I’m very picky when it comes to nonfiction. I’m not a big fan of reading about war, politics, or true crime. So, right there that eliminates much on the shelves. I like reading books that will change my life, or, at least, books that I think will improve my life somewhat, whether they make me healthier, happier, wiser, or even better in bed. I read fiction to be entertained; I read nonfiction to learn. But occasionally learning can be fun. The best nonfiction, especially memoirs, read like great fiction. Over the years, I’ve come to love several nonfiction titles, and if you haven’t read them, well, what are you waiting for?
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers. With a title like that, the book had better be good, right? At damn is it ever. The memoir tells the story of twenty-something Dave, whose parents died within five months of each other, as he takes on the role of parent to his younger brother, Christopher. It also tells of his adventures trying to become a cast member of MTV’s “The Real World.” The book is hilarious, sad, and self-conscious. It’s aware of its own weaknesses, and mocks them appropriately. This book made me want to write a memoir, and also made me afraid that mine would never be as good as this one. Sure, it’s uneven, but it’s never less than daring. Now, it may come across as a bit of a 90’s period piece, but it crystallizes what it was like to be young in that decade better than anything else I’ve read.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach. Granted, a bit grim, but also hilarious. What happens to us after we die? More specifically, what happens to our bodies? Decomposition, body snatching, cannibalism, science and crash test experiments, cosmetic surgery practice, and a host of other horrible things. Somehow, despite the morbid topic, the author manages to keep us giggling (when we’re not fighting back the urge to vomit). I never thought I’d read a book about corpses (that weren’t about to rise from the dead). But I did, and I’m glad. You will be, too. A morbid classic.
Growing Up Brady, by Barry Williams. This book will change your life, or least allow you to lead a more Brady-like existence. I am an unabashed “Brady Bunch” fan, and I’ve worn out my paperback copy of this book. Williams (Greg Brady) delves into his first kiss with Maureen McCormick, his “date” with television mom Florence Henderson, his getting stoned just before filming. It also chronicles Robert Reed’s struggles with series creator Sherwood Schwartz over the quality of writing on the show, and also Reed’s homosexuality. There’s also a nifty episode guide. This book will take you back to your childhood, and it’s a good place to be. All the horrors of the world disappear when you enter “The Brady Bunch” universe. If only we could all be Bradys.
Colette: A Life, by Herbert R. Lottman. This book chronicles the life of the celebrated French author, best known for her novel, Gigi. And, damn, did she ever have a life. She married three times, dabbled in lesbianism, had a daughter, acted, danced, lived under Nazi occupation, wrote endless letters, launched her own cosmetic line, laid the groundwork for future feminist writers, and by the time she died at the age of 80 had become a legend. Surely, Colette was one of the most intriguing females ever to hit the literary scene. The writing by Lottman, at times, fails to capture the excitement of the woman herself, but her life story is something everyone should read. She fit several lifetimes into one. That this woman existed at all makes me smile.
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser. This book examines the global influence of the United States fast food industry, and will probably make you avoid cheeseburgers for a while. This book, in its own way, is one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. Really, it’s scary how the fast-food industry changed everything. We often eat without thinking about how our food was packaged and delivered to us. We don’t want to think about slaughterhouses and immigrant workers and deadly chemicals and Mad Cow Disease. We just want a juicy burger. You probably won’t become a vegetarian after reading this, but at least you’ll be more aware of what you put into your body, and your food’s impact on the world around you. I almost want to put this one in the “horror” section of my book collection.
If you haven’t read one or all of the aforementioned books, do yourself a favor and pick one up. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think, and, most of all, you’ll be an honorary Brady.