The 2023 Nonfiction Challenge: Family Ties

Diskutera75 Books Challenge for 2023

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The 2023 Nonfiction Challenge: Family Ties

Redigerat: sep 14, 4:06 pm

Hello fellow readers.

Suzanne has been running this group and keeping track of our topics for quite some time. She has started a new job with Reuters (YEAH!) and along with her other projects in the works has found herself short on time. Therefore, since I am newly retired and my life has settled down somewhat, I am going to try to keep up with posting the new threads for each of the remaining months of the year. I will post the link the current months list at the end of the previous month, so look for the link there.

Here is a short biography of myself. I am a heartland woman. I was born and raised in a very small town (population 150) in Kansas. Thirty years ago I moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the home of the Crimson Tide and the University of Alabama where I worked as a librarian. I was promoted and tenured in that time, and as of March 1, 2023 I am a retired Librarian in the UA system. I love to read books and do needlework. I also cook, but I don't do much housekeeping and my house is a reflection of all of that. I have stacks of books sitting around covering all the spaces on furniture and floors that hold a book. What space is left is occupied by boxes of fabric, yarn, and various other forms of needlework. Clacking knitting needles are just as common of a sound in my house as is the crackle of turning pages or the smell of newly cooked food.

Even though it is the middle of the month of September, I hope that some of you have been thinking about what to read next, and have started reading books about Family Ties.

Looking forward to seeing what you discover!

(And don't forget to star *** this topic so you can find it again; the star doesn't transfer unless/until we hit 150 posts per thread...)

sep 14, 3:51 pm

The September topic is "Family Ties: A family-based memoir (so, not just any memoir, but one revolving around family members), a book about family history or exploring a family's past/roots.

In a short tour of my gargantuan TBR list I found over a hundred titles that would fit this description. There have been a spate of good family biographies and memoirs published lately. These range from the traditonal biography of a family like those published by Ron Chernow like House of Morgan or Warburgs, to the more nontraditional narrative nonfiction style found in House by the Lake by Thomas Harding or In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.

Let us know what you are reading and when you finish tell us how you liked it. It will not matter to me if you finish the book by September 30, but I will post the new page for October on October 1st. If you finish the book for this month after the first day of the next month go ahead and post your thoughts about the book here. It won't matter what day it gets read or when you get around to posting your reading, but do let us know what you thought. Half of the fun of reading a book is sharing what you learned about it. So don't hesitate, join in the topic for this month and let us see what you have found to read on this topic.

sep 14, 3:52 pm

Here is a list of the remaining topics for 2023. If you like to plan ahead go ahead and start finding a book title that will fit the coming topics, just hold that thought until I post the new thread.

September: Family Ties. A family-based memoir (so, not just any memoir, but one revolving around family members), a book about family history or exploring a family's past/roots.

October: Crimes, Mysteries, Puzzles, Enigmas. What did happen to the Princes in the Tower? Does the Bermuda Triangle exist, really? Where did DB Cooper go? Or anything puzzling that intrigues you.

November: Matters of Faith and Philosophy. Basically: books about any ideas that shape the way we live and how we interact in society.

December As You Like It. Yes, it's the other perennial bookend! A go-anywhere/read-anything challenge.

sep 14, 3:57 pm

I am going to read Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla for the September category. I placed my Inter-Library Loan Request and hope that it will be here soon. I am anxious to get started on reading this book. Modern India fascinates and repels me and I want to learn more about it. When going through my gargantuan TBR list I came across this title and I knew that it was the one to read for September. The Amazon Blurb for the book says the following.

The stunning true story of an untouchable family who become teachers, and one, a poet and revolutionary. Like one in six people in India, Sujatha Gidla was born an untouchable. While most untouchables are illiterate, her family was educated by Canadian missionaries in the 1930s, making it possible for Gidla to attend elite schools and move to America at the age of twenty-six. It was only then that she saw how extraordinary―and yet how typical―her family history truly was. Her mother, Manjula, and uncles Satyam and Carey were born in the last days of British colonial rule. They grew up in a world marked by poverty and injustice, but also full of possibility. In the slums where they lived, everyone had a political side, and rallies, agitations, and arrests were commonplace. The Independence movement promised freedom. Yet for untouchables and other poor and working people, little changed. Satyam, the eldest, switched allegiance to the Communist Party. Gidla recounts his incredible transformation from student and labor organizer to famous poet and founder of a left-wing guerrilla movement. And Gidla charts her mother’s battles with caste and women’s oppression. Page by page, Gidla takes us into a complicated, close-knit family as they desperately strive for a decent life and a more just society. A moving portrait of love, hardship, and struggle, Ants Among Elephants is also that rare thing: a personal history of modern India told from the bottom up.

sep 14, 4:00 pm

Another reader posted on the previous thread that she was reading Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by Jung Chang.

Are there any other readers for the topic this month?

I think it is a very interesting topic and just started reading my chosen title last night. I had to get it from Inter-Library Loan and it came in yesterday. So Far it looks like it will be an good read.

Redigerat: sep 14, 4:08 pm

I am trying to figure out if I have something on my TIOLI reads list for the month that would fit. . .I am overbooked as usual.

ETA: No luck there, but I did find a book in the BlackHole that would work: The Child Who Never Grew by Pearl S. Buck, which details the struggle that Buck had to understand her daughter, who was mentally retarded. Buck was one of the first ever public figures to disclose that she had a child with mental struggles.

sep 14, 4:08 pm

>5 benitastrnad:
I understand about the overbooked part and I am SURE that you have something in your Black Hole of unread titles that fits the above description. I look forward to hearing what you have selected for the topic.

sep 14, 6:02 pm

>1 benitastrnad: thank you!

I've not been reading as much nonfiction lately, but I'm still visiting, and planning on participating in the future.

sep 14, 7:15 pm

>1 benitastrnad: I would like to add my thanks. Having newly become active on the LT threads just this year, I very much hope that this group continues into the future, beyond this year. I have many nonfiction titles on my TBR shelves, and it has been fun pulling titles out that fit the various topics this year. I would like to continue that.

Unfortunately, I don't seem to have anything on hand that fits this month's topic. :-( So it looks like I'll miss this one. However, I have already identified a book to read for October, so I will join you then!

sep 15, 5:17 pm

It was me that was reading Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister, and I finished it yesterday.

I credit Jung Chang's first book, Wild Swans, with being the book that made me fall in love with reading non-fiction when I first read it in the 1990s. I remember being blown away by the story and the emotional heft of her account of three women in her family (her grandmother, mother and herself) in Mao's China. Her latest book, Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is also the account of three women who were at the heart of 20th century China, but this is a biography of the Soong sisters, who rose to enormous prominence through the men they married and the wealth they commanded.

The oldest sister, Ei-ling, was advisor to the pre-Mao president, Chiang Kai-shek, and married to HH Kung who was Chiang's prime minister for many years. She was a shrewd business woman who became incredibly rich, even while most Chinese people lived in unbearable poverty. The middle sister, Ching-ling, married the so-named 'Father of China', Sun Yat-sen, who plotted and oversaw the change in China from monarchy to republic, although his ambition for personal position and glory always outweighed any good he wished to do the country (I couldn't help but be reminded of a number of more recent politicians closer to home, frankly). Following his death, Ching-ling ended up as Mao's vice-chairman, and remained estranged from her family for the rest of her life. The youngest sister, May-ling, married Chiang Kai-shek and spent many years as China's First Lady, where she impressed many at home and abroad with her dedication, whilst also being criticised for her extravagance.

The various political machinations and upheavals in China during the 20th century were explored, along with the sisters' lives and how they fitted into what was going on politically. I have to say that none of them were very likeable - coming from a position of immense privilege and wealth, they seemed removed from the people they purported to be serving, and were keen to maintain their power and prestige. Because of this I didn't experience the same emotional depth that I had found in Wild Swans, but I think this is also due to the genre - I am coming to the conclusion that whilst I enjoy both autobiography and memoir, biography is something I find much harder to connect with. I guess I just prefer hearing people tell their own stories, rather than somebody else's. That said though, this book always kept my interest and I learnt lots, it's clearly meticulously researched.

(also just wanted to note: for a book from Penguin Random House, there were way too many typos to be acceptable, especially towards the end, it's like the proofreader just gave up)

sep 15, 5:22 pm

I should add, for next month's GeoCAT challenge in the Category Challenge group I am planning on reading another book about China, 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, which looks at Chinese history and art through the lens of his own and his father's story. So when I've read that I'll include a review here too.

sep 16, 12:56 am

Thanks so much for picking this up, Benita... Have just finished a grueling week, trying to get used to the frantic pace of not just daily deadlines but hourly deadlines at a newswire. It has literally been decades since I've done this. Which probably explains why I only finished two or three books this week instead of seven or so, lol...

sep 18, 12:14 am

>10 Jackie_K:
I think you hit upon the important difference between biography and memoir. It is very hard to resist the immediacy of memoir. However, I wish that sometimes authors would provide some of the documentation that biography requires. It might help to prove the author's claims in some cases. Memoir is truly a genre that requires that the buyer be ware while reaping the benefits of the authors interpretation of events.

sep 25, 9:17 pm

Where are the grown-ups? was the family history that I read. The author combined a memoir of her family as she was growing up with the account of her mother’s family which had come before the present day. That explained a lot of the strange habits in the present day generation. It was well done.

sep 26, 10:58 pm

I am still working on Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla and am finding the tone of this family history to be very strident, shrill, and melodramatic, but the history of the communist movement in southern India is fascinating when told from this point-of-view. I will keep reading it and hope that I finish in 4 days. (doubtful - but I will try.)

okt 2, 4:30 pm

I have not finished reading Ants Among Elephants but should do so in the next day or two.

Redigerat: okt 2, 5:14 pm

I did not finish Alfred & Emily by Doris Lessing (2008). Lessing attempts to "re-tell" her parents' lives, which were completely altered and forever shadowed by the Great War.

The first half of the book is a novella in which Lessing imagines her parents' lives if the War had never happened. The second half of the book is a nonfiction memoir of her parents' lives as she knew them. I couldn't get past the novella, which I found confusing. I skimmed the nonfiction part, and it seemed more about Lessing than about her parents, so I decided to DNF the book.

Question--will there be a new thread for October, or will we be using this one?

okt 3, 12:39 pm

I'm sorry everybody. I set up the new thread yesterday and forgot to post it here. Here is the link to the new thread.

Please continue to post your reactions to the books you read this month here on this thread.

okt 3, 12:41 pm

>17 kac522:
That is interesting - the combining of fact and fiction and calling it nonfiction. It has happened before in the book world. I ran into it in the fiction book I just read. The author is retelling the events of a famous siege and keeps taking the reader into a dream world inside the commander's head. That is ok since this is fiction, but I think many readers will think that the dream world events were the actual events. They will get confused about what is real and what is part of the work of fiction.

okt 3, 12:42 pm

I read The Child Who Never Grew by Pearl S. Buck for this challenge and thought it was very good as Buck talks about the struggles she encountered in having to figure out what was best for her mentally challenged daughter in a times when such things were simply not discussed. Recommended reading for everyone whether Buck's situation applies or not.

okt 3, 3:48 pm

I finished Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla last night and I am not sure what to make of it. Is it a screed? If so what is it shouting against? Poverty? The Caste System? Discrimination and prejudice? Or is it simply the biography of a disfunctional family? It might be that the book is all that.

I found out about this book because it had good reviews in Publisher's Weekly. It is published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, who is a smaller publisher known for its discriminating taste and predilection for odd, but exquisitely written books of all genre's and appeals. It is a year by year account of the rise of an untouchable family from 1945 into the 1970's when the author immigrated to the US.

It is poorly written with crude sentence structure and overwrought melodramatic descriptions of unimportant things, events, and people who are totally not relevant to the story. The melodrama and purple prose just got in the way of the story and finally got boring.

The story that the author was trying to tell was essentially a rags to riches story that does bear witnessing and should be told. What this family managed to do in two generations is amazing. One sister manages to get an education, becomes a teacher, and raises a family in the face of adversity, prejudice, and Jim Crow laws and customs that work against her. One brother, gets and education and becomes an avowed communist who moves into party leadership in that area of south India. The other brother, who is the local communist party enforcer eventually earns his college degree as well and becomes a teacher. Their struggles to become education, with the caste system working against them all the time, is a story of tenacity and determination. However, it gets lost in all the descriptions of the myriad family squabbles that are NOT part of the main story. What this book needed was a good editor who would work with this author and tell the tale in a succinct manner that would make this extraordinary story accessible to the American audience.

Redigerat: okt 3, 7:38 pm

>19 benitastrnad: Doris Lessing makes it quite clear in the beginning note in (Alfred and Emily) as to which is fiction (the first half) and which is memoir (the second half), and there is a clear break in the book to separate these two. That's why I was drawn to it, but I didn't find the writing all that compelling in the first half, and from what I skimmed, it seemed more about the author's feelings about her parents, rather than a straight-forward biography.