Books. Opinions. Good times.

Posts tagged ‘non-fiction books’

Hyberbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, and Other Things That Happened

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by: Allie Brosh

If you’ve never read the side-splittingly funny blog that is Hyperbole and a Half, you should stop reading my blog and head on over there pronto. Allie Brosh’s deliberately crude drawings and hilarious tales of childhood and life’s misadventures are not to be missed.

Her posts on depression are some of the best takes on the disease that I’ve ever read.  My mom suffers from pretty severe depression and it took me a long time to understand it; I wish Brosh’s comics had been around back then to help. I think the way she writes about it makes the disease really accessible for people who have never been depressed.  The comics are so important: for people suffering from depression – solidarity; for people who are affected by others’ depression – understanding and compassion; and for helping the general public understand depression – de-stigmatizing. (There is nothing more infuriating than someone without any experience with mental illnesses proselytizing that “sad people only need to think happy thoughts!” when the subject of depression comes up. Don’t do that.)  She manages to treat the subject with a kind of gallows humor – you laugh in the middle of these painful posts, but it’s a good laugh.  The kind of laugh that adds to your understanding instead of masking it.

Onto brighter things – the rest of her blog and book deal with rather more lighthearted things.  Childhood exploits, like eating an entire cake in one sitting, or quandaries of adulthood – being an adult is hard, y’all! – are all painted with the same brightly colored, achingly comedic brush.  The book contains probably 50-75% new material.  (Some of it is best of posts from the blog, though.)  I liked reading the old posts in book form – I got the e-book – and if I ever get the chance, I’ll buy the hardback and get a signed copy. Sadly, she’s not heading to my part of the U.S.A. anytime soon.

Some of the others stories made me put my Nook down and just laugh really hard, even the ones I had read before! I was having a really bad night last night – the family dog got accidentally poisoned – and I so desperately needed the laugh.  I was surprised that I laughed as hard as I did, honestly.

The last and biggest part of the book was a story on how she has impostor syndrome as a “good person.”  It was a little long for my tastes and I didn’t really relate all that much, but I suppose many other people will.  It was the only part of the book I didn’t absolutely love – but I still liked it. That is literally my only criticism for the book – so yes, it is that good.

My suggestion is pop on over to her blog and see if you like it. If you do, buy the book! It’s fantastic!  Even though some of the stories are in the blog, it’s nice to have your own copy that you can mark up and access and share anytime, with anybody who reads English.  And if you know someone whose life is being affected by depression, consider sending them a copy of the book or a link to the blog posts. Like I said, it’s a really important work on depression.

(NPR’s Fresh Air did a great interview with Brosh here.)

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who made England

by: Dan Jones

This is the other awesome book I talked about a while back; it took me quite a while to finish it.  Nonfictions generally take me longer to work through than fiction books.

This is a broad history of the Plantagenets, England’s ruling dynasty for over 200 years.  Despite the name, there is a heavy focus on the kings at, I suppose, the expense of the queens. There was reasonable focus on Eleanor of Aquitaine in the beginning of the book but the queens further on in didn’t get much exposure.  (In fact, a few were briefly shown- and I mean a sentence or so – as being important to diplomatic or political events but how or why they were important was never shown.)  So, don’t get too excited about a book that places emphasis on both kings and queens.  This isn’t that book.

Jones’ writing is engaging and informative.  There’s no dialogue – it is a history book – and sometimes it becomes hard to tell people apart. All the men are named John, Edward, Edmund, or Richard; all the women Isabella or Eleanor.  (Okay, this is a bit of exaggeration but only a bit.)  Though Jones did a good job of describing the different personalities, he didn’t always do a good job of helping me keep them separate, especially when they were casually referenced later in the book.

Note-keeping would have been helpful for me, but my brain doesn’t handle details well.  Jones keeps things organized and presented in a logical manner, so if you’ve got a sharp mind for small details you’ll probably find it easier to keep everything sorted than I did.   Otherwise, I think Jones did a good enough job tying the story together into a bigger picture that even without keen mind for dates that I came away with a great understanding of the time period.  (Also the anti-Semitism. Holy cow, people. I had no clue.)

As a broad history, it really works.  The book flows seamlessly from war to domestic and international politics to matters of dynasty and heirs.  I don’t feel like anything was out of balance. Enough action to keep the reader interested, enough politics to keep the reader intrigued, and enough analysis to make the reader think. There are lots of maps of Europe and England and a family tree at the beginning and a list of recommended readings at the end; very helpful!  You don’t have to know much about the history of England to be able to follow (thank god, because at this point my British history is pretty much limited to what I’ve learned from romance novels.)  I really loved the analysis of the kings politically and from international standpoints.   There was a time or two where I felt Jones was overreaching in reading the personalities of the time, but for the most part he asserted his conclusions by saying what he felt the evidence pointed to and occasionally even walked the readers through an analysis of a primary source.

Speaking of primary sources, the really nice thing about this book was that the primary sources were translated into modern-day English.  I loved, loved, loved that. Lovely!

If you’re looking for a broad history of the Plantagenets, or a jumping-off point into English history, than definitely give this book a go.  It’s easy to read, well-balanced and well-written.  It seems fairly unbiased but unfortunately I don’t really know enough about history to say that with any authority.  If you’re looking for an equal focus on kings and queens or if you want a really in-depth analysis of any of these kings, than perhaps this isn’t the book for you.