Category Archives: non-fiction

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Zen in the Art of Writing

Ray Bradbury holds a place in my heart for being one of my favorite authors of all time. His work inspired me to always believe in myself and my creativity and to never give up when it comes to reading and writing. This book is sure to motivate you to push yourself to write, whether you’re an everyday writer or you just scribble in a journal here-and-there writer. His writing style keeps you captivated and on your toes, he is unpredictable and practically self-taught from growing up in libraries and writing every day since he was very young.

This is not a “how to write” book, but rather an explanation on why we write to stay alive, and why everybody should write as much as they can. Writing is not just a technical aspect of language, but an expressive one; a writer’s first priority should always be to get their thoughts and words out, and then focus on perfect grammar/technical aspects of writing last. I’ll always think of Bradbury while creative writing and remind myself that writing is free and uplifting, as long as you do it from the heart.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Reilly Cook
Rating:  Highly Recommended

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New LandscapeThis book offers a well-reported, brave exploration of the social and sexual context in which teenage girls are finding their way. Although the focus is on girls, the author deftly addresses issues of concern to teenage boys and people of all genders. Orenstein is brave and blunt about the reality of high school and college life for young people; she doesn’t whitewash reality nor judge her interview subjects. Her discussions of many thorny issues — the role of alcohol in hookup culture, coming out, the influence and omnipresence of pornography, abstinence, the lack of reciprocity in many sexual relationships, and parental silence on these questions — were nuanced, thoughtful, and eye-opening. This was a really important book to read, as an educator and as a parent.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2016

Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman By Lindy West

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanAs an avid reader of the feminist website Jezebel, I was excited to read Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by former Jezebel staff writer Lindy West. In this collection of personal essays and stories, West chronicles her journey from a shy, chubby girl to a confident feminist writer, comic, and fat-acceptance activist. The most interesting essays chronicle West’s battles with Internet trolls and her public fight (about fat-shaming writing) with her former boss, Stranger editor Dan Savage. Even though I had already heard both stories on This American Life, I still found West’s writing to be fresh and interesting.

Shrill is a quick, but important, read. I recommend it for feminists, activists, and anyone trying to learn to accept and love themselves.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby-Hall
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: A Book You Can Read in a Day

We Believe You by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino

We Believe You

We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out, is a collection of first-person narratives of sexual assault, survivorship, and activism. This is a difficult but essential book to read. As a reader and practitioner in the field I found myself wanting to reach into the page to offer support and consolation to the writers sharing their stories, to change what happened to them and to improve their experiences with campus administrators and law enforcement. The collection did a good job of capturing the breadth and variety of survivors’ experiences while identifying common themes and concerns. I found this book to be gripping and re-centering in a way — a reminder of what the world looks like through the eyes of someone who has experienced sexual violence and a reminder of the importance of simply believing someone who says that have been assaulted. This belief, the authors write, is an act of “radical everyday activism.”

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Must Read

Militarizing the Environment: Climate Change and the Security State by Robert Marza

militarizing the enviromentOk- so not a beach read, but if you happen to be interested in the intersections of climate change and the military industrial complex, then maybe it is a beach read. A depressing one, but an important one. Marzac, a professor of postcolonial and eco-critical literature at Purdue University, traces the ways the US military thinks about climate change and other “environmental issues” through a 400 year history of “enclosure movements” and colonial projects. In short, he argues that the unpredictability and risk posed by climate change become the material used to justify the expansion of military powers into more and more aspects of human and nonhuman life. Climate change is a “threat multiplier” according to the Pentagon, and hence the USA needs to multiply its threat-responding capacity. More drones, more ships, more guns, more bombs. More flexibility to use these in different scenarios. The ultimate irony is of course that the US military, now and throughout recent history, has been the single greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions driving anthropogenic climate change.

In sum, it’s a vicious cycle. And it’s a cycle marked by some truly and morbidly fascinating stories that Marzac weaves into his long form indictment on the “greening” of the US war machine. Did you know the famous Ethics 101 “prisoner’s dilemma” game was devised by the RAND corporation to help justify the growth of US nuclear arms? Or that the UN has discussed forming an environmental peacekeeping force called “the Green Helmets?”

This is a challenging read, but one that I feel should appeal to anyone interested in environmental studies, military history, economics, or science and technology studies.

Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommended

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

The Underground Girls of KabulThe Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg

I highly recommend this book! It did a great job of pulling me into the interesting story of life in Afghanistan for young girls who dress as boys for a wide variety of reasons. I feel as if it also prompted cool thoughts and discussions on gender, nature vs nurture, and what your choice means in the absence of freedom. It also broadens common perceptions on feminism, LGBTQ culture, and traditional gender roles. Overall I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in feminism, international development, gender, and/or the Middle East.

Availability:  USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Shelby Perkins
Rating:  Highly Recommended

The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe By Elaine Showalter

The Civil Wars of Julia Ward HoweOn 14 January 1876, the day after her husband’s funeral, Julia Ward Howe wrote in her diary, “Began my new life today.” Julia Ward Howe, known today mainly for her poem “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” is often depicted in popular culture as a dainty Victorian grandmother. But Howe was also a novelist, critic, and a fiery advocate for abolition and women’s suffrage, who spent most of her life under the ruthless control of her much-older husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe.

In her new biography, The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe, literary critic Elaine Showalter explores Howe’s heartbreaking history. A New York society belle in her youth, Howe married her husband, a doctor famous for both his work with the blind and his service during the Greek Revolution, believing that he would support her literary ambitions. Unfortunately, Dr. Howe believed that women should remain in the home. Although she had six children, Julia Ward Howe spent much of her three-decade marriage fighting with Dr. Howe about her desire to have a career beyond motherhood. In addition to several volumes of poetry, Howe also wrote (in secret) a novel called The Hermaphrodite. Discovered decades after her death, The Hermaphrodite explores themes of sexuality and gender while challenging the patriarchy of 19th-century America. Howe also campaigned extensively for abolition and women’s suffrage in the second half of her life.

Showalter’s outstanding biography captures the complexity of Howe’s life and work, restoring her to her rightful place as one of the foremost thinkers – female or male – of the 19th century.

Availability:  USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2016