Lowell Reading Club: Nonfiction Edition

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A good work of fiction can transport you to another world…but so can a nonfiction book. In fact, nonfiction can educate and enlighten you about activities and ideas you never considered before. And don’t think of nonfiction as being dry reading — much of it is as engaging as it is informative.

Here’s a look at some nonfiction works we’ve loved.

Amanda’s Nonfiction Picks

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs by Caitlin Doughty
5 out of 5 stars

The author of this book is a mortician. She answers questions posed to her by kids about death and dead bodies. Sure, it may sound a bit morbid, but many of the questions and answers are quite interesting. Kids ask amusing questions, some of which I’m sure adults wonder about as well but are reluctant to ask. Doughty provides real answers and throws in humor to lighten the mood.

This book is a quick read. I wish even more questions were answered. Some of the questions Doughty answers include “What would happen if you swallowed a bag of [unpopped] popcorn before you died and were cremated?”; “Can I preserve my dead body in amber like a prehistoric insect”; and “What happens when you want to bury someone but the ground is too frozen?” Pick up this book if you’re curious about the answers to these questions.

1000 Hours Outside Activity Book, Low Tech Nature Activities in a High Tech World by Ginny Yurich
5 out of 5 stars

Have you heard about 1000 Hours Outside? Created by Ginny Yurich, who lives on the east side of Michigan and is Instagram famous for promoting spending 1000 hours a year outside. Enjoying the outdoors is the best way to learn as a child and as an adult according to Yurich. Earlier this year she published an activity book. It has over 50 activities for kids that focus on having experiences in nature.

It’s laid out similar to a cookbook where the time it’ll take to do an activity, supplies needed, instructions, and photos are included. These activities are geared toward pre-school through elementary school-aged kids. Whether you’re homeschooling or looking for weekend activities throughout the year, this book is a good guide to get you started and spark some creativity to come up with your own things to do. Most of the activities require minimal supplies and what’s needed can already be found around your home.

Some of the activities include “Nature Enhanced Drawings;” “Ice Ornaments;” “Colorful Suncatcher;” “Garden Markers;” “Stick Raft;” and “Rainbow Ice Orbs.”

Julie Anna’s Nonfiction Pick

Atomic Habits by James Clear
5 out of 5 stars

I couldn’t have selected a more perfect book for this very moment in my life. For many months I’ve often felt overwhelmed by my responsibilities and frustrated by my lack of consistency and productivity. This book has given me the tools and mindset I needed to move forward, and confidence in my ability to create and maintain systems that will provide me with lasting success.

At the very beginning of ‘Atomic Habits,’ the author takes you through his story of how he got to be who and where he is and it is absolutely mind-blowing. And after the first chapter, you may think you have enough information and the tools you need to shift your entire perspective on creating and maintaining healthy habits, and that you won’t need to read any further. Let me assure you, every piece of information provided in this book is truly essential to understanding what it takes to make lasting changes that will serve you well throughout your life.

With each new concept, author James Clear uses examples from studies of human behavior and real-life experiences to illustrate how these concepts are applied and how and why they work. Clear also dives deep into our evolutionary history to explain our predispositions and provides insight for developing systems that work for us in the modern world.

As I read through this book, I began creating my own systems and I can honestly say that I’ve already experienced some positive effects. I don’t feel overwhelmed or like I’m falling short. I have more freedom because I have more structure, which was something I didn’t even think was possible.

I highly recommend this book to every person who has found themselves stuck or frustrated by their inability to be consistent in their endeavors. And I would bet there isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t felt that way at some point. We all have our own unique gifts we were meant to share with the world, we just need to play to our strengths and get out of our own way.

Maryalene’s Nonfiction Picks

Malcom X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
5 out of 5 stars 

Several years ago, I came across a list of suggested books for Black History Month. Seeing that I have never met a book list I didn’t like, I dutifully made my way through them all. When I reached Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, I groaned inwardly. It was HUGE. And the text was tiny. I felt like I had been given a class assignment I didn’t want to do. Ugh.

Then I read it and found it absolutely riveting. That’s partly why I read book recommendations even if they don’t sound appealing at first…you never know what you’ll find between the covers until you sit down and give the book a chance. I think it’s also important to note that you don’t have to like someone to read their biography. Malcom X is certainly controversial, and reading about him didn’t turn me into a fangirl but it did help me better understand his point of view and the dynamics of what was happening in our country during a turbulent time.

My 2018 GoodReads review of the book:

Absolutely superb. This book is big and dense but reading it never felt like a chore.

Starting with background on Malcolm X’s father and extending past his assassination to a discussion of his legacy, this biography is thorough and detailed. While some reviews seem to criticize the author for mentioning some unsavory aspects of Malcolm’s younger life, it seems obvious to me that Manning Marable had deep respect and admiration for his subject.

By the end of the book, I felt largely the same way. Previously, I knew nothing about Malcolm X other than having some vague notion that he was a “violent version of MLK.” Now, while I don’t agree with his politics or religion, I do appreciate his deep commitment to doing what he felt was right.

This book also provided some good context to help me understand why Islam appeals to many in the African-American community, and it filled in details about the Civil Rights movement about which I wasn’t previously aware. The information about the Nation of Islam was also fascinating. Next, I think I want to find a good book about the Nation to help me understand that better. I have a difficult time imagining why someone as seemingly as intelligent and articulate as Malcolm X would be taken in by an organization of such dubious origins.

If you enjoy history and biographies, I strongly recommend this book. I picked it up simply because I saw it on a list of suggested titles for Black History Month and am so glad I did. 

Back Pocket Pasta by Colu Henry
4 out of 5 stars

Dinner is almost as inevitable as death and taxes. Ask anyone with kids — for some reason, they always expect you to feed them each night.

Enter pasta.

Pasta meals are generally quick and easy and appeal to most people. When I picked up Back Pocket Pasta from the library, I was impressed by the range of recipes included. After sampling a couple, I decided this book needed to go on my “to-buy” list as well. It’s only downfall is an unfortunate decision that resulted in most recipes calling for 3/4 of a box of pasta.

My 2021 GoodReads review:

I love most pasta dishes so this cookbook was a great fit for me. I made the Lemony Spaghetti and Easter Ham Carbonara. My kids didn’t care for the strong lemon taste in the Lemony Spaghetti but they were both winners for me.

My only complaint about this book is that the recipes call for 3/4 pound of pasta. To which I can only ask: whhhyyy? The author even notes in the introduction that most pasta comes in one pound packages so why make us measure out three-fourths of a box and then leave us with a quarter to languish in the pantry? Why not simply adjust the recipes to use a pound of pasta and serve 5-6 instead of 4? 

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