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Weekly Reviews: Non-narrative Nonfiction
OK, I’ve talked about this before (and I’ll probably talk about it again!). Not all nonfiction is narrative, and narrative non-fiction isn’t the only kind of non-fiction that teens will read. When last we spoke, I offered some statistics to (possibly) back that claim up. Today, I’m here to offer something much more substantial: three non-narrative nonfiction books to recommend to teens.
First up is a starred review for John Corvino’s What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? It doesn’t get much less narrative than a philosophical treatise, and yet for anyone interested in the topic this is an absolute page-turner. Corvino’s style is eminently engaging and peppered with jokes and anecdotes. But mostly, this is simply a hugely important book. For some teens, who have grown up in more tolerant times, the question of the title may be genuinely confusing–why would anyone find anything wrong with homosexuality? For these, Corvino offers a fair-handed explication of the anti-homosexual position from which he starts each chapter. For others, who have yet to form their opinions, Corvino’s arguments are thorough yet easy to understand.
Next up is another philosophically questioning book: Emily Anthes’s Frankenstein’s Cat asks her readers to decide just how far we are willing to live with animal experimentation and genetic modification. Like Corvino’s, Anthes’s book is one that engages the reader not with stories (though there are some of those too) but with questions and research. Also like Corvino’s book, Frankenstein’s Cat can equally be used as curriculum support for teens writing a paper on the issue, or as recreational reading for those genuinely concerned.
And finally, we have an example of the most prototypical of non-narrative nonfiction–the trivia book. Peter Meltzer’s So You Think You Know Baseball? is only for serious baseball fans, but for them it is an absolute bonanza of interesting facts about the rules of the sport. I have been a devoted fan since I was 8 years old and I didn’t know the answer to half the quirky rules-based questions Meltzer poses. With the baseball season in full swing, this is a perfect book to browse through on a lazy summer day.
* CORVINO, John. What’s Wrong with Homosexuality?. 224p. notes. Oxford Univ. Mar. 2013. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9780199856312.
Adult/High School–Corvino has been debating the title question with hundreds of people since his teens, and here he collects what he sees as the most common and most powerful arguments he’s seen against homosexuality and sets about to absolutely demolish each in turn. Starting with what would seem to be the most intractable argument, the argument from Biblical authority, and moving through arguments about the supposed risk of homosexual activity, natural law, genetics, and the slippery-slope argument, Corvino offers succinct examples of his opposition’s position and then lays out counter arguments grounded in basic logic and rational reasoning. He admits that his arguments are highly unlikely to change the minds of the most committed opponents of homosexuality, but for those who are questioning, or simply have an open mind, this book should be an eye-opener. Meanwhile, for those already committed to gay rights. who may think, as Corvino puts it, that “we shouldn’t even be having this discussion,” the author explains why the conversation is still necessary, offers a view into just what opponents see as so bad about homosexuality, and gives allies some excellent rhetorical tricks to use. Finally, for teens who have not be introduced to formal logic, this book is an easy first introduction to the basic concepts of how to construct a logical argument. A must read.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA
ANTHES, Emily. Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts. 256p. notes. bibliog. index. Scientific American. Mar. 2013. Tr $26. ISBN 9780374158590.
Adult/High School–Humans have been genetically modifying animals for millennia, quite possibly starting with the “evolution” of the grey wolf to our modern-day dog breeds. And despite the health problems that purebreds often have thanks to the limited gene pool available, few people have a problem with that kind of modification. In fact, pet lovers often think that they’d love a clone of Fluffy/Fido when their beloved companion passes on–technology now possible for those with enough money, even though clones may not look or act like the original. While we’re not at Jurassic Park quite yet, scientists are even capable of successfully resurrecting extinct animals. And certainly there’s nothing ethically wrong with GloFish, zebra fish modified to glow vibrant greens, blues, reds, and pinks under a black light. But where do we draw the line? Frankenstein’s Cat explores these and many other issues–mice in China, modified to be born with various ailments and prone to problems so that scientists can study and cure them; pigs bred for the valves that can save heart patients; and the use of a prosthetic fin on a dolphin,; not to mention “Neuticles” for castrated animals; and more. Written in a chatty style, this book will fascinate not only students looking for ethical issues to debate or where science is going in terms of animals (or what PETA might get involved with next), but anyone interested in the topic of the intersection of humans and animals. The notes at the end are extensive, leading to many great resources for further research.–Laura Pearle, The Center for Fiction, New York City
MELTZER, Peter. So You Think You Know Baseball?: A Fan’s Guide to the Official Rules. 384p. Norton. June 2013. pap. $16.95. ISBN 978-0393344387.
Adult/High School–What happens when a baseball gets lodged in the catcher’s mask? Is it possible to record a triple play without a defensive player touching the ball? What is the penalty for sending the wrong player up to bat? In this meticulously researched, but always fun, book, Meltzer sets out to answer hundreds of questions like these about baseball, in the form of trivia questions for readers to answer based on real situations taken from the game’s history. The entries run from truly absurd minor league shenanigans to some of the most famous and infamous plays in history, and Meltzer somehow manages to cover just about every rule, arcane or otherwise. Despite the book’s impeccable organization–it is divided neatly into sections on the rules on the field, specialized field situations, and the rules of scoring, with each section then further divided into chapters on every conceivable aspect of the topic–the sheer number of rules, hypotheticals, and names introduced ensure that this is not a book to be read in a single sitting. Instead, it is to be pored over and used to quiz other fans. But if there is any group as obsessed with minute trivia as baseball fans, it is teens. Give this book to a fan and you might make yourself a friend for life.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA
Filed under: Nonfiction
About Mark Flowers
Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark
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