The Best Non-Fiction Books of 2005

by PopMatters Staff

3 Jan 2006


A Man Without a Country
by Kurt Vonnegut

>(Seven Stories Press)

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” This sentiment of Kurt Vonnegut’s is one of a number of missives he assails the political and cultural landscape with in A Man Without Country, and one he has never failed to live up to. Book after book, Vonnegut’s soul has grown, and now in his eighth decade of life is as feisty as ever, taking on homeland security alerts, Bush and his cronies, and just about anything else flying in the face of his common sense. A Man Without a Country is a pithy volume of whimsical attitude, a testament of waning years, and incisive cuts that are smaller, but still sting.
Shandy Casteel Amazon

The Year of Magical Thinking
by Joan Didion


Almost 40 years after her breakthrough book of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion once again proves she’s an unsurpassed prose stylist. This penetrating meditation on grief, loss, and her life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, who died suddenly while their daughter Quintana Roo battled a life-threatening illness in a hospital ICU, is a harrowing portrait of grief executed with surgical precision. It’s difficult to imagine a love as intense as Didion and Dunne’s, a couple who rarely spent a night apart, and it’s even more devastating to read as Didion travels back through her memories of their life together and faces the finality of their separation. Didion has long-earned her position as a leading lady of American letters, but in this latest book, her writing is as sharp and insightful as ever.
Anne Yoder Amazon

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
by Jeff Chang

>(St. Martin’s Press)

More a social history of hip-hop and its legacy than a musical one, Jeff Chang’s lengthy Can’t Stop Won’t Stop nonetheless offers perhaps the most vivid portrait of the birth of hip-hop yet. The book’s early chapters unfold this story in a dramatic way, with the weight of a novel yet at the same time factually on the mark. As the book gets to the years when hip-hop blows up, Chang chooses to rein in his tale and focus on specific moments when hip-hop intersected with, and affected, the larger public dialogue. In doing so he chooses his tale and tells it well, filling each chapter with not just recollections but ideas and insights, while opening the door for others to tell their side of the story.
Dave Heaton Amazon

Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times
by Kevin Smokler (editor)

>(Basic Books)

Bookmark Now is far from a sky-is-falling treatise, but there is a seismic shift occurring as Kevin Smokler points out in the introduction, “The world of books will be totally different tomorrow than it is today, and it will happen much sooner than we think.” For his part, Smokler rounded up a group of new and established young writers to talk shop, and the resulting essays are amusing, stirring, and most of all, readable. The pieces tackle everything from the writing life to what the future holds for both author and reader. Standouts like Paul Collins’ “121 Years of Solitude” and Meghan Daum’s “If I Had a Stammer” are wonderful. Bookmark Now gives us several dozen looks at experienced literature and the individualized shared reading of writers who are trying and making their marks right now.
Shandy Casteel PopMatters review Amazon

The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat
by Bob Woodward

>(Simon & Schuster)

Woodward’s Secret Man is fascinating — not just for its revelations about super-source Mark Felt, known as Deep Throat, but for it’s multitude of detail on exactly how Felt’s messages were delivered and received. Mind-bending secret trails and pot plants shifting in windows were images of the sort only fantasists could have imagined and, yet, that’s the way it happened. As Woodward explains, it’s the only way it could have happened. Woodward’s is a story of right place, right time. It’s also about an enduring, though strained, friendship between men with decent goals. Woodward’s book is sensitive, loyal, and above all, thoroughly riveting.
Nikki Tranter Amazon

Wrecking Crew: The Really Bad News Griffith Park Pirates
by John Albert


John Albert brings the detritus of Hollywood’s dark side into fine focus with his light-handed, but resonating memoir of a baseball team comprised of punk-rock addicts, struggling actors, and a closeted cross-dresser. In a book that could be nothing more than a “rejects make good” cliché, Albert explores the issues of community and the younger generations’ addiction to ironic attachment. Yes, Albert’s baseball team wins the championship, and yes, the sordid players do all learn a valuable lesson, but there is so much more about the players’ lives to unravel and Albert does it with grace.
Jodie Janella Horn PopMatters review Amazon

by David B.


French cartoonist David B. is like Art Spiegelman on steroids. Like Spiegelman, he relays intensely personal experiences, draws with excruciating detail and is obsessed with history’s effects on the present. But David B.‘s debut graphic novel, Epileptic, is huge, sprawling, and messy, while Spiegelman’s work (even if similarly chaotic) is much leaner and focused. Epileptic chronicles the writer’s childhood and young adulthood growing up with an older epileptic brother, and the struggles his brother brought to his family. David B. paints an extraordinarily complex relationship between the two brothers, one fraught with guilt, anger, hurt and confusion. With the Algerian War as a backdrop to the drama, as well as the histories of both his family and his nation, David B.‘s adolescence is a particularly painful one, but one filled with moments of poignancy and beauty. It’s an exhaustive, disturbing, and eloquent portrayal of a family in a time of crisis.
Raquel Laneri Amazon

//Mixed media

Jason Molina's Mythological Palette, Warts and All

// Re:Print

"Osmon lights the oil lamps on the process of Molina’s creative wonder, from toddling on the shores of Lake Erie to the indie folk pedestal he so deservedly sits upon today.

READ the article