It’s a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction with a different prompt and a different host each week.
Week One is hosted by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) and poses these questions: What was your favorite non-fiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
My favourite non-fiction read of the year is also representative of the kinds of books I’m most drawn to reading right now: stories that ask hard questions and encourage me to take another look at the world around me from a different perspective, so through this event I hope to offer and receive some suggestions.
Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (2005; 2011)
So, basically imagine reading a book about how everything that you learned in Social Studies class in elementary school (even History classes, when you were an older student, a young adult even) about North America before 1491 was wrong: that’s 1491.
Much of the time I was literally reading jaw-dropped and wide-eyed. Many times I found myself flipping to the back to peruse the end-notes and not because I am enough of a scholar to absorb the details of the scholarship elaborated upon there, but because it read SO differently from what I understood to be true that I wanted to simply glance at the research to remind myself that this was not fiction.
For instance, in just a couple of pages, Mann presents evidence about the city of Calakmul in the Mexican state of Campeche (its proper name was later discovered to be Kaan), which was built on a low ridge and housed as many as 50,000 people and sprawled across 25 square miles with thousands of acres of farmland beyond (the region’s total population may actually have been as high as 575,000 but even the smaller figure amazes me).
Kaan’s origins may extend back to 400 BC but it doesn’t appear in the historical record until 500 AD. And, yes, there is a historical record dating to that time.
Of course it might be easier to stomach the idea that there was very little development on the continent when European settlers landed and claim the land and its resources; but how differently might we think if we understood those cultures to be developed and advanced and pervasive?