Sunday, December 29, 2013
My Best 2013 Non-Fiction
In my best 2013 fiction post I did not identify my criteria for choosing best titles. It's pretty simple. I read the book in 2013--publication date is irrelevant--and the story stands out in my memory.
Three titles fit my criteria for best non-fiction: The Man Called Brown Condor: the Forgotten History of an African American Fighter Pilot by Thomas E. Simmons (2013), A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II by Anne Noggle (1994), and At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance--a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McClure (2010). The first two were notable for me because I was entirely unaware of the history. A Dance With Death is an oral history told by the women who served as fighter and bomber pilots, navigators, armorers and mechanics in Soviet Air Forces. If you ever need proof that Russians are tough, these histories will serve well. The Man Called Brown Condor tells the story of one of the first African American aviators, John Robinson, a man who in the face of 1920'sracism and exclusion. learned how to build, fly and maintain airplanes. He became an advocate for African-Americans in aviation and ended up in flying for Ethiopia in the face of the 1935 Italian Invasion for which he became a celebrity in the US. He returned to Ethiopia to create that nation's air force in 1944 and later Ethiopia's national airline.
At the Dark End of the Street broadens my understanding of history that I know. Well before African-Americans began to demand economic and civil rights, Black women demanded the right to be safe from assault and rape. Beginning in the 1940's, those efforts developed organizing strategies and legal tactics that became the groundwork the civli rights movement that emerged in the following decades. Along with a 2008 work, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, At the Dark End of the Street adds new dimensions to a history that is usually told only superficially.
In preparing a version of this post for my other blog, I added Sherman Alexie's short story collection, Blasphemy, to my 2013 best fiction. The stories are fiction but the voice always seems autobiographical and the stories all too probable. Alexie writes with the mordant humor of a Native American who lives in two cultures and sees the fallacies and foibles of both. At times laugh-out-loud funny, other times teeth-gritting real, Blasphemy demonstrates Alexie's mastery of the short story form.