Category Archives: non-fiction

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

The Tao of Pooh

Tao (pronounced Dow) of Pooh,  is an ABSOLUTE MUST READ. I have read it at least five times since discovering it last year. It overviews the principles of China’s Taoism through A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. An absolute necessity for anyone stressed out, overworked, or just plain lost in the mindless activity of day-to-day life. One of my favorite quotes from the book: “the surest way to become Tense, Awkward, and Confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard– one that thinks too much.”

Peace, Love & Pooh.

A review of Te (pronounced Day) of Piglet will be posted later this week.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jeanette Warren
Rating: Must Read

How to Read a Dress by Lydia Edwards

How to Read a Dress

Lydia Edwards’ delightful new book, How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century is part fashion plate, part art book, and part historical text. Comprised of photos of about 100 surviving dresses – mostly from Europe, North America, and Australia – Edwards chronicles changes to hemlines, fabrics, sleeves, and undergarments between 1550 and 1970. In addition to describing each garment, Edwards also shows how home seamstresses were able to modify existing dresses to conform to changing styles. Edwards also discusses how women in rural Australia and North America adapted urban European silhouettes to fit local climates and conditions.

How to Read a Dress is the perfect guide for your next period piece movie marathon.

Availability: USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby-Hall
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

Threads from the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans

Threads from the Refugee Crisis

Threads is the firsthand report of Kate Evans, a cartoonist who volunteered in 2015 and 2016 in “The Jungle” of Callais– a refugee community that the author describes as the “Disunited Nations” because it houses refugees fleeing conflicts in Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch out For & Fun Home) describes the form of Evans’ book as “comics journalism at its finest.” While most of the frames follow Evans’ as she meets people in the camp, other pages and chapters offer creative zoom-outs or zoom-ins on different aspects of crises hitting refugees hardest. She writes:

“To protect some of the people described in this book[,] their identities have been altered and some characters have been conflated. But everything you are about to read really happened.”

The effect of this formal choice is to create a multi-voiced and multi-perspective work that shows the humanity existing in the maddeningly destitute camps situated amidst one of the richest areas of the world. This in turn helps show how different “threads” of the refugee crisis make gordian knots or rapidly unravel (it’s a bit of a mixed metaphor) in ways that further oppress and traumatize people fleeing horrible violence. I especially appreciated the amount of this work that focuses on what people would see on the screen of a smart phone. Phones are interspersed across the pages showing twitter feeds of callous, cowardly internet trolls in the UK and across the world who are afraid of young orphans and those most traumatized by the 21st century’s worst conflicts, and whose fear is expressed through sickening rage (the conflicts, Evans reminds her readers, have been either instigated or exacerbated by American, British, and European colonialism, militarism, and economic woes. She notes that while we seem to have unending money to fuel the crisis, we can’t find any will to spend money to allay it).

Reading this beautiful book impacted me viscerally– at times it feels like you’re being gut punched by the stories and images– and other times furious at the cowardly tweets, the needlessly violent riot police, or the opportunistic politicians damaging the less fortunate to further their careers. Evans is hardly a neutral bystander. She screams at border police officers pinning a small child to the ground who tried to get to the UK: “You have an obligation to do your job in the most humane way possible!” Yet my fear in writing this review is that I’m making Evans’ book seem a mawkish, simplistic morality play where refugees=good and xenophobic Europeans and Americans=bad. It’s not that at all, though that’s not all that far off how this book ultimately made me feel. For one, it doesn’t portray the European volunteers as saints– they are at times incompetent and are uncomfortable walking the line between volunteering and embarking on “misery tourism.” The refugees themselves are not saints either, though Evans fiercely defends the refugees from all the racist, xenophobic slurs and logics that are so common in today’s political discourse.

Everyone should read this book.

Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Book from a small press published in 2017

Fishing the Chesapeake by Lenny Rudow

Fishing the Chesapeake

I tend to stick to novels and books of short stories in my reviews, but in light of an impending move to Maryland I have been a) really busy and can’t binge novels, and b) have been obsessing over fishing the Bay once more. It is in that context that I have poured over Lenny Rudow’s Fishing the Chesapeake with the same level of rigor and belief a conspiracy theorist brings to dissecting the illuminati symbols in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” I’ll be posting two other fishing-book reviews, but I’m starting with Rudow because this is the all around best book on fishing the Chesapeake I’ve found.

Rudow’s guide is a wealth of information about any and everything related to fishing the Chesapeake. Part I gives a detailed overview of all the different MD and VA tributaries and bay-proper waters from the Connowingo Dam south to the CBBT. Pat II is an impressive breakdown of tips and tricks surrounding various tactics– from trolling to chumming to jigging. Part III adds some filler by describing the various species of fish. I found this last section a bit tedious– nothing too eye-opening, but still fun to read once you’ve read and re-read all of Parts I and II.

The most useful aspect of this book, by a country mile, are Rudow’s detailed “hotspots” for each and every section of the bay. These are labeled on reproduced depth charts and then narrated in the descriptions. For example, I’m dying to get out to “The Puppy Hole” to the west of Janes Island in the Tangier Sound. The maps are a bit hard to read and the labeling system is downright confounding— but if you’re willing to squint and cock your head to the side, you’ll figure it out. You’ll need more accurate and recent charts to safely navigate the waters— I wouldn’t rely on the book for that.

Tight lines, as the fisherfolk say–

Availability:  USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended

How to be A Victorian by Ruth Goodman

How to be a Victorian
As promised in the title, How to be A Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life, Goodman takes the reader through a day in the life of people in Victorian Britain (with occasional detours to America). She focuses on the experience of the majority, rather than the history makers. Goodman draws on her experience as a historical re-enactor to bring the information to life: she can tell you how it feels to wear a corset while trying to complete household tasks or what laundry day is like without a washing machine or running water. Although it is often horrifying (nearly everyone was freezing and hungry all the time, parents routinely doused their small children with opium), it is an extremely fascinating read.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Michelle Milne
Rating: Highly Recommended

Between Them: Remembering My Parents by Richard Ford

Between Them

This slim memoir includes two essays by the writer about his father and his mother, written thirty years apart. Ford does an admirable job of illuminating his parents’ “ordinary” lives and breathing life into the black and white photos included in the book. He is clearly a fond and devoted son, yet I enjoyed watching him wrestle with the question of whether a child can ever truly know who his or her parents are. The untimely death of Ford’s father when the author was a teenager lends great weight and power to the work as Ford wonders what his life — and his mother’s — might have looked like had his father survived. I really appreciated this book as brief but moving meditation on the bonds of parenthood.

 

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Recommended

City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker

City of Light City of Poison

In the 1660s, King Louis XIV was so embarrassed by the filth and crime of Paris that he retreated to his country estate of Versailles permanently. One of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, Paris in the 17th century was also home to slums and immense poverty. The Sun King hired Nicolas de La Reynie to clean up the city. Once installed in his new post as lieutenant general of police, La Reynie first installed street lightning and organized neighborhood watch organizations. Soon, however, he found that he must tackle a much more complicated case – the Affair of the Poisons.

In her new book, City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris, historian Holly Tucker explores this fascinating period of French history. Using his surviving extensive handwritten notes, Tucker is able to reconstruct the minutiae of La Reynie’s investigation into the poisoning (and attempted poisoning) of several prominent French leaders in the 1660s.

Early in his investigation, La Reynie traces the poisonings to the impoverished Paris neighborhood of Montorgeuil. There, a group of midwives, magicians, and crooked priests had for some time contracted with members of the aristocracy to procure everything from face whitening powder and love potions to abortions and deadly poison. La Reynie soon discovers that the affair is even more extensive than he imagined, as several of the king’s mistresses (all bitter rivals) become embroiled in the scandal.

As his investigation expands to include hundreds of suspects, La Reynie petitions the king to create a special tribunal to question and sentence those accused. In all, several hundred men and women were arrested, tortured, and executed for their involvement in the Affair of the Poisons.

Tucker’s book reads like a fast-paced criminal investigation – more like an episode of Law and Order than a dusty history of 17th century France. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in French history or in the history of law enforcement and criminal justice.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby-Hall
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017