Nonfiction Roundup #1

One of the hardest things for me to review is nonfiction. You can’t critique these stories if they happen to real people. You can only be the witness from these words and share them. Don’t get me wrong, I love nonfiction. I read it at night because fiction won’t help me sleep. Night is when I need a voice whispering their life to me, their story. Night is when my brain craves science and history the most. So I go through my nonfiction reads fast, but I find it hard to review on their own. This roundup is to help share these stories and get my viewpoint the best I can express it.

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How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child

by Sandra Uwiringiyimana

This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.

This book is a look inside the life of a survivor of a genocide that most of us don’t even know happened. In her short life, Sandra has seen too much of the evils of this world than anyone should. She saw her little sister die, she had a gun pointed at her head, she survived, she was sexually assaulted, but lived with the guilt of it all.  It’s a chilling story that keeps you hooked and heart broken that things like this continue to happen and yet we have no idea about it.

This book is in no way a light read. It’s heartbreaking and leaves you shaken. The fact Sandra and her family could survive such horrors and come out in one piece is not only amazing, but it makes you see your own life differently.

The writing in this book is hauntingly vibrant. I cried with Sandra more than once, when emotion found her much as my own finds me. It was a really well done book that makes me want to share with everyone who dares question the need to bring refugees to safety.

The work Sandra has done and continues to do gives me hope for our future. It makes me want to stand up the best I can in the ways I can to help with this fight. Because no one should face what Sandra and her people faced.

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Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man’s Voice from the Silence of Autism

by Naoki Higashida

Now he shares his thoughts and experiences as a twenty-four-year-old man living each day with severe autism. In short, powerful chapters, he explores school memories, family relationships, the exhilaration of travel, and the difficulties of speech. He also allows readers to experience profound moments we take for granted, like the thought-steps necessary for him to register that it’s raining outside. Acutely aware of how strange his behavior can appear to others, he aims throughout to foster a better understanding of autism and to encourage society to see people with disabilities as people, not as problems.

I’m a fan of the first book in this series. I think that it’s important to have books like this from the people with autism and other disabilities because they know better than anyone, even their caregivers and parents. So I jumped on this book when I saw that it was available for review and was coming to the U.S.

But first thing first, I wasn’t a fan of the introduction. To me, it was the thing that I think is the opposite of this book – by someone who deals with autism in the family, but doesn’t have. It would have been fine if it was about a quarter of the size smaller. David Mitchell took too much time to try and make this book his instead of Naoki’s in my opinion. His ‘introduction’ was longer than most of the chapters in this book. I know that this book is important to family and caregivers to better understand their kids. But I think that this sort of crossed the line of not being informative but simply too long and drawn out.

It’s important to remember that this book isn’t just one book, but pieces of Naoki’s other work that has been released in Japan put into one book. Personally, I think you can feel that. It all follows a similar theme but doesn’t always match with the stories around it.

Sadly, I believe like the first one, my ADHD brain had a hard time grasping everything being said in the chapters, my brain would glaze over after a few hours when I got too tired. But I do believe that Naoki’s writing was well done and elegant. I think his writing is also important to better understand him, but also anyone with any sort of disability. I do recommend it, though I do have to warn that it does repeat itself a bit, understandably. I think that was my downfall when reading it at night. Also know there is a story of fiction thrown in there without properly being labelled as such. I spent most of that story confused until I realized at the end that it wasn’t something from his life like the other stories.

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Now You Know Canada: 150 Years of Fascinating Facts

by Doug Lennox

Just in time for Canada’s 150th birthday comes this collection of the best in Canadian questions and answers, covering history, famous Canadians, sports, word origins, geography, and everything in between. 

This was my first wishlist item approved on netgalley so I made sure to drop everything to read this book. I admit, I was interested because my hope is in a few years to move to Canada to be closer to my best friend. But I’m also a fan of random facts and history, so my hope was to learn as much as I could from this book.

I ate the history section of this book. Sadly, most of this book is actually sports and I lost interest after the baseball section of this book, skipping until the Olympics section. I was very disappointed in how much was sports, the hockey section was expected and stretched the longest, but it was still more than the whole countries history. Up to this point, I was in love with this book and in love with the fact I got to discuss these things with my friend. But having skipped most of the sports, I finished the book in one day feeling disappointed. There really isn’t much else to say about this one other than it was good and would have been better if it had paid a bit more attention to the history and people and not just the sports, making it more of a book everyone would have found enjoyable.

Do I recommend this one? Meh. I do the history part if you want to better understand the history from someone who knows nothing about it. I just suggest not buying it if your only going to read the history like I did. If you enjoy sports and reading it, then go for this book.

Hit or Miss a Moth

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The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown

by Catherine Burns

From storytelling phenomenon The Moth, 45 unforgettable true stories about risk, courage, and facing the unknown, drawn from the best ever told on their stages.

If you can’t guess by the title I have some mixed feelings about this read. I was really pumped about this read, too. I hadn’t heard of the podcast, but I really needed a collection of short stories and I felt like this was a great choice. I mean, Neil Gaiman wrote the forward. And some of the stories are worth his name. Some are wonderful and even left me crying. Which, honestly, doesn’t happen often expect things that are done well. And those stories were done well. I have a bunch of dog ears in my copy of those stories whenever I need to draw inspiration (I was out of sticky notes). But there were stories that bombed really hard. I was so tempted to skip them too.

It’s important to remember that these stories were performed on stage or in the podcast and my guess is, they did better in that. Without a face, without seeing those emotions, I honestly watched a lot fall dead to me that I wanted nothing to do with. There were even stories that I gritted my teeth at and wanted to skim simply because the person who told it didn’t realize how ignorant they sounded in certain situations. I couldn’t find sympathy when they couldn’t bother to learn names or a language or how lucky they really were in comparison of others. It was so frustrating. Enough so that I had to put the book down for a while.

But the stories that were good, that were able to capture emotion in the book, I can imagine doing the same on stage. They truly blew me away and I just sat there in tears having to give myself a few moments to recover before heading on. And maybe, that’s why the other stories didn’t do it for me, because they just simply couldn’t compare with these stories.

It’s hard to say writing style or quality when it’s simply a transcription, so I can’t get into that exactly. Do I recommend it? Yes and no. I think that maybe checking out the podcast would be a good start. If you enjoy that and want to have a collection in words, then give it a go. I wish I could just give you guys the small collection of those good stories instead, but again, it depends on the person and how they feel about such things.

Rating: 3 stars

Life in China

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Street of Eternal Happiness: The Winding Road to the Chinese Dream

by Rob Schmitz

Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz moved to Shanghai in 2010. To gain perspective on China’s new reality, he interviewed the ordinary people who lived and worked beside him. He spoke to shop owners, young professionals, beggars, and countless others about their everyday experiences, their troubled histories, and the hopes that fuel them. Schmitz forged deep relationships with the diverse array of people who make up China’s most vibrant city, their stories connected by a single street that runs through the heart of Shanghai.
I read books like this to get a full understanding of the every day lives of people around the world, because it’s the best way to really understand such countries and to see what they’re really like. And this book does just that. It didn’t hide the ugliness that surrounds the lives of the people that Rob Schmitz met and wrote about.
This book focuses on the lives of the people who happen to live on this road in Shanghai – past, present, and future. All these lives just so happen where shaped by Mao and events of the cultural revolution that follows. To this day, people are shaped by these events, young and old. As someone outside of China, I didn’t realize to what degree it still effects the lives of the people in this country and how these people live today. It talked about the cultural revolution, laws in current day China that are often talked about on the internet (such as the law about China’s youth being required to visit their parents monthly, but the posts never talking about the fact most youth move to the cities from rural China to get decent jobs and not talking about the great distances they have to travel to do just that, in one of the biggest countries in the world), arranged marriages, religion, ‘left behind children’, power of the government, and more.  It was a need to know what happened to people who lost their homes, who continued to fight an uphill battle against China’s current government that kept me reading.
I admit, I did put this book down after the first few chapters due to the fact I couldn’t get into the writing of this book at first. It was only after taking a break and coming back and seeing it more as a news article than an exciting book that was written not to inform, but as entertainment. This book wasn’t a fun read, but it was an interesting one. I often read it at night for this reason until I reached the last few chapters, in which I needed to simply know what happened next for these people who had grown on me and left me rooting for them, even if they’re causes were impossible.
Surprisingly, this book helped me remember why I wanted to become a librarian (despite the hardships that they are now facing more than ever) due to one of these people who immigrated here and had found a home in his local library, which helped him learn English and get his GED. I honestly didn’t see this happening when I picked up this book but I’m happy it had, when I had been shaken by things other librarians have written of late that they deal with daily. Because it showed the good that still comes from it, from the people you least except.
If you’re looking for a nonfiction book about modern day China, then I do recommend this book, but only to warn that it talks about very difficult subjects such as suicide, abuse, injustice, starvation, and a lot of uncomfortable topics. It’s interesting, though the writing is that of someone who writes for newspapers (the author actually writes about the Chinese economy, so it’s understandable that he might not get how to make it more interesting, but he does try and get better). It should be remembered though that this was written by an outsider, though one that had lived there for ten years. He does point this out throughout the book, which is an improvement, but such things are best said by those from there. It helps his case that he doesn’t talk about his own life except for small sections in the story. But this being the case, it might be better to read something from someone that is a native to compare this with.
Rating – 3 stars
EDIT :: Consider watching Ai Weiwei: Never Story on Netflix. It shows life in China for the Artist Ai Weiwei and other artists.