Nerdiness, reading, and lists: a small study

Buckle your seatbelts, folks, I’m about to get my nerd on.

I have know for a very long time that I am a bit nerdier than one would assume at first glance; I think to some extent, we all are. I have also known for quite some time that my favorite books are not usually the same books of my peers. I mean, I am in a book club (okay, four book clubs) and we have excellent discussions and, in general, a large percentage of attendees have positive views of their experience with the selected title, however my To Read list(s) very rarely match up in genre or author with the books selected for these discussions. Which is totally fine, by the way. There are books that would not suit for a book club discussion, and there are issues with page count and topic and such that would rule others out. However, recently I was doing a massive overhaul of my bookshelves (reorganizing), and my To Read piles (re-prioritizing) and trying to get a handle on how I was keeping track of the books I’ve read, how I rank them, and any additional thoughts (currently, GoodReads; ideally, a new blog-posting system), and I started making a list of the general topics and subjects of my favorites…and a pattern of delightful nerdiness appeared.

Of the 28 books listed below 23 are non-fiction with only five fiction; this is actually a pretty accurate ratio of my general reading preferences. Here is the breakdown by favorite topic, idea, author, or individual with the number of books I’ve read in that category, the number I have waiting to read (physically in my possession, not on my Amazon or library wish list), and the best books I’ve read in each category so far; I’ve linked to my own Goodreads reviews where they existed. You’re welcome.

Art, Art History, Artists, and Architects (other than Frank Lloyd Wright and Georgia O’Keeffe, see below): 24 read, 3 in queue; The Lost Painting, by Jonathan Harr, and My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok

Charles Darwin and evolution: 7 read, 2 in queue; Charles Darwin: Voyaging, by Janet Browne

China (history, myth, travel, politics, war, poetry): 18 read, 5 in queue; The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang, and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Sijie Dai

Economic thought and theory: 23 read, 4 in queue; A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar

Exploration (specifically of South America and Antarctica during the 19th and early 20th centuries): 11 read, 2 in queue; Exploration Fawcett, by Percy Harrison Fawcett, and South: The Endurance Expedition, by Ernest Shackleton

Feminism (early feminists, feminist theory, feminist economics, etc): 24 read, 7 in queue; Half the Sky, by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan

Food industry (not cook books): 6 read, 2 in queue; Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, and Salt, Sugar, Fat, by Michael Moss

Frank Lloyd Wright (his life and designs): 14 read, 4 in queue; Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan and Joyce Bean

Georgia O’Keeffe: 8 read, 5 in queue; Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, by Laurie Lisle

How the mind and brain work (development, memory, thought processes, chemical/hormone changes due to outside stimuli, anomalies, learning, intelligence): 17 read, 6 in queue; The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine; Quiet, by Susan Cain; Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer

Jazz Age (literature, history, culture, biographies, inventions): 9 read, 7 in queue; The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (is this cliche?); One Summer: America 1927, by Bill Bryson

Joan of Arc: 3 read, 2 in queue; Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain

John Steinbeck: 9 read and re-read, 4 in queue; East of Eden

Middle Eastern history, politics, and the Iranian Revolution: 12 read, 10 in queue; Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi

Native American relocation and slaughter in the USA: 4 read, 2 in queue; Trail of Tears: Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation, by John Ehle

Race horses: 4 read, 2 in queue; Seabiscuit, by Laura Hildenbrand (I cried, several times)

Shakespeare: 31 plays read and re-read, 6 in queue, 4 biographies read, 2 in queue; Henry V, and Henry VI, Part 3

Travel books (not “Lonely Planet” or guide books, but narratives): 43 read, 8 in queue; The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner

Volcanoes (non-fiction): 3 read, 1 in queue; Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, by Simon Winchester

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I am not quite as adapt at Excel as, say, RA, but I would like to point out a few things: I have over 100 books waiting to be read JUST on these topics; these nerdy subjects make up a small library in my apartment; I own 99% of the books listed here (plus, you know, another 1,800, give or take a hundred); I’m sure I’m missing certain topics, I don’t see a representation of my fascination with WWII non-fiction, or the strategy of the Civil War, or the Ottoman Empire, or fairy tales and folk tales from around the world, or King Tut, or religion, or experiences of the  peoples of Southeast Asia, or apartheid, or Norse mythology and Viking lore, or the long-term affects of colonialism… I mean, that is a whole ‘nother pile of nerdy awesomeness that I haven’t even touched on here! But, what I have touched on is kind of….well….intense. I mean, there are 275 books read already in that list above, plus the ones in my queue. My nerdiness knows no bounds, I guess. Not true, the bounds of Star Wars, Star Trek, video games, and cosplay are pretty well in place and I see no reason to venture beyond them. MOVING ON.

Most widely read topics:

Art, Art History, Artists, and Architecture (including Frank Lloyd Wright and Georgia O’Keeffe): 46 books read
Economic Theory: 23 books read
Feminism: 24 books read
Shakespeare: 35 books/plays read
Travel: 43 books read

These are categories I have really sunk my teeth in to. I took college courses on art history, architecture, and feminism; I majored in Economics. I have coached a competitive high school Shakespeare Team for the last 9 years in addition to working (backstage) on a handful of full-length Shakespeare plays.

Other topics:

China: 18 read
Exploration: 11 read
How the brain and mind work: 17 read
Middle East: 12 read

I minored in Mandarin Chinese in college (although I did not include any of my language books in this tally…strangely) and took a number of Asian history classes, but more than that, I have become fascinated with a number of aspects of Chinese society, politics, culture, and their move from isolationists to quasi-communist-capitalists. I have devoured books about explorers and about the damage done to the indigenous populations after European conquerors swept through with their guns and germs and horses. I can’t seem to get enough of the science behind the brain, how it relates with psychology and manifests in sociology and human interaction. I am also fascinated with politics and history of the Middle East, in particular of Iran pre- and post-revolution.

Niche topics:

Charles Darwin, evolution: 7 books read
Food industry: 6 books read
Joan of Arc: 3 books read
Race horses: 4 books read
Volcanoes: 3 books read

This, I feel, is where my true geekiness shows, although I feel it’s somehow trendy or hip to be well-read on the food industry, the other topics here are just….well…kind of random. I guess there is just not much apparent connection between a brilliant scientist and Industrial Revolution thinker, a teenage army commander-turned-Catholic saint, the blood lines and race results of thoroughbred horses, and volcanoes. I just…I am both proud and a little embarrassed about this list–more proud than embarrassed, I think. Yes, I can spout off facts about volcanoes and how they work and historical dates and facts. I can tell you how Charles Darwin studied out his theories on evolution. I can wax poetic and philosophical–maybe getting a little bit misty-eyed–about the great American race horses of the early 20th century. And I can give you a lengthy history of a young French girl, her heroic acts for the French and her capture and trial at the hands of the English and how ultimately she was burned at the stake because she wore pants. Yes, really.

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What kind of pet (nerdy) topics do you read up on? Do you have a pile of research (or, you know, less nerdy volumes) on something specific? Do you watch hours and hours of a certain type of show on Netflix? (Erica and Kayla have a thing for Korean Dramas, for example.) Come on, people, tell me your secrets!!!

Harriet sig


8 thoughts on “Nerdiness, reading, and lists: a small study

  1. This is fascinating! I don’t buy many books because of space, weight when moving them, and the fact that I don’t really re-read all that often, but there is a big part of me that would love to someday create a library of floor to ceiling (full) bookshelves. My criteria for buying a book is something I know I’ll want to read again, something I want to today mark up, or something I want to have on hand to lend others or read to my one-day children.

    One collection I have deliberately started to build up is a number of books on John and Abigail Adams and their family. Ideally I’d love to own at least one biography of every U.S. President, but space and expense keep me from moving forward with that idea.

    I also own all of Jane Austen’s novels, separately, not a collection. But I know that doesn’t appeal to you 😉

    When I left my last job a number of my colleagues gave me a super generous gift card to Barnes and Noble. It was so fun to have all of that money to spend on nothing but books! I bought mostly used books off the B&N website to make the money stretch even further.


  2. Do you, or have you ever read Science fiction or Fantasy? I can assume you probably have and perhaps simply didn’t mention it. I can’t think of a single bookish person that hasn’t read the Harry Potter books.


    1. Oh yes, I’ve read all the HP books, and the Lord of the Rings books, and a couple of SciFi books, and they are okay, and enjoyable, and I liked them, but they aren’t among my favorites.


      On Sat, Jun 7, 2014 at 12:02 AM, Feisty Harriet wrote:



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