Nonfiction November 2017 – What makes a favorite?

Nonfiction November 2017 Info

Week 4: (Nov. 20 to 24) – Katie @ Doing Dewey: Nonfiction Favorites: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

Ooo, good question. I decided to take a look at my Goodreads “Favorites” shelf (what would be my 5⭐ picks if I rated that way) to see what nonfiction books had made the cut and what they had in common.


Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America's Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist

Obviously, the first thing that jumped out at me like an assistant in a spangly outfit is that many of my favorites are about magic history. It’s the obsession that I didn’t know I had for 35 years. But in the past five or so years, I’ve read a lot of nonfiction books about magic (and related subjects) and not all of them are on my Favorites shelf. And I don’t *just* read about magic… (Reviews: Hiding the Elephant, The Magician and the Cardsharp)

Depth of Information

Thunderstruck The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day

I like the deep delve. On a meta level, I suppose depth of information signals to me that the author knows their stuff and that they have a certain amount of passion for the subject. The thing of it is, I don’t even have to understand everything! Lots of crunchy bits in my nonfiction gives my mind something to chew on. Stretching your understanding of a topic can also reinforce lower level concepts. (Reviews: ThunderstruckThe Improbability Principle)

Wider Context

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous 19th Century Chess-Playing Machine

One of the great sadnesses of my life is that I spend a long time thinking that history was boring. I don’t feel I’m entirely to blame; history is often taught in a dry events-and-dates kind of way. But I could have reached out sooner! To me, history (and almost any other topic) is better when placed in a wider context. Nothing exists in a void and most of my favorites always provide a good amount of context for their subjects. (Reviews: Tesla, The Turk)


Review ~ Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women

Cover via Goodreads

Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women by Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay is one of the world’s great sleight-of-hand artists. He is also a most unusual and talented scholar, specializing in the bizarre, exotic, and fantastic side of the human species. The youngest magician to have appeared on television, Jay has become well known for his astonishing stage show as well as for his cameos in such movies as Glengarry Glen Ross and, most recently, Boogie Nights.

Jay’s unparalleled collection of books, posters, photographs, programs, broadsides, and, most important, data about unjustifiably forgotten entertainers all over the world made this unique book possible. An investigation into the inspired world of sideshows, circuses, and singularly talented performers, Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women is history of the most unusual–and irresistible–sort. (via Goodreads)

Amusing that the above summary was written so long ago that it doesn’t mention Ricky Jay’s work on The Prestige, The Illusionist (as a consultant), and Deadwood.

Why was I interested in this book?
Ricky Jay is a fabulous magician. He’s probably my favorite behind Teller/Penn & Teller. He’s also a magic historian and a historian of singular entertainments. Many acts, like pigs that can do math and women who can withstand the heat of an oven to emerge with perfectly cooked steaks, share an aspect of deception with the only slightly more respectable profession of magician.

What Worked
A few years back I read Harry Houdini’s Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, which covers a similar territory, but in a much more shallow way. Ricky Jay truly loves his subjects and knows their histories. You might think that fire-resisters, poison-eaters (as well as frog-eaters—I’m looking at you David Blaine),  mnemonists, and “carnie” acts like extraordinary artists with physical disabilities are of 20th or even only 19th century origin, but you’d be wrong. Many of these acts have lineage in the 17th and 18th centuries.

For example, one of Jay’s favorite subjects, Matthew Buchinger, was born in 1674. Buchinger was a magician, musician, and calligrapher despite being twenty-nine inches in height and lacking legs, feet, or hands. All of the stories in this books are well-sourced and the book contains a goodly number of plates, poster, and photos (on the rare occasions that Learned Pigs ventures beyond the 1850s).

By Matthew Buchinger (1674-1740) – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Smooth_O using CommonsHelper. Original uploader was Kingofspades, Public Domain, Link

Unlike Houdini’s book, Jay isn’t really interested in “their methods.” But if it comes up, there isn’t any modern-day supposing. Fire-resister and poison-eater Chabert was taken to task by medical professionals of his day because he claimed he had cures for scurvy and typhoid. The exposure of other parts of act followed in the press.

What Didn’t Work
Less, “what didn’t work” and more “why it took me over two years to finish this book”: It’s dense. It’s diverse. Ricky Jay’s writing style (and patter style) is very much informed by the histories he’s obsessed with. To illustrate, this is one of my favorite routines of his, entitled “The History Lesson.”

The book is written in beautiful, entertaining language, but it isn’t a quick read.

This is definitely a dip-in book. Read a chapter here, dazzle at a poster there. Worth the time, but not to be consumed in one sitting. Unless you have a stone-eater’s fortitude.

Publishing info, my copy: over-sized paperback, Villard Books, 1987
Acquired: Jackson Street Booksellers, July 2015
Genre: nonfiction

NaNoWriMo 2017 – Week 2 Update

What Am I Doing? – Magical Rebellion 2017

Finished rewriting “The Horrid Haunting.” Man, that word count makes it feel like I haven’t done any work… (I’m taking 1/5 words for rewriting.)

5386 / 50000

But, I do feel like the story is pretty solid. It needs a couple of things cleaned up and it’s a little short. “The Horrid Haunting” could use a more solid B plot.

I am a little behind. I wanted to finish the rewrite by last weekend. Didn’t happen. Now, I have two weeks to write the third story. I’ve been going through my notes.

Nonfiction November 2017 – Become an Expert: Folklore in the Digital Age

Nonfiction November 2017 Info

Week 3: (Nov. 13 to 17) – Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness: Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I had been mulling over a what topic I might want for becoming an expert and I hadn’t come up with anything really juicy…until a happy coincidence this morning. The folks at Just a Story podcast linked to this thread on Twitter:

Here are my top three picks from the thread to get started on the subject of Folklore in the Digital Age:

Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular Expression in a Digital World Putting the Supernatural in Its Place: Folklore, the Hypermodern, and the Ethereal The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World

Anyone have any recommendations? (Great books about folklore in general would be welcome too!)

Deal Me In, Week 45 ~ “After You, My Dear Alphonse”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“After You, My Dear Alphonse” by Shirley Jackson

Card picked: 5
From: text

The Story
Despite her horror credentials, Shirley Jackson is the queen of the painfully awkward moment, often moments that only the reader is witness to.

The phrase “After You, My Dear Alphonse” is (and I had to look this up) a catchphrase based on an early 20th century newspaper comic strip. In the case of this story, it’s a bit of nonsense being repeated by Johnny and his new friend Boyd.

Each boy says it as they come in for lunch, politely refusing to enter before the other.  “After you, My Dear Alphonse.” “No, after you, My Dear Alphonse.” Jackson doesn’t give them any dialog attribution when they enter.

Boyd is “a Negro boy, smaller than Johnny but about the same age.” Mrs. Wilson immediately becomes concerned about everything. Johnny shouldn’t let Boyd carry all the wood kindling—that Boyd has collected and means to take home. Does Boyd’s father work? Yes, at a factory—as a foreman. What about his mother, what does his mother do? She stays home with the kids—just like Mrs. Wilson does, Johnny points out. Mrs. Wilson has lots of Johnny’s old clothes and a few old dresses, would Boyd’s mother like them? …”But I have plenty of cloths, thank you,” Boyd informs her. “Thank you very much, though.”

And after that, Mrs. Wilson becomes a little indignant; mainly, because she’s made  fool out herself by continuing to follow her stereotyped notions. She takes out her embarrassment on the boys and withholds dessert. The thing is? The kids are oblivious. Johnny shrugs it off as his mother is “screwy sometimes,” and they continue on with their day.

“After you, My Dear Alphonse…”

Deal Me In, Week 44 (catch-up) ~ “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander

Card picked: 3
From: Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 57, Feb. 2015 Note: there is a bit of adult language in this story.

I was going to post for week 44 & 45 together, but the stories are so different. Sometimes the magic of Deal Me In is that there isn’t any happy coincidence of matching stories.

The Story
I haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet despite it being directed by Denis Villeneuve and shot by Roger Deakins, both personal favorites of mine. Mostly, this is probably because movies are a bit expensive these days. 1994 Katherine might have seen it twice by now since she could catch a student-priced matinee for $3.25. Until the movie shows up on Netflix, I’ll just have to reread “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead.”

In reality, this story is a bit of a mashup between Blade Runner and The Matrix, all enveloped in cloak of pulpy noir. Rhye is a skin-job, a created human, who has been discarded. Her world is full of violence, from the contests she wins (sometimes) to the jobs to be hired muscle. The only soft spot in her world is Rack, a hacker who somewhat elevates her selection of jobs.

As with any good noir heist, this is a job gone wrong. Rack is shot, but his consciousness lives on within Rhye’s head. The only way Rhye can survive the situation she’s in is to disable, within a virtual/real world Rack’s security protocols (based on Rhye herself) and rescue/download a mobster’s adopted skin-job son.

Does it all entirely make sense? Not really, but it does hold within its own internal consistency.

NaNoWriMo 2017 – Week 1 Update

What Am I Doing? – Magical Rebellion 2017

Wednesday, 11/1 – Reread “The Sorrowful Seamstress.” I think it’s pretty good. “Word count”: 631

631 / 50000

Thursday, 11/2 – Intended to reread “The Horrid Haunting” before rewriting, but found that I had at sometime in the past (August 2016, if file dates are to be believed) started a serious pick-apart/rewrite. One file had a bunch of notes and crossouts and one file was only 7100 words long. So, I just dove into a rewrite.  Managed to rewrite one chapter.

1243 / 50000

Friday, 11/3 – Been suffering from a flare-up/fatigue since Wednesday afternoon. Blarg. Rewriting on “The Horrid Haunting” continues.

1905 / 50000

Continue reading “NaNoWriMo 2017 – Week 1 Update”