#NonFicNov ~ New to My TBR

Hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review,
Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library,
and Julz at Julz Reads

Lory: It’s my honor to be the host for Nonfiction November this week, with our final topic: New to My TBR.

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR list? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

A list with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Books with a * are available at Tempe Digital Library.


#NonFicNov ~ Magic & Skeptical Thinking

Hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review,
Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library,
and Julz at Julz Reads

Week 4: (Nov 21 – 25) – (Julz) – 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’m going to preface this post by saying that, to me, knowing about something “magical” doesn’t take away from my appreciation of it. Knowing about refraction doesn’t ruin a rainbow for me. Learning about how magic tricks are done has only increased my appreciation for the effort and ingenuity that go into them. I know that isn’t the case for everyone.* These books are all very history-oriented. None of them contain the secret to anything you might have seen on David Blaine’s recent special. At least not directly. 😉

The thing I find important, though, is that learning about magic has also strengthened my critical thinking muscles. Magicians are some of the biggest skeptics out there. A little skepticism can go a long way.

The following books are in reverse order of their amount of magic trick exposure.

Cover via Goodreads Cover via Goodreads Cover via Goodreads

The Rise Of The Indian Rope Trick: How A Spectacular Hoax Became History by Peter Lamont – Fake news is not a news thing. Part history, part psychology, Lamont takes a look at this legendary trick—how it came to be, how people “witnessed” it, and how the story became impossible to kill. This is the most meticulously and amusingly annotated books I’ve read.

The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous 19th Century Chess-Playing Machine by Tom Standage – The mechanical turk is another story that has unkillable falsehoods connected to it. The Turk is also about the popularity of some automata since the 18th century, how patronage doesn’t always work out for the best, and how anxious people can be about technology. Seriously, what’s a better use of tech: automated silk weaving or a mechanical duck?

Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear by Jim Steinmeyer – Steinmeyer presents the early history of magic via his efforts to learn the secret of a stage illusion done by Houdini in 1917: making an elephant disappear. One of the first books on magic history that I read, Hiding the Elephant showed me the value in delving deeply and not being afraid to look at a subject from a different point of view.

* But if you are interested in reading about a lot more about magic, I have an ever-expanding list for that!

#NonFicNov ~ Book Pairings

Hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review,
Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, and Julz at Julz Reads

It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

The Prestige The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer"

A fictional wizard war and the biography of a magician who performs completely as someone else. Even if you’ve only seen the movie The Prestige and not read Christopher Priest’s novel, Jim Steinmeyer’s The Glorious Deception is a great companion piece.

American Gothic The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

Years before Erik Larson became a favorite of mine with his tale of H. H. Holmes as The Devil in the White City, Robert Bloch used the setting and the serial killer as inspiration for G. Gordan Gregg in American Gothic. When I read the novel I thought the “murder castle” was an out-there idea. Little did I know…

#NonFicNov ~ Why I Read the Nonfiction that I Read

Hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review,
Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, and Julz at Julz Reads

Welcome to the second week of Nonfiction November! This week’s topic is:
What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book? Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to? Do you have a particular writing style that works best? When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you? If so, share a title or cover which you find striking.

Roughly, what nonfiction books I choose fall into two categories, one fairly specific and one very broad. The two books I have on my stack for November are fairly illustrative.

Judas: The Most Hated Name in History The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer

Authors: The Specific Category. As with fiction choices, there are certain nonfiction authors that I keep an eye out for. Erik Larson, Mary Roach, Jim Steinmeyer, Tom Standage, Michael Lewis, and probably a few others I can’t remember are all on this list. So is Peter Stanford. I’ve never given Judas much thought, but I will. They all write knowledgeably about their subjects. That, over tone, is probably what I value most from them.

Subjects: The Big, Vague Category. There are just certain subjects I want to know more about. Statistics, economics, and death have had periodic appearances in my reading stacks. The history of  magic and spiritualism is a big subject for me. Technologies, innovations, and the people behind them is another. While I’ve read a bit of David Leavitt’s fiction, Alan Turing is the reason I chose The Man Who Knew Too Much. Why these subject? Pft. I don’t know. I find a weird selection of things fascinating.

Review ~ The Unpersuadables

The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr

Cover via Goodreads

While excavating fossils in the tropics of Australia with a celebrity creationist, Will Storr asked himself a simple question. Why don’t facts work? Why, that is, did the obviously intelligent man beside him sincerely believe in Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and a six-thousand-year-old Earth, in spite of the evidence against them?

It was the start of a journey that would lead Storr all over the world—from Texas to Warsaw to the Outer Hebrides—meeting an extraordinary cast of modern heretics whom he tries his best to understand. Storr tours Holocaust sites with famed denier David Irving and a band of neo-Nazis, experiences his own murder during “past life regression” hypnosis, discusses the looming One World Government an iconic climate skeptic, and investigates the tragic life and death of a woman who believed her parents were high priests in a baby-eating cult.

Using a unique mix of highly personal memoir, investigative journalism, and the latest research from neuroscience and experimental psychology, Storr reveals how the stories we tell ourselves about the world invisibly shape our beliefs, and how the neurological “hero maker” inside us all can so easily lead to self-deception, toxic partisanship and science denial. (via Goodreads)

With the subtitle Adventures with the Enemies of Science, I expected something a little different from The Unpersuadables. Something harder and something more neutral. Or, maybe with my own biases, something more skeptical, even though I had been warned.

Will Storr is a seeker. The Unpersuadables is his record of trying to reconcile his nagging feeling of wrongness amid his skepticism. While investigating the followers of some more eccentric beliefs, Storr feels some measure of kinship. He finds it difficult to judge them when he himself has done pretty irrational things. What can be learned from Holocaust deniers, sufferer of Morgellons syndrome, and even the King of Skeptics?

Well, Storr learns that the human brain is incredibly fallible. Even on a basic level, the world we sense is somewhat inferred by the information we already have. On a higher level, we have all developed models of how we believe the world to work and are loath to deviate from them. Our memories are incredibly malleable, which is unfortunate since we rely on the stories we tell ourselves for our sense of being. Storr’s conclusion seems to be that all in all, human’s are not set up to be rational.

To frame this with my own story, I’ve been thinking about the pitfalls of narrative ever since I read Jenette Fulda’s book Chocolate and Vicodin back in early 2012. One morning, Fulda woke up with a terrible headache that would not go away and could not be diagnosed. By the end of her memoir, she still has the headache and I had a feeling of dissatisfaction. I realized, after some thought, that my unease had been caused by a lack of ending in her narrative. And this is something that sufferers of chronic conditions deal with all the time. “Get well soon!” is always the wish. In other words, “Please, end your narrative happily.” Unfortunately, people don’t get the chronic part of the equation.

The scientific method is not narrative friendly. “Conclusions” are always being overturned in light of more data. People want a tight, definite answer. Science is actually, surprisingly often not about those.

“The scientific method is the tool that humans have developed to break the dominion of the narrative. It has been designed specifically to dissolve anecdote, to strip out emotion and leave unpolluted data,” Storr’s writes. “But we can hardly be surprised if some feel an instinctive hostility to it, for it is fundamentally inhuman.”

For me, science is about creating systems. I find a great satisfaction and even joy in cohesive systems. Stories still have their place. I’m a writer; obviously I believe that. But narratives and science can be parsed. I also believe that we can attempt to overcome some of these human deficits, though it takes a certain amount of vigilance to continually question ingrained models. I was surprised by Storr’s hostility toward the skeptic movement, but on the other hand, skeptics aren’t immune to the same biases and failures.

A word about the science: The Unpersuadables was originally published in early 2013, which means the neuroscience theories presented are older than that. Given the pace at which theories are being formed and reformed in this field, the science isn’t “latest,” it’s old. Just sayin’.

On the writing front, The Unpersuadables is a good reminder of what thought processes go into belief. Handy when writing characters that have different beliefs from my own.

Publishing info, my copy: Overlook Press, 2014, hardback, library
Genre: Nonfiction


#NonFicNov ~ New to my TBR


First, Some Notes

This can’t be the last week of Nonfiction November. I haven’t read all the books yet!

My reading list shifted after a trip to the library and a online library hold become available. I’m currently working on The Unpersuadables by Will Storr and Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. I should finish the former in time to review it on Thursday.

I never quite managed to organize last week’s post on diversity in nonfiction magic literature (or rather the lack of it). Instead, I have a notion of spotlighting some women in magic every first Magic Monday of the month.

New to my Nonfiction TBR

Hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey

New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

NonFic TBR

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan – Growing up in Nebraska, I never had much of an interest in agriculture or the history of the Plains. That changed when I moved to Arizona. From The Relentless Reader

The Nazi Séance: The Strange Story of the Jewish Psychic in Hitler’s Circle by Arthur J. Magida – I tend to think that the heyday of spiritualism was past by WWII. Not so? From James Reads Books
(Also, when adding this to my Goodreads “Want to Read,” I came across The Rabbi and the Hit Man: A True Tale of Murder, Passion, and Shattered Faith by the same author. Doesn’t *that* sound interesting?)

The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr – A book I wanted to read enough that I checked it out from the library during week two. From Bibliophilopolis

Freak Show by Robert Bogdan – Reading about stage magic leads to reading about vaudeville which leads to reading about other attractions including freak shows. From eclectic / eccentric; actually, Trisha posted a whole list of intriguing books on “freaks.”

Again, despite growing up in Nebraska, I didn’t really become a sports fan until I moved away. I’m still picky about what/who I follow, but I am intrigued by sports nonfiction. Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves has a whole list of sports recs!

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson – I spend time wondering what it would be like to live in the past. What day-to-day life was like. I have a feeling after One Summer, I’ll be reading more Bill Bryson. From Reading, Writing, Working, Playing (A shout out to Stainless Steel Droppings too, who happened to review this book last week.)

Unfortunately, the link-up this week is probably only going to further expand my TBR list. It already has with Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. From Musings From A Bookmammal

Review ~ Magic And Mystery

Magic And Mystery: The Incredible Psychic Investigations Of Houdini And Dunninger

This is a review that could easily partner with Monday’s post about books exposing the techniques of fraudulent spirit mediums.

Houdini, the most famous magician ever, had an interest in spiritualism throughout his career. He and his wife, Bess, did a mentalism routine for a while before he, like many magicians, realized that his audiences truly believed he had supernatural powers when such mind-reading and seance magic were part of the act. Houdini became a very vocal crusader against spiritualism and kept scrapbooks of mediums and exposures.

Joseph Dunninger was the Darren Brown of his era. His career spanned from the 1920s to the 1960s, overlapping Houdini’s by some years. He was an amazingly popular mentalist, known for his radio show and for his own efforts to educate the public about the ways mediums can take advantage of audiences. The first section of Magic and Mystery is Dunninger’s edits of Houdini’s scrapbooks, at least as far as I can tell. The authourship of this volume is a little hazy. The second section are some of Dunninger’s own recollections of visiting notable mediums and spiritualists.

Magic and Mystery is light on exposure. Tales are told in a couple of pages with a quick “It was, of course, done like this…” denunciation at the end. My edition is lacking a picture/illustration section. I have a feeling that it was cut for cost, but the manuscript wasn’t re-edited.

To get a feel for Magic and Mystery, here is Joseph Dunninger with a few exposures:

My Edition: Weathervane Books, 1967, hardback
Genre: nonfiction, magic