We’re so close to the weekend, nonfiction friends! My trip out to Masachusetts last weekend was a real delight — the windy weather and witchy vibes of Salem really put me in the mood for fall, which has set in pretty hard here in Minnesota. Bring on the apple cider and cozy cardigans!
This week’s back to school theme looks to history, specifically microhistories, on a couple of my favorite subjects. Let’s dig in!
Support Your Local Library Sticker from SheMakesMeLaugh
Did you know September is Library Card Sign-Up Month? I couldn’t let the commemoration go by without something celebrating libraries. This support sticker is perfect! $5
Stay True: A Memoir by Hua Hsu
At first glance, 18-year-old Hua Hsu didn’t really like Ken — a fellow college student who “represents all that [Hsu] defines himself against.” Despite their vast differences, they become friends over the mutual feeling that they just didn’t fit into American culture. Less than three years later, Ken was killed in a violent carjacking. Hsu immediately began writing as a way to hold onto the memories of one of his closest friends — writing that turned into this book. One of the blurbs calls this book “exquisite and excruciating,” which means I’ll be picking it up when I need something to hit me in the feels.
Fen, Bog and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis by Annie Proulx
In this book, novelist and environmentalist Annie Proulx takes us on a journey through the historical and environmental role of wetlands. She writes about how fens, bogs, swamps, and estuaries help preserve the environment by storing carbon emissions, and tell stories about some of the most significant wetlands around the world. She also looks at diseases that are connected to wetlands and the role that peat has in manufacturing and industry. This one just has to be good.
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One of my favorite types of nonfiction books are microhistories — a book that does a deep dive into a single subject while also using that topic to explore bigger trends and stories in history. To wrap up this month’s dive into books for classes, I’ve got a couple of microhistories that might have a place in any world history class.
Worn: A People’s History of Clothing by Sofi Thanhauser
In this social history, writer and artist Sofi Thanhauser tells the stories of five fabrics — linen, cotton, silk, synthetics, and wool — to explore our clothing and what it says about us. In addition to looking at how fabrics were made and decorated, she also interrogates the modern clothing industry and the widespread environmental impacts of fast fashion. This book is smartly organized and full of fascinating stories.
Crude: The Story of Oil by Sonia Shah
This book tells the story of oil, from the moment it was discovered through its use in nearly all aspects of modern life. In addition to fuel and electricity, crude oil and related products are also in plastics, pavement, and fertilizers for plants. In this history, Sonia Shah also tells the story of people affected by oil — protestors, scientists, politicians, and more. I can think of a lot of materials that could make a great microhistory, but few that have impacts as wide-ranging as oil.
If neither of those is appealing, check out this collection of 50 must read microhistory books over at Book Riot.