Non-Fiction Mini Reviews

Posted December 28, 2014 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 12 Comments

Non-Fiction Mini Reviews
by Clive Thompson, Dana Goodyear, David Sedaris, Leslie Jamison, Peter Mendelsund
Genres: Non-Fiction

There are only a few days left of 2014, and I’m desperately scrambling to wrap up my reviews! I read a few fantastic non-fiction titles this year that I didn’t get around to reviewing, so I’d like to briefly give them some love before the year ends.

Nonfiction Mini Reviews

Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear

Journalist Dana Goodyear dives head first into foodie culture, giving readers a glimpse into the fascinating community of people who push culinary boundaries, from the raw food movement to molecular gastronomy to eating psychologically difficult foods. It’s a fascinating, informative book, but — ironically — I wouldn’t recommend eating *while* you read it, unless you have a stomach of steel.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

This collection of essays about the various ways we respond to one another’s pain was a surprise hit earlier this year. Jamison asks some interesting questions about what it means to be empathetic, how we should relate to someone’s pain, and whether feeling another’s pain is an essentially selfish act. Her writing is lovely and thought-provoking, but something I couldn’t quite put my finger on kept me from really loving this collection.

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

Peter Mendelsund, a leading book cover designer, uses a unique format to dissect how we turn physical text into mental images when we read books. This little book is filled with gorgeous illustrations that drive home his points, making it an interesting object to hold. It wasn’t quite as enlightening or thought-provoking as I had hoped it would be, but it was an enjoyable read.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

This essay collection, inspired by Sedaris’ move from New York to Paris, was the first Sedaris book I’ve ever read, and I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped to. Although his writing is funny, I found his essays to be a bit too formulaic for my taste.

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Lives for the Better by Clive Thompson

I know you’ve heard it: the ubiquitous moaning and groaning about how our reliance on technology is shortening our attention spans, crippling our memories, and making us dumber in general. Clive Thompson combats this viewpoint with fascinating real-world examples of how technology is changing the way we think, work, connect, and create for the better. I used up nearly an entire pack of post-it flags in this book! It’s really fantastic.


  • I have Anything That Moves on my TBR…and will heed your warning of not reading it around mealtimes! I also listened to Me Talk Pretty One Day this year (only my 2nd Sedaris) and thought it was a decent listen, but not earth-shattering like people said. Maybe it was also just fine because I listened to it while training for a half marathon…putting anything I listen to during that time at an immediate disadvantage!

    • Anything That Moves just made me a little queasy while I was eating sometimes!

      I also wonder if the Sedaris was a let-down because he’s SO hyped? I was expecting brilliance, and it wasn’t AS good as had expected.

  • Kerry M

    I’ve read none of these and want to read all of these… great post! I’m especially interested in The Empathy Exams; essays are relatively new-to-me, but since I tend to love short stories, I figured they could click for me.

  • I wasn’t blown over by The Empathy Exams, either. I think it was a little too hyped for me. I loved many of the essays individually, but it just didn’t gel as a total collection the way I was expecting it to.

  • I soooo want to read Anything That Moves. I’m just a sucker for food books…gross or otherwise. lol

    • It’s so good. And also stomach-turning 😛 (I like to think I’m a fairly adventurous eater, but duckling embryo in the shell? No thanks.)

  • These all sound interesting to me, although I might be a bit too squeamish for Anything That Moves. I’m not a vegetarian, but I do try to avoid eating things that too obviously used to be alive, like lobster or shrimp, so it’s probably not the book for me. I’ve read mixed things about The Empathy Exams, but enough good things that I think I’ll give it a try and see what I think myself.

    • Some of the food descriptions might bother you, then. But otherwise, Anything That Moves is Fascinating.

      I’ll be interested to hear what you think of The Empathy Exams!

  • I’m still waiting for Empathy Exams to become available from the library and can’t wait to read it. You’ve got a good batch of books here 🙂