My Top 5 Non-fiction Reads of 2017

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I made my Top 10 Books of 2017 list a few days ago, but it was actually a list of my favourite novels from last year. This was intentional, because I’ve read some great non-fiction books in 2017, and I wanted to make a separate list for those books.

These are, of course, books that I’ve read in 2017, not books published in 2017. And this list is in no praticular order since these books are all quite different, and all great. Anyway, here’s my list:

1. Romantic Outlaws; The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

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This book is the most “bookish” one on the list. As it says in the title, it’s a dual biograpy of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, and it’s just perfect. It’s very detailed, and it really gives the reader a sense of everything these women went through, and the world they lived in. I would highly recommend it to everyone interested in these two writers and thinkers, Romanticism, feminism, and just literature in general.

“[A Vindication of the Rights of Woman] outlined the evils of the present state of society, and introduced solutions that would redeem men as well as women. Yes, men. From the first page to last, Mary emphasized that women’s liberty should matter to everyone.”

2. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

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This book left such an impression on me that I wrote my longest post ever after reading it. Even if you’re not a vegetarian or a vegan, I think you would learn a lot from this book and the things that are happening not only to animals, but to the entire environment because of factory farming. It’s well-researched book, and the author talked to many people on different sides of the debate. And no, there are not just two sides – things are not that simple. I think that the fact that Jonathan Safron Foer writes novels also helped to make this book very readable, and well-written.

As told by Kafka’s close friend Max Brod:

“Suddenly he began to speak to the fish in their illuminated tanks. ‘Now at least I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.’ It was the time he turned strictly vegetarian.”

3. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

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This is a book I would recommend to everyone who loves nature. It was very interesting and I learned so much from it! We, humans, are destroying everything. And our lack of knowledge isn’t helping, either. So, let’s learn! The point of this books it that trees (and plants) are living beings and they deserve respect. They also deserve that we try to understand them better.

“If we want to use forests as a weapon in the fight against climate change, then we must allow them to grow old, which is exactly what large conservation groups are asking us to do.”

4. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer

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If you like reading about everyday life in different historical periods – this is the book you’ve been looking for. Also, it’s a perfect book for anyone interested in the Middle Ages. I always thought history should be taught this way – give students a real sense of how it was like to live back then. History is nnot just a list of kings and queens, a list of conflicts and wars. And it’s interesting to compare other time periods to our own. For example:

“When people declare that ‘children have to grow up so quickly these days’ they should reflect on this fact. Medieval boys are expected to work from the age of seven and can be hanged for theft at the same age. They can marry at the age of fourteen…”

5. De Profundis by Oscar Wilde

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This is a different kind of non-fiction, so if you’re someone who likes to read memoir-like non-fiction, this is my recommendation for you. De Profundis is a long letter Oscar Wilde wrote to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas  while he was imprisoned in Reading Gaol. It’s his reflection on his sentence, his life, his plans for the future, philosophy and literature. It’s amazing to read Wilde’s deepest thoughts during the probably hardest time of his life. I wrote a little post about what he says about nature which you can read here.

“But it is a very unimaginative nature that only cares for people on their pedestals.”

And that’s my list! Do you have any non-fiction recommendations? I’d love to know!

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My Pet Tag: Kira & Seffi

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Oooooh, I’m so excited for this! I love talking about my chinchilla girls! I saw the tag on Sarah’s blog @dragonsandzombies where she talked about her adorable bunny Randy. I decided to put both of my chinchillas in one post because they live together and do almost everything together, so it’s kind of fitting to keep them in the same post. 🙂

Dear people, meet my chinchillas!

1. What is your pet’s name?

The older girl is named Seffi, which is short for Persephone. (It should probably be Sephie, but I preferred this spelling.) The younger one is called Kira, which is short for Valkira (Croatian for Valkyrie). I wanted their names to sound cute, but to have a powerful, mythological background at the same time, because that’s what they are – cute but powerful. 😉

2. What kind of pet is it and what breed?

They are standard grey chinchillas.

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Kira and her food.

3. How long have you had your pet?

I’ve had them since 21st April this year, which means for a little less than eight months.

4. How did you get your pet?

I’m from Croatia and this year our government legislated a new animal protection law and made fur farming illegal. Animal Friends Croatia, our animal protection group, managed to persuade some farmers to give them their chinchillas since they could no longer sell them anyway, and they managed to save 45 chinchillas from certain death. They made sure the chinchillas are healthy and then gave them for adoption. I adopted Seffi and Kira. The rest is history.

5. How old is your pet?

I don’t know for sure, when I got them they said that Seffi is about two years old, and Kira was about nine months old. So, by now, Seffi is probably about three, and Kira is about one year and a half.

6. What are some quirky things about your pet’s personality?

Everything about them is quirky! They are crazy little fluffballs! XD They like to eat and chew everything (literally everything!), so I have to cover things when I let them out of their cage. But, they always climb on my legs and chew my clothes.

Kira like to hide in dark places. She’s always trying to find a place to hide, and she even tries to dig. Her new obsession is a tube I bought for them. She also likes to let her head hang from it. She finds it comfortable for some reason.

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Kira in her tube.

Seffi is more of a jumper. She likes to jump on something high and just stare. XD It’s so funny, she looks like a statue, just staring into the distance.

They don’t like to be touched, but they’ll allow it if you let then chew on something while you’re petting them. They do, however, like to sniff me and “groom” my hair.

Also, they make the funniest faces.

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Kira: Leave me alone, I want to sleep!

7. What does your relationship with your pet mean to you?

It means so much! They make me so happy, and I hope I made their life happy, too. They make me laugh and forget about problems. I love seeing how they are slowly learning to trust me, more and more each day. They really had no trust in humans, which is understandable. They came from very bad life conditions… They lived in small, dirty cages, and were never let out. 😦

8. What are some of your favourite pastimes with your pet?

Mostly the time they spend out of their cage. They always manage to surprise me with something new. A new mischief, usually. They are very fun! I also love how they’ve learned to beg for treats.

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Yes, Seffi managed to climb on my bookshelf.

9. What are the nicknames that you call your pet?

I usually just add the suffix which denotes something small in Croatian – Kirica, Seffica. My boyfried calls Kira Fatty because she looks much fatter than Seffi. XD

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Seffi on the lookout. Both girls on the lookout. (Also, a representation of how Kira looks like a ball, while Seffi is more elegant). 

And that’s it! Hope you enjoyed this post, I sure did! 🙂

Quote(s) for Thought: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

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As told by Kafka’s close friend Max Brod:

“Suddenly he began to speak to the fish in their illuminated tanks. ‘Now at least I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.’ It was the time he turned strictly vegetarian.”

To be honest, I’m writing this post for myself. Because I want to put some of Foer’s thoughts on paper. Because I don’t want to forget.

I’m in a similar position as Jonathan Safran Foer was before he completely gave up meat. I wanted to become a vagaterian, and I did, several times, and then always somehow stopped. Now, I don’t want to promote anything here. And I don’t think that is the intention of the book, either. I just gives you facts, facts I think everyone should be aware of. Even if you eat meat, don’t you deserve to know where it comes from?

Let me just start by saying that I think Jonathan Safran Foer is an amazing author. I’ve read Eveything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and loved both of them. I love his writing style and I think it also shows in this non-fiction book. It is well-researched and it gives a great amount of information, but it is also very interesting. The author talks about himself, his family, his experiiences, as well as about his research. And research he did! He even spent time with both farmers and activists.

Some of these facts have become more videly known – for example the fact that the meat industry is responsible for about 40 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships in the world combined. We are aware of the dangers of factory farming, I thin, but no just how deep these problems go. And then, some things most people are not aware at all.

Foer deconstructs some ideas people use to ease their shame. One of the notions he deconstructs is that vegetarianism is a form of sentimentality – which would basically mean valuing emotions over reality.

Two friends are ordering lunch. One says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” and orders it. The other says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” but remembers that there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment, and orders something else. Who is the sentimentalist?

And, yet, he asks himself if vegetarians actually are sentimentalists (idealists) if they believe everyone would follow their path. People are obviously not willing to do that. Yet, we know that eating is a group activity. We mostly eat with someone. We can influence some people, or at least contribute to the small progress that is being made. Big changes often come from small actions.

Another thing Foer touches on is the fact that most people don’t care for birds as much as they do for mammals. And even if we do, most of us don’t really care for fish. We tell ourselves that those animals are not as intelligent, which has lately proven to be false. And fishing is basically destroying fish:

For every ten tuna, shars, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans fifty to a hundred years ago, only one is left. Many scientist predict the total collapse of all fished species in less than fiftly years – and intense efforts are under way to catch, kill, and eat even more sea animals.

The average trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures as bycatch overboard.

…sea horses are one of more than one hundred sea animal species killed as ‘bycatch’ in the modern tuna industry.

Even if some animals do get a “clean” death, fish never do. All fish suffer since there are no regulations as to how they should die. However, slughterhouses often neglect all the regulations, or the regulations just get changed. I won’t go into detail about what happens at slaughterhauses. I guess most of people are aware of that, and if you’re not, then let me just say it’s much worse than you think it is. I really don’t want to talk about it, because it makes me sick, so I’ll move on to farming. This is, actually, one of the most important issues this book speaks about.

Jonathan Safran Foer really looks at farming from different perspectives and leaves it to the readers to come to their own conclusions. He gives his own opinion, talks about his lifestyle and the reasons behind his decision to give up meat completely, but he lets other people speak, too, and share their worldviews. He also gives an example of a man who is a vegan but constructs slaughterhouses. How is that possible? Because there seem to be no more slaughterhouses that provide a “clean” death. The farmers that take care of their animals cannot find a slughterhouse that would’t make their animals die a horrible death. And that’s why good slaughterhouses seemed important even to someone who refuses to eat animals.

This book doesn’t really speak against eating animals as much as it speaks against factory farming, overfishing, hormone and antibiotics fed, mutated and deformed animals. Many animals are left to suffer and die, because it would cost more to heal than to lose some of them (and there are much more animals that die before it’s the time for them to be illed than you could imagine). Many are born deformed.

In the world of factory farming, expectations are turned upside down. Veterinarians don’t work toward optimal health, but optimal profitability. Drugs are not for curing diseases but substitutes for destroyed immune systems. Farmers do not aim to produce healthy animals.

Modern factory farming is destroying our environment in more way than you think. Fighting this kind of farms is crucial for the environmental sustainability. Crucial for our planet. Factory farms are nothing more than the product of human insatiable greed – it’s exclusively about money, not about feeding people. And family farms cannot fight them. Bill Niman, the owner of a family farm who cares about the treatment of his animals, was driven out of his company because the board wanted to do things more profitably and less ethically. Though his ranch is an example of good (or at least much better) treatment of animals, he said that he would no longer eat Niman Ranch beef. Not under the new conditions.

Factory farming hurts humas as well:

People who live near factory farms are rarely wealthy and are treated by the industry as dispensable. The fecal mists they are forced to breathe usually don’t kill humans, but sore throats, headaches, coughing, runny noses, diarrhea, and even psychological illness including abnormally high levels of tension, depression, anger, and fatigue, are common. According to a report by the California state senat, “Studies have shown that {animal waste} lagoons emit toxic airbornee chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune, irritation and neurochemical problems in humans.”

The meat from factory farms hurts us and is responsible for many disesases from more people suffering from asthma and allergies, to flu. Factory farms are also known for horrible working conditions of their employees.

And factory farms hurts other animals besides those confined inside of them and unable to move of their entire lives (again, I don’t want to go too much into the cruelty that happens there) :

In only three years, two hundred fish kills – incidents where the entire fish population in a given area is killed at once – have resulted from factory famrs’ failures to kkeep their shit out of the waterways.

All of this also deconstructs the idea that animals have better lives on farms than they would have in the wild, where many would be killed anyway. These animals do not live happy lives before their slaughter.

This is becoming a more and more talked-about topic, which is definitely a good start. Some laws are being changed, though not as much as they should. Newspapers are writing about it (The New York Times was the first to do so), and Whole Foods was the first supermarket chain that committed to a systematic program of animal welfare labeling. There’s hope (dare I say it…) and everyone should contribute.

Yes, this is a long post and I don’t now if anyone’s going to read it, but it is very important to me, and I think it should be important to everyone. Eating Animals is a must-read. We must act – for animals, for our planet, and for ourselves.

If we are at all serious about ending factory farming, then the absolute least we can do is stop sending checkks to the absolute worst abusers. (…) We know, at least, that this decision will help prevent deforestation, curb global warming, reduce pollution, save oil reserves, lessen the burden on rural America, decrease human rights abuses, improve public health, and helo eliminate the most systematic animal abuse in world history.