20 Nonfiction Books to Read and Discuss | Read It Forward

“The secret to life,” wrote Stanley Elkin, “is specialization,” and I think the same is true for conversation. Nowadays, anyone can comment on the latest article or news story foisted on the world by social media, but the most fascinating discussions come from deeper and more specialized sources: books. To read a well-written nonfiction book on any given subject is to arm you with a richer insight into its topic, so the next time you’re at a party or out with friends, you can actually tell them something they didn’t know. From George Washington to superbugs to sex, here are 20 nonfiction books to read by authors from whose expertise we can all socially benefit. Continue reading…

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7 Anthologies to Broaden Your Perspective | Read It Forward

Books, as we all know, offer views into other worlds, journeys through unknown territories, engagements with unheard points of view, intimacies with the unfamiliar, and confrontations with the oppositional. They are transits into the other, guiding us—sometimes comfortably, sometimes perilously—through a world too big for us to travel in one lifetime. Through books we become voyeurs, co-conspirators, sidekicks, tag-alongs, psychics, and quantum leapers. They are our windows looking out over everything.

Anthologies go even further: they present a symphony of voices, ruminating on a single subject, a common theme, a unifying thread. They acknowledge in practice the truth that no one author can write the story for an entire group, so they collect disparate yet connected pieces to hint at the bewildering complexities of some of our most pressing issues. They amalgamate work from myriad backgrounds into, if not a representative whole then a satisfying unit that scratches at the idea of representation, like puzzles pieces that when put together form another, larger puzzle piece. Anthologies bring together writers and thinkers into a volume, and by doing so bring together readers into a necessary view of distant horizons. Continue reading…

Learners-830x625Clever Gifts for Lifelong Learners | Read It Forward

With so many how-to websites and YouTube instructionals out there, we often forget that books can still be used to teach us things—like practical, everyday things, as well as the weird, historical, and out-of-this-world. For those who’ve never lost that sense of curiosity, we present gifts for lifelong learners: books on all manner of topics, from science to history to economics and more. Continue reading…

(Photo credit: Matt McCarty)

AudiobookLover-830x62510 Gifts for Audiobook Lovers | Read It Forward

There’s no wrong way to read a book—in print, on an eReader, or through audio. Audiobooks, for instance, can offer things that other forms simply can’t. With a talented performer at the narrating helm, an audiobook can enhance the depth of the characters through voice, capture the rhythm of the prose, and emphasize the emotional subtext of important scenes. Continue reading…

(Photo credit: Matt McCarty)

RIF-Back2SchoolForYourBrain-1200x900-830x62516 Back-to-School Books for Your Brain | Read It Forward

Every September there appears—in stores, in advertisements, in themed issues of magazines—a bewildering profusion of all things “back to school.” These are aimed, obviously, at children: to sell supplies, fashion, food, and whatever other product can somehow be categorized into the seemingly forever-growing category.

But here at Read It Forward, we thought, “What about everyone else? Are we not continually educating ourselves? Isn’t it our duty (especially right now) to always remain students? Shouldn’t we, in some sense, go back to school, too?” Continue reading…

170720_FCiccolella_ReadItForward_FINAL_REV-900x675How One Becomes What One Is: 7 Memoirs of Artistic Development | Read It Forward

I’ve read a lot of memoirs by writers—in fact, it’s probably one of my favorite categories of literature. First of all, there is the sense of seeing what life is like for someone you’ve only known about through writing and/or their celebrity. Secondly—and this comes almost as a consequence of the first—it can be an absolute delight getting the inside scoop on other writers and figures of note. Think, for instance, of Ernest Hemingway talking shit about Ford Maddox Ford in A Moveable Feast, his memoir of Paris. Or consider the juiciest bits of Stephen King’s On Writing, as in, e.g., that his novel Misery is a metaphor for cocaine addiction (which makes perfect sense when you apply it to the narrative!). Memoirs can function like literary tabloids, revealing the underbelly of the written word. Continue reading…

Image: Elsa Jenna

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Strange Gods, Odd Ducks, & Other Unreliable Narrators | Read It Forward

Obviously though Talese fully intends the reader to take Foos’s story as true: from the no-frills candor (what one might call a Talesean trademark) of the opening line—“I know a married man with two children who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur”—to the implied ickiness of Foos’s manuscript, the book practically drools over Foos’s every illicit description, a creepiness that is only palpable if the reader 100% believes that Foos actually saw (and, sometimes, did) the things he wrote about. My point isn’t to defend Talese here (though nor is it to decry him either) but to point out that The Voyeur’s Motel wouldn’t have been that different, content-wise, if instead of taking Foos’s claims for gospel they had been explicitly doubted throughout—but doubted with a growing and gross sense that he actually did do a lot of the shit he said he did and can to a certain degree prove it. The discreetly camouflaged vents Foos claimed to use for his purposes really exist, for instance, and Talese even joins the voyeur on one of his invasions into his guests’ privacy. Knowing these facts, his inconsistencies and half-truths wouldn’t be detractions from the efficacy of the narrative but a pivotal component its very vitality, as it doesn’t really matter if we believe that Foos spied on these particular people doing these exact acts—what matters is that we believe that Foos saw things like those. Our imaginations will do a far better job than reality, anyway. Continue reading…

9780307908797A Brief History of the Future: On James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History The Millions

This is my favorite epigraph attribution from all my published essays:

“Time exists in order that everything doesn’t happen all at once, and space exists so that it doesn’t all happen to you.”

Susan Sontag, quoting “an old riff I’ve always imagined to have been invented by some graduate student of philosophy,” but part of which (i.e., the first half) is often attributed to John Archibald Wheeler (who “admitted to having found it scrawled in a Texas men’s room”), Woody Allen, and Albert Einstein, but which actually appeared before all of these figures were supposed to have said or written it in a novel by Ray Cummings from 1922 called The Girl in the Golden Atom and is spoken by a character named Big Business Man, so I guess one can only really credit Sontag (or, I suppose, the “old riff” to which she refers) with the part about space (which, admittedly, is a totally brilliant and enriching addendum; really makes the phrase, don’t you think?), and if you think this quote attribution is convoluted and confusing well then hold onto your hats, there, buddy, because shit’s about to get real weird…Continue reading…

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7 Big, Fat Epic Nonfiction Books That Are Totally Worth Your Time and Energy | 
Read It Forward
So in the interest of narrowing down the hoard of door-stopping tree-killers, I’ve compiled a list of 7 recent mammoth nonfiction books that stretch from the beginning of time to the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, and that cover comedians and filmmakers, heroes and—my personal favorite—heretics. Each one is really, really long, I’m not gonna lie—the shortest on the list is 425 pages while the longest clocks in at 820—but trust me when I say that they are extremely well-written and also just fun to read, richly absorbing and endlessly edifying. They plunge you into the depths of fascinating figures and revolutions both social and intellectual, from the complex savagery of mass murder and those who commit it, to the vagaries of humor and those who make it, from that which destroys us to that which heals us.