Top three questions that customers asked me during the incalculable hours I spent standing behind the registers in bookstores:
Q. I was in here about a month ago and you had a book on the corner of this table. Do you still have it? I think the jacket was blue.
A. [No answer. Suggest the latest John Grisham/Sue Grafton/James Patterson book, whichever was closest to blue.]
Q. Do you have that book that was on TV?
Q. Where do you keep the nonfiction?
A. Everywhere, man.
Nonfiction, man. It is defined by what it is not. It’s both meaningless and whatever you want it to be (except fiction). Somehow, it is also my favorite category. Here is a closer look at three of our picks for the best books of the year in Nonfiction.
|Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel
How do you make war personal? It’s not easy, especially when writing about a war that the public has basically given up on (or was never that interested in to begin with). Descriptions of violence that most of us will never see can lose their potency and trail off toward the abstract; it happens in even the best novels and nonfiction. But what David Finkel has done is to follow the troops home from Iraq to cover their “after-war.” Their struggles and suffering back in the States are easier for us to relate to, and Thank You For Your Service is an absolutely mesmerizing account of the pain and hope that they carry from day-to-day. Learn More
Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia
When Robert "Papa Pilgrim" Hale, his wife Country Rose, and their 15 children moved into the old mining outpost of McCarthy, Alaska, they were welcomed as kindred–if eccentric–souls by the ghost town’s few residents. But after purchasing an old mining claim in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Hale chafed against the regulations that came with being a inholder, and the humble hermit became a lightning rod for property-rights activists in Alaska and beyond. Expanding on his original reporting for the Anchorage Daily News, Kizzia has written a nearly unbelievable tale of narcissism and religious mania, building toward a denouement reminiscent of Night of the Hunter and Robert Mitchum’s own creepy and deranged preacher. This book somehow flew under the radar this year, but everyone who’s taken my recommendation on it has had their mind blown. Learn More
Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm by Monte Reel
In 1856, the gorilla was still the quasi-mythical njena of the Western imagination: a savage, bloodthirsty beast dwelling deep in the forests of equatorial Africa. Paul Du Chaillu set out to bag one in the name of science–and as a shortcut to academic credibility–but he could not have foreseen that he and his stuffed specimens would become unlikely pawns at the center of the burgeoning debate over Darwin’s theory of evolution. In the meantime, Du Chaillu’s reputation as a death-defying killer of monsters granted him celebrity status and lifted the often bewildered hero to rarified levels of London society. With the unlikeliest of heroes at its center, Between Man and Beast is a fast-paced and fun blend of adventure and history. Learn More
NB: Though Between Man and Beast is now available in paperback (and I’ve linked to it here), I’ve used the hardcover image for its awesome depiction of an angry gorilla bending a rifle barrel in half.
|Read more in our free Best Books of 2013: Reader’s Guide, which you can download now for your Kindle. It features interviews, essays, excerpts, and other fun extras about the year’s top 20 titles: Donna Tartt talks about her eating habits while writing The Goldfinch; David Finkel discusses the emotional impact following the 2-16 infantry battalion in Thank You for Your Service; and much more.|