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Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees (BAND): December Discussion: Truth in Nonfiction

December 14, 2011 6 comments

BAND is a monthly discussion group of book bloggers who love nonfiction!  If you’d like to join us, check out our tumblr page.

This month Erin of Erin Reads asks us: How do you determine truth in nonfiction?

I feel like the quest for truth has been one of my primary activities since I was a very young child.  I’ve never been the type to just believe something because someone in authority tells me it’s so or because it’s the widely accepted belief or….well, you get the picture.

Everything I’ve pursued in my career and education has gone to back up this aspect of my personality.  My first chosen major in undergrad was History, which is largely focused on determining the truth and not just the accepted cultural myths.  Lessons I learned from my wonderful, intelligent professors stick with me to this day in reading nonfiction:

  • Are there multiple accounts or scientific studies that come to the same conclusion or provide the same information?
  • Does the conclusion the document or observer draw make sense based on known facts about the world?
  • Does the document address opposing viewpoints and provide valid, factual rebuttals to them?  A piece of nonfiction that ignores opposing viewpoints is generally one that cannot be trusted.

So those are the basics I use when I investigate a belief system and proceed to draw my conclusions.  It was this method that I learned in undergrad that led to me deconverting from the religion I was raised in.  (I’m currently an agnostic).  It was this same method that proved to me that eating meat is wrong, so I don’t do it anymore.

Now that I’m older and have a few firm beliefs that I’ve vetted with research, the first question I ask when approaching a piece of nonfiction is: Does this go against what I know to be true?  If it does, I may read it anyway just to help me understand where someone with a different viewpoint is coming from.  But I take everything in it “with a grain of salt.”  These books usually take me a while to finish since anything I can’t disprove immediately, I go out and do research on.  Sometimes this leads to me adjusting my viewpoint, but generally not for things I’ve already researched.

If the nonfiction work I am reading is about something I just really haven’t researched much before then I approach it differently.  I look to see how well-documented and carefully researched the book is.  Did the author cite primary sources in her bibliography?  Are these primary sources from well-respected journals or archives or scientific studies?  I am going to trust a book with 10 pages of bibliography much more than one with 2.  If the author is saying something that doesn’t make sense to me, then I hunt down what she’s cited and read it for myself.  I think through the facts, consider the author’s possible biases (her own race, gender, economic group, educational background), and consider my own known biases before drawing conclusions from the material presented.  If it’s something I can try out for myself like a new recipe, a budgeting system, or an exercise move, I try it and see if it works!

I know that probably all sounds like a lot of work, and IT IS.  Being an educated citizen of the world is really hard work.  But that’s our job.  We’re supposed to constantly be educating ourselves, questioning ourselves, seeking to understand the world and those around us.  How can we ever expect to improve things if we just take everything at face value as handed down to us?  And once you’ve studied something once you can’t just stop studying it.  Science has shown us that.  New evidence comes into play, and we need to reevaluate.  There’s nothing wrong with saying I once thought this was so but now I know I was wrong.  That’s all a part of growing and learning, a part that is, unfortunately, not as encouraged in the American education system as it should be.  It’s part of why I became a librarian.  I want everyone to do this throughout their life.  Because it’s not just truth in nonfiction that we need to question and determine for ourselves.  It’s truth about the world around us.

Check out the nonfiction books I’ve read and reviewed since the October discussion:

Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees (BAND): November Discussion: Reading for a Cause

November 8, 2011 22 comments

BAND is a monthly discussion group of book bloggers who love nonfiction!  If you’d like to join us, check out our tumblr page.

I am super excited to get to host BAND this month!  Because, well, who doesn’t love talking about something they love, right?

I firmly believe in knowledge being power.  This is how my dad raised me, and I am forever grateful for that.  The more knowledge you have the more strongly you can support your cause.  This idea was further developed in me when I went to Brandeis University for undergrad.  Brandeis is built around the concept of social justice, and in all of our classes we learned that you can change the world one mind at a time.

Even though I’m out of Brandeis now, I’ve done my best to apply this concept to my reading.  I seek to constantly attain greater knowledge in areas that matter to me.  Pick your cause and read all about it, essentially.

My very first cause was the health and obesity crisis in the US.  I was unhealthy.  My family was unhealthy.  Most of Americans are unhealthy, so I started reading about alternatives to the way I was raised (the SAD–Standard American Diet).  I read a wide arrange of information including excerpts from The China Study, The Blood Type Diet, Vegetarianism for Dummies, and many many more from back before my book blogging days that I unfortunately did not keep good track of.  I still have a section of my tbr pile about addressing the health crisis in the US.  It matters to me.  And I hope that even just by seeing me read the book or seeing a blog post about it, it’ll help to start engaging others into changing their lifestyles.

This reading naturally led me into reading about animal rights, which is something I am incredibly passionate about today.  I love nonfiction science books about the inner life of animals, the social networks of dolphins and elephants, and the cruelty of factory farms.  I wish I could get one of these books in a week, but for right now I’ll settle for as many as possible, haha.

More recently I’ve become interested in the history of racism in the US and how that history impacts social interactions today.  This is what spurred me on to ask Amy to do The Real Help Reading Project with me, and I hope that our presence online discussing these books will help to broaden and change some minds.

Maybe it’s a bit idealistic to think one can evoke social justice and change purely through what you read, but it’s something I can’t help but believe in.  I guess Brandeis taught me well.

What about you?

Do you read nonfiction to help support a cause(s)?

Leave links to your posts in the comments!  (I have issues making link collectors work for me).  Thanks!

Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees (BAND): October Discussion: Favorite Anthologies

October 26, 2011 4 comments

Photos of 3 women.

BAND is a monthly discussion group of book bloggers who love nonfiction!  If you’d like to join us, check out our tumblr page.

This month Ash of English Major’s Junk Food asks us: What are your favorite nonfiction anthologies?

It’s funny; I haven’t read a nonfiction anthology in a while, but I immediately thought of one book that sits proudly on one of my livingroom bookshelves at home that I return to relatively frequently to read bits and pieces fromWritten by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women: An Anthology.

Time to toot my own horn a bit here, I was the recipient of the Smith College Book Award in high school, and this was the book they chose to send me.  As a young feminist growing up in a rural, traditional area, this book rocked my world.  So many strong, intelligent women of all races and ethnicities from many time periods overcoming obstacles to achieve amazing things.  Any time I had a rough day in high school or college, I would turn to this book and read a section of it.  Um, plus it has a Smith College Book Award bookplate with my name on it, which is just bad-ass.  Alas, they were unable to convince me to go to a women’s college.  I wanted boys around. ;-)  But hopefully the alumni association of Smith will still be pleased to know that this book helped one young girl become a stronger woman.

I’m glad Ash brought up this topic, because it made me think about one of my more unique favorite books, but also realize that it’s been a while since I read a nonfiction anthology.  I’ll have to think on a topic that interests me and hunt one down at the library!

Check out the nonfiction books I’ve reviewed and discussed since the August discussion:

Bloggers’ Alliance of Non-fiction Devotees (BAND): August Discussion: How Did You Get Into Non-fiction?

August 10, 2011 15 comments

Hi guys!  It’s hard to believe a month has gone by already since our very first non-fiction discussion in July.  This month Amy is hosting, and she asks us how did we get into non-fiction?

I actually found myself baffled by this question.  Um, I don’t remember not reading non-fiction?  I was raised very religious, although I’m now agnostic, as most of you know.  Anyway, because my parents were religious, I was encouraged (strongly) to read my Bible every day.  That combined with the kid versions of the Bible were probably my earliest forays into what is technically considered non-fiction. *coughs, coughs*

My earliest memories of non-fiction reading that wasn’t connected to religion is a toss-up between cats, airplanes, and westward expansion.  I was fascinated with all three, although cats probably won.  I had an ongoing campaign from when I could speak until the age of seven to get a cat when my parents finally caved.  I used to wreak havoc in the non-fiction section of the library taking out every single book on whatever topic fascinated me at the moment.

My love of non-fiction definitely played into my first choice of major in undergrad–History with a focus on US History.  These classes consisted almost entirely of reading primary documents, and I loved it.  I was also finally surrounded by other people my age who felt the same excitement at reading non-fiction as I did.  So you see, I never really “got into” non-fiction.  I was born that way. Haha.

Check out the non-fiction books I’ve reviewed and discussed since the July discussion:

Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees (BAND): July Discussion: Favorite Type of Nonfiction

July 13, 2011 13 comments

Hi guys!  So the lovely Amy (of Amy Reads) let me know of a new organization of bloggers who love to read nonfiction–Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees.  The group has a tumblr, and basically the various members will post links to their reviews of nonfiction books as well as participate in themed discussions once a month.  You all know that I definitely partake in nonfiction periodically, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be involved!

This month’s topic is our favorite type of nonfiction.  I’d be hard-pressed to choose just one, so I’m going to cheat a bit and talk about, well, three of them.

First, the type of nonfiction that I continued to read even when working full-time and attending grad school at night was memoirs.  Memoirs hold a special allure for me.  Nothing connects me to people from different walks of life than mine quite like reading their first-hand account of their own life.  I especially love memoirs by people who suffer from mental illnesses or have survived abusive situations.  Memoirs simply never fail to touch me, even if I disagree with the author on a lot of points.  It is truly astounding how different and yet the same we all are.

Second, I love books on health for the layman, particularly books on vegetarianism and veganism.  I have a whole pile of tbr books just waiting for me about the health crisis in the US, such as Diet for a New America and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.  Knowledge is power, and we Americans certainly need to take charge of our health.

Finally, I was a history major in undergrad, and history books still appeal to me.  Currently I am reading a biography on Heinrich Himmler (the head of the Gestapo).  I particularly love history books on Native Americans, westward expansion, the American Revolution, Australia, China, Japan, and WWII.

So that’s the types of nonfiction I love! What about you, my lovely readers?

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