July BAND: Favorite Type of Non-Fiction

Bloggers’ Alliance of Non-Fiction Devotees (BAND) is a project to “advocate non-fiction as a non-chore,” and is a joint effort with Amy, Anastasia, Ash, Joy, KimKit, and myself. Any and everyone is welcome (and encouraged) to participate! 

This month, Kim asks:
What is one of your favorite types of nonfiction to read? OR What is one of your favorite nonfiction topics to read about?

It took a bit of pondering, but I finally came up with a way to describe my favorite non-fiction: forgotten history. I use this phrase to describe both the logical implications (history that has been lost to modern knowledge) and a more imprecise, general idea of history that isn’t discussed as often.

Some of my favorite books on various types of “forgotten history” that I’ve read this year:

  • Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class edited by Michelle Tea (2004): A collection of essays from women who grew up in poverty, including submissions from Dorothy Allison (who I adore always) and esteemed poet Eileen Myles. I originally read this book a few years ago, and it has a special place in my heart (and bookshelf) for being the first book I ever read that included testimonials from folks who came from similar class backgrounds. Non-sensationalized, first-hand accounts of growing up in poverty are very difficult to find–especially ones so hard-hitting and well written–and therefore, to me, fall under the umbrella of “forgotten history.”
  • Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade by Justin Spring (2010): Samuel Steward was cooler than you and everyone you knew. He was buddies with Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. He went out of his way to have sex with Lord Alfred Douglas, then a very old man, because Douglas had had sex with Steward’s idol, Oscar Wilde. Steward worked closely with Alfred Kinsey, with whom Steward shared the meticulous records of his thousands of sexual encounters. Despite being all of the things mentioned in the title of this Lambda Award winning biography (and more), Steward’s fascinating life had been left to a dusty attic of history (no, really, all of his papers were stored in an attic when Spring started his research) until the publication of this inspring, life-altering (for me!) book.
  • The Other Eighties: A Secret History of America In the Age of Reagan by Bradford Martin (2011): I was born in 1986 (don’t groan, wiser-than-me folks), so my memory of the 80s is mostly Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Rainbow Bright. Even now, as a certified adult and admitted history nerd, I know basically the “beltway wisdom” about the 80s (and, of course, what I’ve since gathers from Murder, She Wrote. Note to all: Soviets are scary). The Other Eighties, a brief, academic (but thoroughly engaging) text, explores some of the subcultures of the 1980s and exposes some of the forgotten history of the era, including an excellent chapter on ACT UP!, a radical queer organization that was highly influential in dispelling myths and shining attention on the AIDS crisis in the US. A must read for anyone who knows all the words to “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake.
  • The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture by Joshua Kendall (2011): The best part of this book is that it aready has FORGOTTEN in the title so I don’t feel like I have to argue as hard that it’s “forgotten history.” Noah Webster was a fascinating, grumpy man who wanted to complete his American dictionary in peace. Fellow Americans, you can thank him for getting rid of those unnecessary ‘u’s in words like FLAVOUR and COLOUR and DICKUISH. Counties who are or were at one time under the rule of Great Britian, you can blame Noah Webster for bastardizing the English language. Blame has been given.

So, folks. Any books on forgotten history that I need to read?

21 Comments

Filed under BAND: Bloggers' Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees

21 responses to “July BAND: Favorite Type of Non-Fiction

  1. I seem to be recommending this book left and right this week, but I encourage you to read Lakota Woman. It’s a biography of one of the female leaders of the Native American civil rights movement in the 1960s. It seems sometimes that the Native fight for equality gets forgotten when talking about the 1960s.

  2. To continue with the dictionary theme, have you read The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester? It’s an amazing hidden history of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

    Great post! “Forgotten history” is a wonderful term. I’m going to keep my eye out for more of them.

    • I actually own The Professor and the Madman (given to me through the Book Blogger Holiday swap, actually!) but I haven’t read it yet. I should probably get on it! Sounds like it would have been a great follow up to the Noah Webster biography.

      • When I bought the Noah Webster book last week I had the same thought…it would make a great companion to TPatM, which I thought was a fascinating story. I’ve read a bit of Noah, but since I haven’t read a thing this week, I’m afraid the poor boy is still in college.

  3. Ash

    Awesome selection of books! I’ve actually never heard of any of these but they look fantastic.

  4. Oh, boy. “The Other Eighties” is now on my TBR list. (I realized I actually know all the words to “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake. Don’t tell anyone.)

  5. “Without a Net” sounds awesome. A great list of books, overall! I still haven’t read “The Secret Historian” but it’s on my list of books to get to… sometime :)

  6. I love the idea of BAND. Thanks for posting about it. Reading more non-fiction is a goal of mine. “Forgotten history” – interesting title. Its nothing I’ve ever checked out. Now I want too.

  7. I unhelpfully can’t think of any good examples, but love how you describe your favorite type. Great sounding books too!

  8. I too am a bit of a history nerd. I just love learning little bits about history that others don’t know. It can be a great conversation starter! These books all look fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. My husband just finished a book and has been talking about how much he liked the forgotten history aspect of it — so, of course, I thought of you.

    The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America by Russell Shorto

    There are some really great “I didn’t know that!” moments from this book that Rick shared with me. My favorite was why Americans use the word “cookie” instead of “biscuit” like other English-speaking countries do.

    • Well, we call them cookies because they’re cookies, not biscuits, obviously. ;) That book sounds great, I’m adding it to my TBR list! Thank your husband for me!

  10. I was born in the early eighties so I know what you mean about the ’80’s being Sesame Street memories – I remember hearing a Madonna song on the radio and thinking she was saying “I am a Cheerios girl.” Hey, cereal is very important to a kindergartener. Anyway, great choice for the discussion post! The book I think of that might fit this bill is Defiance by Nechama Tec, about the Bielski partisan group that resisted the Nazi occupation in Poland / Belarus. It might be less forgotten because of the recent movie made about it, but the book is great for all of Tec’s interviews with people who were there.