Sarah Vowell
Photo: Bennett Miller
The author, public radio contributor, and self-described indoorsy person falls for outdoorsy epics, ace historians, and one very unhinged memoirist.
As someone who makes a living writing books, my favorite thing to talk about is other people's books. And I especially love reading books that have nothing to do with me. Which is why, as a shut-in author who knows nothing of hand-to-hand combat, I am obsessed with Lee Child's thrillers about an ex-military policeman drifter. Or, what with being afraid of water and prone to seasickness, I can't stop thinking about Moby-Dick.

For this here assignment, however, I decided to stick up for my nonfiction colleagues. I would situate four of the five choices within my own genre, a genre that has unfailingly terrible names such as "creative nonfiction." That always sounds like somebody's mother complimenting a 6-year-old molding a lopsided ashtray: "You're so creative!" Perhaps the genre is supposed to indicate books that are true but entertaining enough to seem fake?

Truth is, I love paging through architecture books, and I have included one of my favorites here, because I find being in and thinking about buildings to be gloriously nonverbal. Even writers need relief from words.

All five of the titles speak to my fascination with history and geography, mostly the history and geography of the United States. However, one book is British (but not hideously so).


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