Friday, May 31, 2013

May 2013: Getting Voracious with Nonfiction

I read 13 books this month.  For some readers that might be like spit in the ocean, but for me, it's a large amount -- especially since I'm not on vacation.  I think the key to my success is that I only went to one movie (The Great Gatsby) in May.

I'll discuss my nonfiction reads here and talk about the fiction in my next post.  Surprisingly, all but one of these were library books.  Speaking of which, I must update everyone on The Library Situation here in Busan.  It's good.  It's very, very good.

1. Zanuck: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Last Tycoon -Leonard Mosley.  The biographer does a good job of showing that Hollywood mogul Daryl Zanuck had a messed up childhood with rotten parents, but his maternal grandfather was a positive influence, so one's sympathy only goes so far.  After that, the details of his disgusting and pathetic behavior turned me into a one-woman chorus of "ewwwww."  Actually, I have some issues with the biographer as well.  I can't help feeling that on some level, he admired Zanuck, especially in the womanizing department. There's something in his recounting of Zanuck's exploits/exploitation that's just a shade too breathless. Also a product of that generation in which men behaved badly and women were supposed to smile and be quiet, Mosley comes across as a callous and dismissive ass when he discusses a couple of troubled young starlets who, one way or another, ended up in Zanuck's clutches.  I'm going to try to remember the few glimpses of Hollywood in the golden age and forget the rest.

2. Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You - Sam Gosling, Ph.D.  Extremely entertaining look at how much we reveal of ourselves by our surroundings.  Dr. Gosling lets readers in on the secret of how to be 'super snoopers' and learn home to home in on the essence of people's real personalities rather than being swayed by artfully placed objects meant to create a not-quite-accurate impression.  Check out Gosling's videos on YouTube. He's hot in that mad scientist sort of way.

3. 117 Days Adrift - Maurice and Maralyn Bailey. One of the best survival stories I've ever read and easily my favorite read for the month.  In 1973, a seafaring couple from England, Maurice and Maralyn Bailey were cast adrift when an injured whale damaged the yacht they had scrimped and saved for years to buy. Thinking quickly, they got as much food and as many supplies as possible into a life raft with a dinghy attached.  During their ordeal, Maurice fell into despair. Maralyn found ways to keep their minds sharp and occupied with games and also plans for the future.  She was also cool and inventive, creating fishing hooks from the spring action part of a safety pin.  I was so pleased to read that it was a Korean fishing boat out of Busan, Weolmi 306, that rescued the Baileys and used every resource available to restore them to health.

4. Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost At Sea - Steven Callahan.  Another true story of survival at sea.  While the Baileys' book was more about what they did to survive, Callahan's book contains a great deal of what Callahan thought about during those two-and-a-half months lost at sea.  He also shares what his parents and brother's efforts to find him when they didn't hear from him in an expected time frame.  Luckily for Callahan, he managed to save a survival at sea book when he was forced onto the life raft.  He had also read about others in the same peril, including the Baileys!

5. The Emperor of All Maladies - Siddhartha Mukherjee.  A "biography" of cancer. Mukherjee, an oncologist, traces this disease back to its first mention in ancient Egypt.  Most of the incidents related are from the past 100 years, as researchers made great strides in identifying causes and treatments were developed and fine-tuned.  Although the science writing in The Emperor of All Maladies is often challenging to follow, everyone should read this book, since almost all of us are affected by cancer either directly or through a loved one an acquaintance.  I actively sought out this book because my sister-in-law has been battling uterine leiomyosarcoma for several years.

6. Onions in the Stew - Betty MacDonald.  Because of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, I've always liked Betty MacDonald, but I fell a little bit out of love with her back in 2009 when I read The Egg and I.  As I said at the time, I wasn't prepared to give up on her, so I was pleased to find Onions in the Stew available for Kindle. This is the fourth and final humorous memoir by MacDonald, detailing her second marriage (she dumped the jerk chicken farmer from The Egg and I and took the kids) and life on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, near Seattle.  As always with Betty, life has its share of challenges, but most of her grousing is good-natured.  The thing that really struck me was the huge amount of smoking that went on in this book.  Even her adolescent daughters smoked! It was chilling to read, knowing that Betty MacDonald died of cancer at the age of 50.  After I finished Onions, I went a little Betty-mad over at and bought The Plague and I, which chronicles her bout with TB and time in a sanatorium and Anybody Can Do Anything, her account of trying to find work during the Depression.


Unknown said...

This is a very interesting set of books. When I go on a non-fiction binge, I also tend to stray all over the place like this. It's been a while since I last went on a non-fiction binge. Maybe this summer.

Bybee said...

It really IS all over the place! I didn't realize until I separated out the fiction from the nonfiction for this post.

The Relentless Reader said...

I think 13 is awesome :) I'm crazy in love with nonfiction. In fact, I just posted about that today as part of Armchair BEA.

I'm going to have to look into a few of the books you've mentioned here!