Armchair BEA 2013: A Matter of Trust

Armchair BEA 2013

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I’m falling behind on my daily Armchair BEA blogging topics, but I didn’t want them to go unacknowledged, so I’m trying to use the weekend to catch up. On Thursday we talked about literary fiction, and since that’s my favorite genre of books, I really wanted to be part of the discussion. (Alas, too many things came up that prevented me from doing a post – either that day or a prescheduled one.)

I’ll get back to the literary fiction in a separate post, but I also wanted to discuss Friday’s subject of Ethics and Literary Blogging, combined with recommendations of favorite nonfiction books.

I think it’s interesting that these two (ethics and nonfiction) were paired together, especially given controversies that have been connected to recent nonfiction books, most of them popular reads and/or bestsellers. In some cases, it has been tough to distinguish between nonfiction and fiction as revelations have surfaced of authors embellishing or fictionalizing what actually happened (James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces) or writers getting caught up in scandals associated with their books (Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, Stones Into Schools).

This is unfortunate on so many levels. Certainly, in the Mortenson case, it is damaging philanthropically, but I think it also carries a residual effect to the nonfiction genre, especially memoirs. I think there’s the temptation by some to give all nonfiction books the hairy eyeball (which isn’t a bad thing, to question) or to forego them altogether because you’re not quite sure if what you’re reading is accurate or if it is something that should have been shelved in the fiction section.

It comes down, then, to a matter of trust. We want to trust our authors – we need to – but in reading reviews, we also need to trust bloggers to speak their truths and to share their opinions honestly. Just as I want to know that an author has some knowledge of the nonfiction topic he or she is writing about as an expert, I also like reviewers to be upfront about their relationship with the book and the authors themselves, if there is such a relationship. It has always been my policy to tell you, as a reader, if I am friends with or have a relationship with an author whose work I am reviewing.

I review books for TLC Book Tours, for which I am not compensated except in exchange for a copy of the book. In those cases, I clearly state that the book was received from TLC and give a disclosure statement. I also have started to review books as a freelancer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and those reviews are compensated. I haven’t shared the links to any of those here on the blog yet (the first one will be published on Wednesday), but when I do, I’ll also mention that with a disclaimer.

If you haven’t read any nonfiction lately or you think that it is akin to reading a stuffy textbook, think again! Reading nonfiction is a great way to broaden one’s knowledge on topics of interest and also to learn more about those subjects that you may have been familiar with, but wanted to know more about. Creative nonfiction can be a fascinating genre, and if done well, can sometimes be even more compelling than some fiction! Here are some of my favorite nonfiction books that I often recommend (links take you to my reviews): 

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, by Gail Collins

American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (and what we can do about it) by Jonathan Bloom

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, by Randy Shilts

Father’s Day: A Journey Into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son, by Buzz Bissinger

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, by Brad Gooch

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds, by Lyndall Gordon

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, by Harriet Reisen

The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan

A Slant of Sun, by Beth Kephart

The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, by Steve Lopez

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Under the Eye of the Clock: A Memoir, by Christopher Nolen

When Children Ask About God: A Guide for Parents Who Don’t Have All the Answers, by Harold S. Kushner

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