Favorite Books of 2013: Non-Fiction – Everything Else

Although not my most productive reading year ever, I did manage to read over 100 books in 2013!  I track my reading on Goodreads.  So if we’re not friends there, you should join me!

Here are my favorite non-theme-related non-fiction books of 2013.
(with apologies for the repetitiveness to my Goodreads friends as these are my edited reviews from what I posted there through the year)

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz: Although a pretty boring, plodding, repetitive read, this book is well worth reading.  Since I read it, I’ve brought it up in conversation multiple times and the techniques he gives for taking control of our choices are really helpful. We used his tips to help us order several pieces of equipment for our kitchen. Thanks to him, we finished a large order on Amazon in about 20 minutes. Had we read reviews, hemmed and hawed, etc., it probably would have taken days.  (Some day I’ll write a full blog post about this.)

The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicholas G. Carr: This book is thought-provoking and a bit scary – particularly relative to the jobs that are being permanently eliminated by the digital age.

Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling by David Crystal: I wish I had read this book while I was teaching ESOL. I don’t think I would have used any of it directly in my teaching (because if you don’t know theEnglish word for “apple”, you probably don’t need to know about the linguistic history of English spelling) but it certainly would have been good background knowledge for me.  Plus, I’m just a word geek and thoroughly enjoyed learning about why English spelling is as convoluted as it is.  (Also, for any current teachers out there, he does advance a pedagogy of spelling in the appendix. So that might be helpful to you.)

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher:  A sad, sad story but one that was well-written and really interesting. Both Nik and I were surprisingly affected by the depth of emotion in it (as in, I was practically sobbing at one point). I particularly appreciated Dreher’s honesty in analyzing both his and his sister’s faults. What a gift when we can live in close community like Ruthie did!

The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less by Amy Korst: This book has inspired Nik and me to renew our efforts to decrease our trash even more drastically than we already have. The good news is that we’re already doing just about everything in her “easy” and “moderate” categories. The bad news is that means we’ve plucked all the low-hanging fruit and are going to have to try harder! Currently, we put out one bag of trash a week – a 12-gallon bag that’s usually about half-full. Compared to what we see around our neighborhood on trash day, that’s a pretty small amount. But I know we can get it down to much closer to nothing.  So we’re going to have to move into the advanced stuff. We’re going to try composting all our food scraps (except meat), rather than just the vegetable scraps and in particular, we moved to cloth diapering at night as well as during the day. I know there’s more we need to do.

I thought this book was a nice approach to the topic and in particular, I liked how she took a “baby steps” approach to reducing how much trash you produce. She doesn’t assume that everyone will be able to do what she and her husband have done – basically reduce their trash output to a shoebox a year. Rather, she’s right that anything we do to reduce how much trash we produce is a step in the right direction.  I also hadn’t considered how the decisions we made in other parts of our lives for other reasons also are some of the main things you can do to reduce your trash – such as to cloth diaper, to make our own food, to make our own cleaning products, to not use paper products, etc.

The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills by Daniel Coyle:  Nik’s liked this book more than I did. But Nik has marked so many of the tips to use in his tennis coaching and this to me says that it’s a great book! We have to return the book to the library but I think we’re going to buy it (which we rarely do with books these days).  It’s a good one with lots of practical advice for coaching others and/or getting better at something yourself

American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation by Eric Rutkow: This took me several weeks to get through but I’m glad I read it. This is American history seen through the tree. Sometimes his “because of trees” method felt a bit stretched but overall, it was a great book.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell: As always, Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book is a fascinating read. Because of him, we’re definitely not letting our kids go to Ivy League and/or uber-selective colleges. I found that “why advantages are disadvantages” first half to be stronger than the “why disadvantages are advantages” second half.

I also enjoyed

  • Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas by Bill McKibben
  • The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Anything by Daniel Coyle (the book which birthed The Little Book of Talent)
  • Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg
  • Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn, Michael Norton
  • The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine
  • Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg
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