved and highly recommend!
It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens is a must read for anyone who has anything to do with teenagers: parents, teachers, YA writers. One of danah’s gifts is her ability to take complex ideas and interactions and communicate them simply. Another is her empathy. She’s a researcher, and she’s an excellent listener, so teens talk to her and she translates their practices and habits for adults, using her expertise in social software to analyze and contextualize what they do. In this book, danah discusses how technology fits into the lives of teens and unpacks common misconceptions by adults (and especially by the media). She covers everything from bullying to internet predators to basic social networking habits.
Olivia writes a blend of biography, autobiography, criticism, and travelogue. In her latest book, The Trip to Echo Spring (which was short listed for the Costa), she writes about alcoholism and writing by looking at the lives of six alcoholic writers and her own family’s history of alcoholism. The bigger theme across her work is on loneliness, creativity, and transgression. She’s such a good writer because of her empathy — she gives full pictures of the people she’s portraying without pathologizing or deifying them.
The content is compelling, but the prose — Olivia’s sentences are simply spectacular.
Jordan is the math teacher we all wish we had. In part, I think this is because he’s also a writer. In How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, he presents several powerful ideas from math. He doesn’t work out many equations, but he doesn’t shy away from complex ideas, so this isn’t “math for dummies.” Instead, he presents his ideas alongside applications (like how to win the lottery or how to better shield airplanes for combat situations) and history. He’s also hilarious. My husband, who’s very smart but doesn’t have a strong math background, enjoyed this as much as I did. Jordan respects his readers’ intelligence and gives them both the gifts of math and of great stories.
Finally, H is for Hawk isn’t out yet — the UK release date is July 31st, and it comes out in the US on March 3rd — but it’s the book I most want to read. Helen is a falconer, wonderful human, and brilliant writer. Here’s the official blurb:
When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral anger mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Sword and the Stone author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her journey into Mabel’s world. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity.
By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement; a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast; and the story of an eccentric falconer and legendary writer. Weaving together obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history, H is for Hawk is a distinctive, surprising blend of nature writing and memoir from a very gifted writer.
Reviews are coming out now, and the Financial Times ends its review with:
You can write from the head or from the heart, from the intellect or the emotions. The best kind of writing – and it is rare – does both those things at once. It’s rare because it can be so very painful to produce, the discipline required to sit with raw feelings and turn them into ordered words not unlike the courage it would take to hold your hand on a hot radiator until it burns, and then force it back there, again and again.
Macdonald has done just that, and the result is a deeply human work shot through, like cloth of gold, with intelligence and compassion – an exemplar of the mysterious alchemy by which suffering can be transmuted into beauty. I will be surprised if a better book than H is for Hawk is published this year.
Needless to say, I’ve preordered from the UK!