Liz and Gianna are two of a dying breed--traveling sales reps for book publishers--who sell books in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and the Deep South. Since we're constantly on the road hawking books, we must find ways to amuse ourselves. So here we've decided to share our anecdotes, adventures, favorite books, and efforts in making the world (or at least these few states) a more literate place to inhabit.
I hate "non-fiction" as a category. Are we really to assume that The Oxford English Dictionary and Penis Pokey belong in the same category? And for that matter, isn't The Feminine Mystique non-fiction too? It's stupid. (I hope Gianna didn't pick Penis Pokey. I haven't looked at her choice yet. I'm safe, right?....I should be safe, but she does love to be inappropriate. Do you all understand how difficult it is to put together this little blog?)
This should come as no surprise but I am going to sort of cheat. Some of these questions if answered truthfully...well, you would repeat books and what fun is that? So in an effort not to repeat books, and also in order to talk about books that maybe don’t get talked about enough in my opinion, I am going to pick a really controversial book as my favorite non fiction book. [Crap. It's Penis Pokey, isn't it? And not Gianna is going to give me hell.]Let me say however this book is absolutely one of my favorite books.
The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison. Oh, how this book surprised me. I was working as a receiver at a bookstore when this book came in and I read the jacket copy, and you know, I am not made of stone…adult daughter has affair with father? Sold. I am going to read that book. Congratulations, you found your audience. But nothing could really have prepared me for that book. It is completely heartbreaking and it drains you. It is one of those books you don’t forget, and not because of the subject. Harrison is such a beautiful writer (if you haven’t read anything by her please pick this up, or Seal Wife or Exposure); this book very easily could have been a disaster. It is not. It is beautiful and terrible and hopeful.
I am surprised more people have not read this memoir. Random House just published a new addition so I hope to see it in more bookstores. Gail Caldwell wrote a really great review of The Kiss, and here is a small piece from it:
Harrison had the good sense to write The Kiss with the most bare-bones approach imaginable, letting the awful force of her story dictate its lean style. Devoid of prurient detail, it is a spare, painful book that saves its most dramatic words for the day she capitulates to her father's need, when ``God's heart bursts, it breaks. For me it does.'' How do you ever come back from a moment like that?
One more thing about Kathryn Harrison…balls o' steel. She was vilified in many places for writing this book, which as you can imagine pisses me off.
I listed a bunch of my favorite history books on the day we talked about books that turn us on, but in an effort to avoid repeats I'm going to pick another work of narrative history that's on par with those other favorites. I don't know if this book officially is my favorite non-fiction title; I don't know that I have a favorite. However, The River of Doubt by Candice Millard is pretty darn wonderful.
Millard tells the story of Theodore Roosevelt, former President who had lost his bid to return to the White House, and decides to engage his mid-to-late life crisis by traveling to the Amazon. Teddy Roosevelt, jungle explorer. TR puts together an expedition including his son Kermit and Brazil's most famous explorer of the time and they set off into the middle of the rain forest to chart the course of a previously unmapped river. Roosevelt's hubris almost kills him, and the doomed expedition encounters piranhas, rapids, indigenous peoples, and any number of perils. The River of Doubt rivals Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air as one of the greatest adventure books ever written, but what makes Millard's book special is that she creates such intensity and life for her story without the benefit of first hand experience. She's a terrific storyteller and she brings to life a mostly forgotten period for one of this nation's favorite subjects.