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Category Archives: non-fiction

Päntsdrunk (Kalsariänni)

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In the new books section at the library, a little book called Päntsdrunk (Kalsariänni) by Miska Rantanen beckoned. The illustrated book reminded me of The Little Book of Hygge so I took it home. Päntsdrunk is a Finnish word to describe the sloth and aimlessness of activities like hanging around the house after work drinking alcohol in your underwear. As that’s not exactly my thing even when I’m stressed, I didn’t love the book. However, it’s written with dry wit and is a quick read so I didn’t hate it either. It’s a gentle poke at Denmark’s hygge culture. It won’t make you laugh out loud and didn’t make me want to book a trip to Helsinki, but it’s cute.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2019 in fiction, non-fiction

 

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E.B. White: Some Writer!

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E.B. White: Some Writer! is some biography. A book for children, say grades 4 and up, is well researched and well written. Barbara Gherman’s biography is based on White’s letters and papers as well as on interviews with his relatives.

The biography begins with an overview and then proceeds to describe E.B. White’s life from grade school onward. The tone is delightful and readers get a sense of White’s shyness, his sense of adventure (within the US – traveling abroad was too much for him), his family life, love of nature and writing career. White, whose friends called him Andy,

The book contains many photos of White, his parents and family, which helps readers get to know White in yet another way.

As Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and his essay’s are among my favorite writings, I enjoyed learning more about the man. He’s as sincere and caring. He deeply cared about his friends, family and quality writing. The book was a fun, insightful read, which I highly recommend.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2019 in book review, Children's Lit, contemporary, non-fiction

 

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Partisan Journalism

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In his well researched book Partisan Journalism: A History of Media Bias in the United States, Jim Kuypers traces the history of American journalism back to America’s founding and shows the history of journalism’s connection to party politics. Each era differs, of course. The changes in media from newspapers to radio and television and now the Internet make a marked difference in journalism. After all, few disagree with McLuhan who told us “The media is the message.”

This is clearly shown in the impact of the decrease in newspaper subscribers, who’d at least glance through most sections of the paper, and Internet readers, who hop by clicking from one link to the next, perhaps never seeing stories unrelated to their core interests.

I know from my research into the 19th century that newspapers were clearly affiliated with political parties. It was customary for each paper to annually declare which party they were aligned with. Now that practice is no more, but it’s not hard to determine that PBS*, MSNBC, CBS, CNN, etc. lean towards the Dems and Fox News leans towards the GOP. Kuypers does spend a good chapter on surveys of journalists, which confirm what I’d heard about a slant in journalists vis-a-vis in membership in and donations to the Democrats. (Roughly over 85% of journalists identify themselves as Democrats. Even a majority of Fox News employees donated to Democrats in 2012.) There’s a lot of solid data, along with the sources so you can double check it all.

Rather than rehash every section let me share an excellent summary and review:

[F]ocusing on the warring notions of objectivity and partisanship [ . . . ] Kuypers shows how the American journalistic tradition grew from partisan roots and, with only a brief period of objectivity in between, has returned to those roots today. The book begins with an overview of newspapers during Colonial times, explaining how those papers openly operated in an expressly partisan way; he then moves through the Jacksonian era’s expansion of both the press and its partisan nature. After detailing the role of the press during the War Between the States, Kuypers demonstrates that it was the telegraph, not professional sentiment, that kicked off the movement toward objective news reporting. The conflict between partisanship and professionalization/objectivity continued through the muckraking years and through World War II, with newspapers in the 1950s often being objective in their reporting even as their editorials leaned to the right. This changed rapidly in the 1960s when newspaper editorials shifted from right to left, and progressive advocacy began to slowly erode objective content. Kuypers follows this trend through the early 1980s, and then turns his attention to demonstrating how new communication technologies have changed the very nature of news writing and delivery. In the final chapters covering the Bush and Obama presidencies, he traces the growth of the progressive and partisan nature of the mainstream news, while at the same time explores the rapid rise of alternative news sources, some partisan, some objective, that are challenging the dominance of the mainstream press. This book steps beyond a simple charge-counter-charge of political bias
For more, click here.

The best part of the book was how it shows readers how to look out for framing, selection and emphasis and the sort of questions to see how television journalists shape the news to fit their agenda.

I recommend people read Partisan Journalism and take the time to fact check as you go.

*My near daily source.
My other regular source since I believe in learning from all sides.

 

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2019 in book review, fiction, non-fiction

 

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Wisdom on Writing

Scott Adams, author of Win Bigly and How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, as well as the creator of the Dilbert comic series, shares his insights on writing.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2019 in fiction, non-fiction

 

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Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy

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I started Kate Hopkins’ Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy with lots of enthusiasm and excitement. It was my first microhistory read. Like many, I have loved candy and I am curious about its origins and place in history.

While I did learn about how the Arabs brought sugar candy to the world, first as a form of medicine, how candy went from something only available to the rich to something children could buy with their allowances or pay and how the use of chocolate developed.

While Hopkins travels to Europe, New England and, of course, Hershey, PA, were often interesting, her writing style often was wordy and she bored me with long-winded descriptions of her memories of her childhood and overly detailed descriptions of trivial observations of her travels. I wish she did a better editing and had talked to more candy experts. Most of her research was from books, which is fine, but adding more interviews with candy makers and experts would improve this book.

The book did make me see that wherever I travel internationally, I should find a local candy shop and taste sweet local specialities.

Have you read a fascinating microhistory? Let me know  of any that are must-reads below.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2019 in non-fiction

 

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Lennon: The New York Years

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If you have even a slight interest in the Beatles’, you’ll like graphic biography, Lennon: The New York Years. With simple black and white illustrations, Lennon: The New York Years tells the singer’s life as a series of therapy sessions which help John Lennon make sense of his life.

Though I’ve read other books on The Beatles this book added new details about his childhood, particularly his relationship to his father, and about his later life. I wasn’t aware of the assistant Yoko hired after she caught John being unfaithful. (True, John and Yoko both cheated on their spouses when they first met but still John’s infidelity hurt her.) The assistant May was to report in to Yoko daily and was a spy as well as an assistant. John knew that. There apparently was a tacit agreement that sleeping with May was okay. These arrangements did not lead to happiness or enlightenment or freedom. (I’m not surprised.)

The book is a quick read and the illustrations enhance the story well, conveying a past era. It’s not a book I’d recommend to a young teen because of its adult experiences and their depictions, e.g. showing Lennon using heroin. But for mature readers interested in music history or for graphic novel enthusiasts, it’s a satisfying book.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2019 in history, non-fiction

 

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Audubon: On the Wings of the World

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I learned so much about the life of John James Audubon from the graphic biography, Audubon, Audubon: On The Wings Of The World . I knew nothing about his dedicated wife, who had to put up with her husband’s long absences as he worked on his magnum opus,  The Birds of America

This book tells the story of his life from his first foray into illustration and his courtship. His wife was incredibly patient and supportive. What Audubon was trying to do, illustrate birds so that they seemed fully alive, was unheard of in his day and he experienced great frustration because people kept comparing him to Alexander Wilson, an earlier illustrator, who inspired Audubon, but whom Audubon believed wasn’t as good as he was.

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I was shocked at the number of birds, Audubon shot in order to illustrate all the species found in American. He’d shoot many of one species and shot thousands over all. According to the book, he did not find this at odds with his love for birds or his desire to add to their conservation and our understanding of them.

On The Wings of the World, has good illustrations, though they aren’t on par with Audubon’s own work. That would be amazing — and would probably mean a much more expensive book. I feel I’ve a fuller and deeper understanding of Audubon, who’s presented warts and all. It would make a great gift and belongs in every library.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2018 in fiction, non-fiction

 

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