John Grisham on Our Best-selling Non-fiction of 2006? Strange, but True!

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Most years the non-fiction lists are dominated by pretentious political rants and ponderous biographies but not in 2006. This year’s bestsellers are surprisingly up to date and deal with things that the average person faces every day. That’s why we think you’ll like this year’s choices for the top five non-fiction books:

5 Wisdom of Our Fathers

In 2004, Tim Russert published a memoir about his relationship with his dad called Big Russ and Me. Besides its jump to the top of the bestseller lists, the book’s release had another consequence that Russert didn’t expect. He began to get piles of fan mail in which men and women told him stories about their relationships with their fathers, including the best advice they’d received and the lessons they’d learned. In Wisdom of Our Fathers Russert collected some of the best of these letters and interspersed them with a few more of his own memories as well as interviews with people such as Maria Shriver and Justice Antonin Scalia about their fathers. Because if you’re the host of Meet The Press, you get to do that kind of thing.

4 The Omnivore’s Dilemma

The omnivore’s dilemma refers to the choice that needs to be made when a species is able to eat multiple types of food. Which is best? For some omnivore species, and for many people around the world, the decision is pretty simple: You eat what’s there. But for most people in the United States, the choice is complicated and we are constantly being thrown new pressure and new information about which is best. In this book, Michael Pollan explores what are really behind the different food choices we have by tracing four different types of American meals carefully down to their source. He manages to avoid the trap of becoming preachy by pointing out that even the healthiest choices we have are hyped up more than they deserve. He traces a McDonalds burger, a meal made with only organic food, a meal made only with food grown locally and a meal made entirely out of food that Pollan hunts and gathers for himself. While we can see that hunting a boar after scavenging for wild mushrooms may not be a time investment that most of us can make, it was a nice touch on Pollan’s part. It makes the whole thing more of an experiment and less of a lecture especially since he describes his adventures in such entertaining detail.

3 State of Denial

This is the third volume of Bob Woodward’s carefully observation of the most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, following Bush at War and Plan of Attack. In the first two books, Woodward was carefully to give not indictment and let every action and work he could get from his impressive list of sources speak for itself. Although technically he follows the same strategy here, he seems to have let loose. Perhaps now that he’s on the last book in the set he no longer fears losing his sources because the West Wing and the Pentagon don’t look like the upstanding and efficient places they should be. The picture he paints of President George W. Bush has changed radically but Woodward’s style has remained consistent which perhaps is what makes the contrast in the content so stark.

2 The Innocent Man

It may seem strange to see John Grisham’s name on a list of non-fiction but if you read the book it will make sense. The Innocent Man follows the primary suspect in a murder trial in a small town in Oklahoma from his days as a successful baseball player until his release from Death Row. Thanks to Grisham’s many years writing legal thrillers, this true story reads like a suspense novel rife with courtroom corruption. From the bungled forensic science to the pure laziness of the detective work involved, Grisham shows the American justice system at a low point. He never veers over into outright condemnation though and carefully avoids expressing an opinion about the issues involved, such as capital punishment or the treatment of mental illness. Instead he lets the facts speak for themselves and the readers draw their own conclusions.

1 I Feel Bad About My Neck

The full title of Nora Ephron’s book of essays is actually “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman.” For us average women out there it was nice to hear that the insecurities we feel are felt even by the most brilliant, charming and successful of our sex. Of course, because not all of us are famous screenwriters of such hits as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, there can be trouble relating to some of the essays. But even if you can’t afford to spend the same amount of money on hair products as Ephron does, you can relate to the urge to accumulate more of them in a futile attempt to keep your hair from looking any different than it did ten years ago. Ephron as the queen of the rom-com is a person who never hid how strong and clever she was without being shy about womanhood. And it’s that kind of woman’s thoughts that we’d like to read.

Think we missed anything? Let’s hear it!

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