Tag Archives: nerdy nonfiction challenge 2013

The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe

Subtitle: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times

Published: 2010

Genre: nonfiction, gardening

Length: 287 pages of text, 323 pages with appendices

Interest: I can’t remember why I put this book on my reading list in the first place, but I’m always interested in reading about how to improve my gardening techniques.

Summary: There really are two parts to the book. In the first part, Deppe discusses her approach to gardening. As climate change makes the weather more variable, it becomes important to garden so you get some results, even under less than perfect conditions. If one crop fails, you should have a back-up in place. She also gardens with minimal inputs, which helps ensure some harvest even if you can’t get the fertilizer, pesticides (she uses none) or irrigation on when exactly needed. In the second part of the book, Deppe discusses the particulars of growing five staples the can realistically (and tastily) feed your family – potatoes, eggs (chicken or duck), squash, beans, and corn. For each, she provides specific varieties that grow easily and taste good, and how to plant, harvest, store and keep seed for next. She also provides recipes to use the vegetables and eggs.

Final thoughts: I will admit, I enjoyed the first half of the book the most. I just don’t have a big enough gardening space (nor the desire to find more) to start growing pounds and pounds of staple crops. The specific varieties she recommends probably won’t work for me either since she’s in the Pacific Northwest and I’m on the Great Lakes. Much different climate. Even so, I found the book quite interesting and worth it to read just for the first few chapters. She certainly makes it sound easy to grow the staples she recommends, and I do wish I had enough space for chickens. Someday!

Title comes from: Deppe emphasize resilience in her garden – multiple varieties of each staple that germinate and ripen at different times so if a problem arises, you hopefully don’t lose everything. Multiple staple crops, and saving seeds are also a strategy she emphasizes.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 88/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, a D in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (15/26), and 16/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for agriculture

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image or the subtitle to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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Cooked by Michael Pollan

Subtitle: A Natural History of Transformation

Published: 2013

Genre: nonfiction cooking

Length: 416 pages of story, 468 pages including index and appendix

Interest: It’s Michael Pollan’s newest book – of course I’m interested! I love all of his writing.

Summary: This isn’t so much a cookbook as a discussion of cooking and how it’s changed over time. Pollan breaks the book into four sections named for the original four elements, and discusses a cooking technique that corresponds to the section. First he talks about Fire and barbecue, learning how to do traditional pork barbecue in North Carolina. Next he takes on Water and learns how to braise food. Third, he focuses on Air and learns how to bake an excellent sourdough loaf of bread. Finally, he addresses Earth and takes on fermentation, learning how to ferment vegetables, make beer, and cheese. Throughout the process, he finds his family draws closer as good smells waft out of the kitchen. While he doesn’t keep making everything, he feels more self-sufficient because he can make his own really good food from real ingredients (which is often not what industrialized food is composed of). He concludes with a recipe for each section of the book.

Final thoughts: I must admit I find Pollan’s writing very inspirational. Reading about all of his cooking lessons makes me want to cook more. I’m definitely going to try his sourdough bread recipe (bonus that it’s partially whole wheat) and I’m trying to get up the courage to try sauerkraut or another fermented vegetable. I really enjoyed how he wove his experience in making healthy food by hand into a discussion of the industrial food market and all of its health problems. I like the fact that he did provide a couple of recipes, even though it wasn’t really a cook book. He certainly reminds us in his writing that a bit of extra time put into food preparation is worth it, at least once in a while. I highly recommend the book.

Title comes from: It’s descriptive of the topic.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 77/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, a P in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (6/26), and 15/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for cooking (a seventh topic).

If you’re interested in the book, click on the cover image to follow an affiliate link to the Kindle version of the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman

: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History Making Race Around the World

Published: 2013

Genre: nonfiction biography

Length: 379 pages of story, 449 with indices

Setting: 1889-1890, around the world

Interest: I am reading Mr. Curiosity Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne as his bedtime story. The last time I was at the big downtown library, I looked for a good graphic novel or two (since both kids love them) and happened to see Around the World, which describes three different journeys around the world. Perfect for Mr. Curiosity. I looked for a book for myself and happened to see this one, and I figured it would be a perfect addition to my library.

Summary: The book chronicles the trips of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland as they travel in opposite directions around the world, trying to beat Jules Verne’s hypothetical 80 day trip taken by Phileas Fogg. Bly was a journalist from Pennsylvania in a time when there were very few female journalists. She was best known for her exposes. She convinced Joseph Pulitzer to fund a trip around the world to boost circulation of his newspaper. After hearing of Bly’s trip, the editor of the monthly magazine The Cosmopolitan convinced one of his writers, Bisland, to immediately depart in the other direction. The author describes all the steps the two had to take in their journey. He also describes their life after the trip, which in many ways was a disappointment after the excitement of the trip, especially for Bly.

Final thoughts: An interesting story that I enjoyed because of its ties to Verne’s story (Bly gets to meet Verne) and because Bly and Bisland were breaking the mold for what was expected of them. I also learned (or was reminded) of little historical tidbits, like the fact that the railroads essentially standardized time in the U.S. I did feel sorry for Nellie Bly since her trip around the world was the high point of her life, and she never really figured out what to do with herself after that time.

Title comes from: Descriptive and reflects the fact they were trying to beat the record from Around the World in 80 Days.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 75/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, a G in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (4/26), and 14/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for biography

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Crazy, Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr

Crazy, Sexy Cancer TipsPublished: 2007

Genre: nonfiction self-help

Length: 203 pages

Interest: It was recommended by some of the ladies at the last Linked by Pink meeting I went to.

Summary: The book is a combination memoir of Carr’s life with cancer and a collection of tips for living with and beyond cancer. There are tips for being diagnosed with cancer, how to deal with getting doctors and treatment, as well as diet and fashion tips. There are also stories from other cancer survivors interspersed with Carr’s story.

Final thoughts: This really is an irreverent book about living with cancer (the author’s cancer is untreatable but stable). I enjoyed the tone of the book and need to go back and write down some of the tips so I don’t forget them. The only place it got a little weird was in the diet section. Carr advocated a mostly raw food diet with regular colonic cleanses. I started to ignore her advice when she began talking about water molecules that have been treated to make them smaller. I’m sorry, but that level of non-science means I have to figure the entire chapter is just a bunch of woo. Oh well. The other chapters are still worth reading!

Title comes from: It tells you what the book is about in the irreverent tone of the book.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 72/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, a C in A-Z Reading Challenge, starting my author challenge (1/26), and 13/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for self-help (a seventh category).

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Let Us All Praise Famous Men by James Agee

Let Us All Praise Famous MenPublished: 1939

Genre: nonfiction farm life

Length: 416 pages

Setting: rural Alabama, 1930s

Interest: It was recommended at the end of The Contrary Farmer

Summary: The book is Agee’s attempt to describe sharecropping life in rural Alabama. He describes the difficulty of finding an “average” sharecropping family and how he became friends with the Ricketts, Woods, and Gudgers. He describes their lives, including how they get money (what little they make sharecropping), their home and possessions, their clothes, education, and work. We also get a couple of vignettes describing an interaction or scene in the life of one of the families that Agee observes or participates in.

Final thoughts: This was a hard book to read, mainly because of the style of writing. Agee enjoys stream of consciousness sentences that will often run an entire page long. It usually took me a few minutes of reading just to get into the rhythm of his writing, so I had to be sure I had some time to dedicate to reading when I picked this book up. It wasn’t good if I only had five minutes or if the kids were constantly interrupting. At the end of each section, I did stop reading this book and switch to something else for a while.

I find books that detail all the work that people used to have to do in order to survive fascinating when you compare them to life today. That being said, this book was depressing. The lives of the sharecroppers seemed so hopeless with no chance to make things better and just crushing work and a lack of beauty in their lives. I know Agee found their lives fascinating and pure, but I found them hopeless and sad.

Title comes from: A bit of poetry at the end of the book.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 69/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, 12/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for history or memoir or agriculture (I can’t decide, but I’ve got all three topics already, so I’m not going to worry about it.)

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The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin

The Children's BlizzardPublished: 2004

Genre: U.S. nonfiction history

Length: 271 pages of story, 307 with indices

Setting: Midwest, 1888

Interest: I can’t remember how I became aware of the book, but the story sounded quite interesting.

Summary: The book discusses the fledgling weather forecasting service, specifically in regards to its failure to prevent significant loss of life from a blizzard that swept through the Midwest on January 13th, 1888. We follow several immigrant families from Europe to the Dakotas and see some of the difficulties they faced getting to the New World and farming there. Drought, blizzards, and grasshoppers were common natural disasters. Everything came together in January of 1888 when a very strong cold front got pushed down the central U.S., dropping temperatures 30 degrees over an hour. It caught many kids in school with young, inexperienced teachers. They were faced with the dilemma of sending kids home in driving powdered snow or staying in school with no food and minimal fuel. Some made it to shelter, while some did not. Anyone who wasn’t at home with good fuel supplies was in danger of freezing during this blizzard, whether getting lost getting fuel or  even within their houses.

Final thoughts: An interesting story, although I did put it aside a couple of times. It got a little grim at times and at little boring at others, but I always went back to the story. Reading about the pioneers’ lives on the prairie and how the weather service got started was interesting.

Title comes from: So many children died coming home from school, the pres nicknamed the blizzard the Children’s Blizzard.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 60/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, 11/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for history, which I will claim as a seventh topic.

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The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum

The Poisoner's HandbookPublished: 2010

Genre: nonfiction historical science

Length: 283 pages of story, 319 pages with index

Setting: Prohibition-era NYC

Interest: It was suggested in a list of excellent science books that you can find at It’s Okay To Be Smart (a really great science blog).

Summary: Back in 1918, there were plenty of ways to poison people, but not very many ways to prove it. Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler set about to change that. Norris was hired as the chief medical officer of New York City and set about trying to make it a profession with high standards. Gettler had to develop tests to demonstrate different poisons were found in the body, lethal doses for different poisons, background levels and how it decayed in the body over time. The book followed a general arc by looking at specific poisons in each chapter, including chloroform, wood alcohol, cyanide, arsenic, mercury, carbon monoxide, radium, ethyl alcohol, and thallium. There was also quite a bit of discussion about Prohibition and how alcohol was procured during Prohibition.

Final thoughts: An enjoyable book. Not quite as gripping as some of the other science books I’ve read, but fascinating history. I enjoyed reading about how the field of forensic pathology started. The insight into Prohibition and all the drinking that went on was fascinating. People would drink anything, even when the government was purposefully poisoning the alcohol. The chapter on radium and all of its initial uses were mind-boggling. People were drinking the stuff and bathing in it – they thought radioactivity would get them more energy. Perhaps not so much.

Title comes from: The focus of the book was on all the different poisons being used, whether accidentally or on purpose being used during the time of Prohibition.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 52/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, 10/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for science

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