Posts Tagged 'nonfiction'

July BAND: Upcoming Nonfiction

This month at the Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees, Zohar of Man of La Book asks, what upcoming nonfiction books are you excited about?

My answer to this is brief because I’m not that up on what books are coming out soon. (Related question for nonfiction devotees: how do you know about new or forthcoming books? Is there a secret world of book trailers/previews I don’t know about?)

Coincidentally, I just started following the blog of Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings and by doing so, I learned that he will have a new book out in January 2013. Because I Said So! will debunk myths and warnings that adults pass on to children over generations. As someone who works with kids and tries to avoid “because I said so,” comments, this book sounds like a fun read to me!

November BAND Discussion: Reading for a cause

Amy of Opinions of a Wolf, asks this month’s BAND question: Do you read nonfiction to support a cause?

Similar to what Amy writes in her response,  the phrase “doing it for a cause” immediately evokes my college life. I went to a school full of idealists and do-gooders, in a city brimming with non-profit organizations. Pick your cause and you could find an outlet for it on campus or off. Attend a speaking event about any social issue and you were sure to hear audience members ask, “What can we do?”

In my experience, the answers to that question are more complex than the “action steps” model suggests, but understanding a problem you’re aiming to change is always necessary. That’s where I think the idea of “reading for a cause” can be considered. Study must inform social struggles; It’s vital to understand the conditions people are experiencing and the powerful forces that shape those conditions. Action without these components is fighting without a weapon.

In college I read lots of nonfiction on political violence in Palestine and Guatemala, though I can’t say I was particularly connected to the actual causes associated with those issues beyond awareness-raising and college-y activism.

Nowadays, I’m reading a range of materials to get a sense of what problems are affecting Pennsylvania, who’s benefiting from the way things are, and who’s organizing to change things. I’d also like to read any books I can find on movements that have existed in Pennsylvania (most likely ones being labor-related), because knowledge of the past can be a tool for engaging people and strategizing.

October BAND Discussion: Nonfiction Anthologies

Ash of the English Major’s Junk Food blog is hosting this month’s BAND (Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees) discussion. She asks, What are your favorite nonfiction anthologies?

Like Ash, I appreciate anthologies because they allow the reader to be enticed by a short nonfiction piece without committing to an entire tome. That’s valuable for people intimidated by nonfiction but I also enjoy it as a way to learn a bit about unfamiliar places or phenomena.

I don’t usually like the “Best American Essays”-type collections,  because I prefer anthologies focused on a theme. I’m not sure I’ve read enough anthologies to pinpoint my absolute favorite, so I’m going to write about the one that made me realize how great anthologies are, as well as a few I’m reading right now.

  1. Violence in Times of War and Peace, edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Phillippe Bourgois. Though there are a few fictional pieces, the majority of essays in this book are nonfiction excerpts or articles covering a global range and grouped into sections such as Communal Violence, Violence and Political Resistance, Everyday Violence, and Torture. The anthology served as the primary text for the anthropology of violence course I took while studying abroad. I remember reading ahead for the class, while my roommates watched bootleg DVDs. Though the subject matter is often stomach-turning, the theoretical frameworks offered by the authors and implied in the organization of the collection took me beyond a a simple condemnation of violence to a critical understanding of how it is produced and reproduced in society at different places and times.
  2. Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy. This anthology gathers articles from Rethinking Schools magazine analyzing popular culture and media’s effects on students and schools. What I love about this book so far is that many of the authors are teachers and thus they offer examples of active ways they’ve responded to the changing relationships of media and corporations to youth—in their own uses of technology and in encouraging critical media literacy among students. My main complaint is that most of the articles don’t have notation on when they were originally published.
  3. Telling True Stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. This guide for narrative nonfiction writing currently resides on my kitchen table, since I’ve been reading its short essays with breakfast for the last few days. It’s delightful to find a book full of suggestions from other people who get as much fulfillment from discovering and sharing human stories as I do.
  4. Spellbound: Women and Witchcraft in America, edited by Elizabeth Reis. When a feminist archaeologist professor of mine retired she told me to select a book from her shelf so she wouldn’t have to take them all home. I chose this one, and it’s sat on my own bookshelf ever since. I read the introduction last week as I worked on my Witchy Women post for Canonball. Writing that post made me realize how vast the topic of witches and culture is and reading Spellbound reminded me the importance of contextualizing subjects in time and space when writing nonfiction. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the articles in that anthology for the depth and specificity of their analyses.

August BAND Discussion: How I started reading nonfiction

Procrastination ahoy! It’s the last day of August and I’m finally motivated to chime in on this month’s BAND discussion, hosted by Amy at Amy Reads. She asks:

How did you get into reading nonfiction? Do you remember your first nonfiction book or subject? If so, do you still read those subjects?

I remember a third grade biography assignment where we selected biographies and came to class dressed as that person for our reports. I chose Maria Mitchell, the first woman astronomer, and I proudly lugged a wrapping paper roll “telescope” to class with me. But! That memorable assignment didn’t really make me a nonfiction devotee, so I digress.

I also liked learning about different cultures from a young age, but it wasn’t till college that I found the books that I love to read on the subject. Those books are—surprise!—ethnographies, the writing of anthropologists. In my first anthropology classes the narrative style of ethnographies delighted me. I’m an avid journal writer, so the fact these scholars could weave sophisticated analyses and theories into a first-person form totally clicked with how I think on a daily basis. It’s so much less pretentious than writing observations in the third person. So when I wrote papers in that style, too, and received praise as a good writer, I wanted to read more. And that’s how I became addicted to ethnographies.

I definitely don’t read these books as much now as I did in college, but they are still the ones I drool over on Amazon.

Friday 5: Book Bag

I used to be the type of reader who finished one book before starting another. The number of books I’m in the middle of right now is a pretty good reflection of the scattered-ness of my life this summer. I’m pretty sure the list is longer than 5, and I will eventually finish all of them, but besides wanting to read voraciously, something is off-center and I don’t think it’s my bookshelves.

  1. Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. The non-fiction tale of a Syrian-American man who stayed in New Orleans after Katrina and was subsequently imprisoned as a “terrorist.”
  2. Strange as this Weather Has Been, by Ann Pancake. A fictional story told in multiple voices from one family in West Virginia contemplating their lives, the mountains, and dealing with the impending danger of mountaintop-removal mining.
  3. The Long Haul, by Myles Horton. Autobiography of the educator, organizer and founder of the Highlander Center.
  4. Forever, by Maggie Stiefvater. The third in a YA trilogy that is, to quote the author, about “werewolf nookie.” Expect a post on my foray into paranormal teen romance novels at Canonball soon.
  5. 36 Children, by Herbert Kohl. 1967 account of Kohl’s experiences teaching at poor black elementary school in New York. My excitement for this book led me to obtain another library book by Kohl, Should We Burn Babar?, which I cited heavily in my BAND post. I haven’t finished either yet!

July BAND Discussion: My Favorite Nonfiction

As noted yesterday, I’ve decided to join the conversation of BAND (Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees), which poses a monthly question about nonfiction for all bloggers to answer. July’s question, asked by Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, is “What is one of your favorite types of nonfiction to read? OR What is one of your favorite nonfiction topics to read about?”

Kara the Pirate reading Bourdieu

Though I love reading a range of social science literature and social theory, the type of nonfiction that I would take to a desert island with me would be writings on critical literacy.

Critical literacy, as I understand it, is an approach to teaching and learning that understands literacy as a social action. Readers are not passive recipients of a text but active meaning-makers who should be encouraged to ask questions and analyze what’s happening in a story. Especially questions about how power is portrayed in the story and why that may be so. Critical literacy scholars say that texts are never neutral and encourage students to contemplate the way a text could be re-imagined and re-designed.

Let me give an example of the kinds of analyses to be found in critical literacy writings. In an essay on the standard story of Rosa Parks found in children’s texts, critical pedagogist Herbert Kohl identifies the flaws in telling this tale as a tired woman who one day got sick of segregation and stayed in her bus seat, sparking the civil rights movement. Kohl rightly points out Rosa Parks had been a leader actively fighting segregation for years before 1955. Moreover, leaders of the Montgomery black community had already planned a bus boycott and were waiting to initiate it until they found “someone who had the respect of the community and the strength to deal with the racist police force as well as all the publicity that would result from being at the center of a bus boycott” (Kohl 44).

Kohl argues that the story of Rosa Parks should be put “in the context of a coherent, community-based social struggle. This does not diminish Rosa Parks in any way. It places her, however, in the midst of a consciously planned movement for social change…” (46).

I know many community organizers who could make the same criticism, but what excites me about critical literacy scholars is that they’re applying the type of critical thinking I love to a topic that inspires my creative brain.

Another positive attribute of critical literacy is that it’s not just about written analysis. It’s about using these analyses in educational practice. In his essay on Babar, for example, Kohl shares reflections from the conversations he held with a third grade class about the colonialist influences of Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar. The Critical Literacy in Practice (CLIP) podcast hosted by Vivian Vasquez, is a great source to listen to other examples of educators holding these kinds of discussions with children.

I set my life goal of writing and publishing radical children’s books well before I ever heard the term “critical literacy.” In college I noticed a curious thing about anthropologists. They discuss at length the ways people have been socialized to think and act certain ways. Lots of anthropologists also want to be part of positive social change on the issues they study. Yet I rarely experienced conversations connecting the dots in those two points to the idea that we can positively affect society by changing the way we socialize children. Putting that argument together with my tendency toward imagined worlds, my plan for radical children’s books came into being.

And to my delight, Herbert Kohl, (whose book of essays on children’s literature I’ve been reading this week, can you tell?) made a call for such books 16 years ago:

I want to plea for the creation of a radical children’s literature that projects hope and provides youngsters with the sense that social forms are constructed by people and therefore that the world can be made into a finer, more caring place. (Kohl x)

From this quote the root of my love for critical literacy as a type of nonfiction: people who write on this subject share one of my greatest passions, and thus they speak to my heart.

What type of nonfiction do you love?


Kohl, Herbert. Should We Burn Babar? Essays on Children’s Literature and the Power of Stories. The New Press, 1995.

Rogue Blogging

I’ve been posting to this blog since I landed in Palestine early last year.* I’m often baffled by time, but the space between then and now seems particularly short for all of the life experiences it encompasses. I never had a particular vision for this blog, but it has certainly grown with me—sometimes reflecting my entrenchment in the spheres of journalism and politics, sometimes offering space to ponder my approach and effectiveness at teaching; other times documenting basic human observations, as anthropologists are wont to do. In recent months, the posts have meandered through differing terrains as I myself navigate a new life in Pennsylvania, the state where I grew up. More particularly, I recently moved to Wilkes-Barre, in Northeast PA (hereafter referred to as NEPA).

It’s a bit harder to write anthropologically when set in my own culture (perhaps I need to re-read Kirin Narayan’s famous article on native anthropology), especially since I’m not currently doing on-the-ground work in any field. Nevertheless, I’m excited that I’ve had more time to explore the virtual land of the blogosphere. I’m diving deeper into book blogs, and I’ve written a few of my own YA reviews for Canonball. This week I discovered a group called BAND, the Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees, which hosts a monthly discussion relation to the nonfiction genre. I’ve decided to join their July discussion, led by Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness. The question is “What’s your favorite type of nonfiction?”

Check back tomorrow for my response. There’s a surprise: my answer is not anthropology!




*Technically my first post was September 14, 2009, but I don’t know what it says since I edited it for a new beginning in February 2010.


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