Welcome to week #2 of NONFICTION NOVEMBER—the second annual celebration of all things nonfiction! I participated last year and had so much fun meeting new bloggers and adding great nonfiction titles to my TBR list! If you’re into reading nonfiction and want to join in the fun, just click on the graphic to visit this week’s linkup. A new prompt and linkup will be posted every Monday throughout November. Be prepared, though—your TBR list will explode with great NF books!
This week, participants are invited to create a nonfiction reading list covering any topic. It’s a chance to be an expert on the nonfiction topic of your own choosing! Or, you can put out an inquiry to the bloggers who are participating and ask for suggestions for books on any nonfiction subject. This was by far my favorite week of last year’s Nonfiction November!
One of my favorite nonfiction genres is the ORAL HISTORY. The simplest definition of oral history is “the collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events”. I find it incredibly fascinating to read about the same event, place, or time period from the points of view and transcriptions of the actual voices of many different people—and that’s what a good oral history does for the reader.
Studs Terkel is widely believed to be the father of the modern oral history genre. A New Yorker by birth, he came to Chicago as a young man and made the city his home. He authored over a dozen oral histories over the years that covered diverse topics such as race, the Great Depression, spirituality, war, and many others. He had the incredible gift of being able to ask the right questions at the right time and to create a safe environment for his subjects to open up and share their deepest thoughts. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at an author event held when he was in his nineties—and although his body and his hearing were failing him, his mind was as nimble as a man at a quarter of his age. Terkel was truly a Chicago icon, and when he died a few years ago it was the end of the era of a certain type of writer. I have an entire shelf on one of my bookcases that’s devoted to his books.
Here are a few of my favorite oral histories–by Terkel and by other authors:
Working by Studs Terkel
I first read parts of Working when I was in junior high and picked up my dad’s copy. The subtitle of the book tells it all—“People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About Doing It”. Terkel interviewed over 100 people about their jobs—farmers, teachers, factory workers, athletes, salesmen, and many more. The result is a portrait of the people who make up everyday America, and who make America work. It also brings home the theme that self worth is so often tied to how we feel about how we earn our living. Written in 1972, the book is obviously a bit dated—many of the jobs discussed have changed drastically or no longer exist. But the spirit of the people who share their stories still rings true. If you’ve never read any oral histories by Terkel, start with this one–it’s still in print and readily available!
Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs by John Bowe, Marisa Bowe, and Sabin Streeter
The authors of this oral history openly admit their admiration of Studs Terkel and their hopes that this book is the modern day imitation of Working. Written about 30 years after Terkel’s book, Gig includes people sharing their experiences in more modern professions, including video game designer, corporate headhunter, and crime scene cleaner. I think this would be a great pick for reluctant readers in high school—the sections are brief yet very engaging–as well as for anyone who enjoys the oral history format.
“The Good War:” An Oral History Of World War II by Studs Terkel
Another favorite by Studs Terkel, this Pulitzer Prize winning book captures the voices of everyday people whose lives were affected the “the war to end all wars”—both on the front lines and at home. Most of the people interviewed for this book were Americans, but there are Japanese, German, and Russian voices represented as well. If you enjoy reading historical fiction set during this time period, this would be a great contrast!
Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now—As Told By Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long For It by Craig Taylor
The author of this fascinating book spent five years talking with an incredible diverse cross-section of Londoners and paints a vivid picture of modern London. I’ve never been to London, but this book made me feel as if I were there–experiencing both the negatives and the positives of this historic city.
Live From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller
I started watching Saturday Night Live back in the Jim Belushi/Dan Ackroyd/Bill Murray days. This is a truly riveting oral history of that groundbreaking show as told by the cast members, writers, producers, hosts, musical guests, and more. I’ve heard that this book has been recently re=released with updated interviews, but I haven’t read that version yet. If you’re a SNL fan, or if you enjoy reading about TV and the entertainment industry, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this book!
I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum
I’m also old enough to remember when MTV actually played music videos 24 hours a day. I can still recall gathering in the TV lounge of my college dorm to watch the premier of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video—we’d never seen anything like it before! This oral history traces the first decade of MTV and features transcripts of interviews with nearly 400 musical artists, directors, TV and music executives, and MTV VJs. Reading this book completely took me back to the 80s!
How about you? Have you read any oral histories? Do you enjoy this format? Please share–and please visit the current November Nonfiction linkup (just click on the graphic at the top of this post) for more great nonfiction suggestions!