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, Kim, Kit, 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?