Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Merry Christmas Non-Fiction Shopping List

The Non-Fiction Shopping List 2012

It's the beginning of the holiday shopping season, and it's time to start checking peoples' Amazon wish lists and listen for hints. Book readers can be a squirrley bunch, though, and none more so than those who read non-fiction. Some people read non-fiction simply for the desire to learn about the world around them, while others look down at fiction readers as escapists. Whatever the reason, there's plenty of good true stories out there to be given. Here's a few, along with the suggest audience for each.

North Korea's been all over the news this year, with last winter's death of Kim Jong-Il, the rise of Kim Jong-Un and his wife Ri Sol-Ju, and the loosening of some of the restrictions there. This is a rather unique look into the most cloistered country in the world, through the eyes of an American POW.

Recommended for: the current-affairs and news junkies on your list.

This is a rare look into one of the less shiny subcultures in Japan. Writing with the pen name Oyama Shiro, this chronicles the life of a day laborer through the bubble years and following recession in Japan. Unable to fit into the salaryman role laid out for him, the narrator take the more difficult, yet ultimately more freeing life of manual labor. Living in a bunk in a boardinghouse, not only does he blame no one for his fall in status, he thanks his society for giving him the opportunity to live as he wishes, with no responsibilities to anyone but himself.

Recommended for: people struggling with the current American recession, those who believe Japan has no underside.

William Kamkwamba lived through some of the hardest times in Malawi. With his father unable to bring in a harvest, he couldn't afford to go to school. Even when he was young, though, he thought it was a shame that work and study had to end when it got dark. While trying to piece together an advanced science book in the village's library, he put together the bicycle lights he's seen around town and a picture of a windmill, and he brings a light in the darkness to his home for the first time.

Recommended for: with a strong message of self-reliance and a happy ending, this is a safe book for anyone from upper-middle-school to a grandmother.

Almost more of an art book than a real story, one of the women of the CLAMP manga writing group puts together a beautiful collection of both original and traditional kimono. She relates her experiences in wearing kimono in regular life, as well as ways to modernize the style of dress while keeping them feminine and pretty.

Recommended for: most female manga readers would appreciate the art of this book, even if they'd never dress like this themselves.

Known by many aliases since her death, this is the story of the life and family of a poor black woman in Maryland. Treated at Johns Hopkins, the cancerous cells that eventually killed her opened the door to the study of human cells outside of the body. What follows is the history of her family, who never saw a dime of the money that their mother's cells made, the scientists who used her biological material without her consent, and a fascinating look at the fields of bioethics and medical patents.

Recommended for: fans of science, civil rights and biographies alike.

China has one of the most controlled 'free' presses in the world. And yet, it's still much more relaxed than in decades past. In the 1980s, as radio was slowly able to show the country a more realistic view of itself, Xinran began a late-night call in show for women. Collected here are some of the most memorable stories from those years. Told in plain language, but with a journalist's ear for narrative, the lives of the women in this book will stay with the reader long after she closes the cover.

Recommended for: current events and history buffs, women's rights and civil rights activists, and anyone looking for poignant stories with a thread of hope woven within them.

So there it is. That should cover most of your shopping list. But again, as always, make sure to tuck that gift receipt into the front cover. Book readers are a wily bunch, and sometimes we read even the most obscure title without anyone knowing. 

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