Short Nonfiction Suggestions

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Short Nonfiction Suggestions

LibriVox has an ongoing series of short nonfiction collections. The nonfiction collection is a place to share a special interest by recording a short work of public domain nonfiction. If you haven't something already in mind that you'd like to record, there are many bookshelves at Gutenberg.org filled with public domain nonfiction to explore http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Category:Bookshelf. The bookshelves for Countries, Education, Fine Arts, History, Music, Periodicals, and Technology are some places to start. We welcome contributions on any nonfiction topic!

Nonfiction includes essays and speeches; letters and diaries; biography and history; film, book and music reviews; descriptions of travel, politics and sports; instructional manuals, even a favorite cookie recipe from a public domain cookbook! Your nonfiction recording can be on any topic. In addition to the above resource, the following suggested would all be good additions to one of LibriVox's Short Nonfiction Collections and was put together to help you find something that interests you to record. Enjoy!



Smoke signals, pigeons, the telegraph, telephone, the internet, smart phones . . . faster communication . . . but better? Now with talk of cell phone “addiction,” here are some readings that explore the impact of the cell phone’s predecessors on human behavior. “If only I’d known, I would have acted differently . . . and I blame the telegraph company for late message delivery.” This line of thinking had the lawyers busy during the 19th century. Not arriving in time to attend a wife’s funeral; inability to prevent an underage daughter from running off to get married led to claims against telegraph companies for “mental anguish.” Failing to land a low bid for a furniture contract was cause to sue the telegraph company for the amount of the lost commission. There are many such citations in the law journals: Telegraph and Telephones. Damages for Mental Anguish; Telegraph Companies. Mental Suffering. Damages. In Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Proctor, 25 S. W. Rep. 811 (Texas); and Damages: Delay in Delivering Telegraph Message. A sampling of these would be instructive. Gushing about the impact of the telephone in 1910, Herbert Casson has this to say: “What we might call the telphonization of city life . . . has remarkably altered our manner of living. . . It has enabled us to be more social and cooperative. It has become so truly an organ of the social body that by telephone we now enter into contracts, give evidence, try lawsuits, make speeches, propose marriage, confer degrees, appeal to voters, and do almost everything else that is a matter of speech.” Sound familiar? Two chapters in Casson’s The History of the Telephone, plumb the psychology of “telphonization”--“Notable Users of the Telephone,” and “The Telephone and National Efficiency.” . Fascinating and insightful!


Are You a Fan of Old Movies? “Action, intimacy, and splendor blend in every (moving picture) reel,” wrote American poet Vachel Lindsay in his The Art of the Movies (1916). What the movies lacked back then was sound — something LibriVox readers know how to remedy! Lindsay makes an intelligent early attempt at film criticism. His chapter “The Picture of Crowd Splendor,” in which he discusses W. C. Griffith’s films, would be a particularly interesting read: “While the motion picture is shallow in showing private passion, it is powerful in conveying the passions of masses of men.” How to Write for the Movies (1915), by Louella Parsons gives the aspiring screen writer a sample synopsis to examine: “One night in a moment of madness, he takes Adelaide in his arms . . .” Fun! And finally, Musical Accompaniment of Moving Pictures—a Practical Guide for Pianists and Organists (1920) by Edith Lang and George West will fascinate anybody interested in the relationship between music and emotion. The chapter, “The Feature Film,” would make a great read. It dissects the music for a single silent film, “The Rose of the World,” scene by scene. “Captain S. is married to a 16-year old girl named Rose, who is very beautiful, but as yet has not awakened to a realization of life and love. (Main love theme, intensely emotional.) etc. etc. There’s also a list of piano repertoire to evoke robbers, villains, and vampires!


Interested in Names? The Romance of Names (1922) by Ernest Weekley is fun and informative on such topics as “Names Desirable or Undesirable,” “Occupative Names,” and “Mythical Etymologies.” Weekley was formerly the head of the modern language department at the University College, Nottingham, so these are knowledgeable chapters. If you’ve ever stopped to read the names on old tombstones in a cemetery, you’ll enjoy W.D. Prime’s essay “Epitahs and Names,” in his collection of letters Along New England Roads (1892). What about Smilinda as a name for a girl? Many other letters in this volume would make nice short reads.


For History Buffs A major online source for the early history of the United States, Founders Online, was announced on June 13th of this year. According to the web site: "The National Archives, through its National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), has entered into a cooperative agreement with The University of Virginia Press to create this site and make freely available online the historical documents of the Founders of the United States of America. Through this website, you will be able to read and search through thousands of records from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison." The New York Times described the collection's importance in an article on July 5. For history-minded Librivoxers, it's definitely worth a visit to the Founders Online website!


How about a rollicking ride through the history of Urban Transportation? Horsecars, street railways, subways, cable cars . . . fascinating stuff, and lots to read about. Here are just a very few the interesting short reads to consider. Charles P. Shaw, Esq.’s purple prose argument in defense of Cable Railways vs. Horse Railways for Intramural Transit in the City of New York ( 1885) is guaranteed to have you (and your listeners) laughing out loud! Or perhaps, The Evolution of the Modern Subway, one of many interesting chapters in The Air and Ventilation of Subways (1908) might be of interest. If you’ve wondered how subways were constructed, Subways and Tunnels of New York (1912) will certainly fascinate you. The chapter, “The Original Hudson Tunnel” has this to say: ” "A serious blowout occurred in July 1880. The door of the airlocks had become wedged by falling earth and plates, cutting off the escape of the men, twenty of whom were drowned. This accident had an unfavorable effect upon the financial aspect of the undertaking." Ending on a more positive note, why not take a ride on the San Francisco cable cars in 1902, just before the great fire of 1906. It’s all there in Vignettes of City Streets from San Francisco and Thereabout (1902). “The bell rings, the gripman throws back his lever which clutches the cable. Amid the rumble of the start you can hear the grip work. The gripman hammers away at his foot gong, and off we roll!”


Is sports more your thing? How about Baseball? Six hundred antique baseball cards were recently on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Those cards suggest some interesting new recordings. Eddie Cicotte, pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, "who conspired with gamblers to loose the (1919) world series," there's a name for starters. The U.S. Library of Congress Periodical Reading Room has readings galore on that scandal. Or Gutenberg has this introductory gem: John M. Ward's Base-ball, How to Become a Player. There are separate chapters explaining each field position (first, second, third basemen, left fielder, etc.) any of which would make an excellent short read for the nonfiction collection.


More of a birdwatcher, you say? Gutenberg has a whole book shelf devoted to birds! A chapter or excerpt from one of these might translate into a fun read for the nonfiction collection. Frederick Aflalo writes about Birds in the Calendar. His choice for August is the seagull, and for September “Birds in the Corn.” John Burroughs has an essay “Birds and Poets” in a book of the same name. Let your imagination soar, or honk, with a read for the nonfiction collection.


What to read "in the five or six impatient minutes, before dinner is quite ready" was a question posed by Charles Lamb (1775-1834), in his essay "Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading," which you can find in Volume 30 of the Short Nonfiction Collection. This begs the question of what one could one read (for Librivox, of course!) while waiting for the microwave to heat up the leftovers . . . Essays are usually short, pithy snatches of writing, varied in subject, meant to engage our imaginations . . . in short, more fun than the readout on the microwave timer. Gutenberg has a bookshelf devoted to essays. Montaigne's essays are the most popular in terms of downloads. A few of Montaigne's titles sound like threads on the Librivox forum, for instance "Of Quick or Slow Speech." Other popular essayists are as varied as Emerson, Bertrand Russell, and Emma Goldman. Or you might find something interesting in the compilation of essays entitled Modern Essays. Included there are such wide ranging essays as "Bed-Books and Night-Lights" by H.M. Tomlinson and "Some Nonsense About a Dog" by Harry Esty Dounce.


Love Old Books and Libraries? The Booklover and His Books has intriguing chapters such as "The Book Beautiful," "Thick Paper and Thin," and "The Perversities of Type." English Embroidered Bookbindings includes an introductory chapter on the history of bookbinding and specialty chapters on books bound in satin and velvet.


Cat Lover? Théophile Gautier's My Private Menagerie is perfect choice! He begins "I have often been caricatured in Turkish dress, seated on cushions and surrounded by cats ..."


History of the Statue of Liberty, anyone? Here is a full account of the opening ceremonies for the Statue of Liberty -- Inauguration of the Statue of Liberty enlightening the world : by the President of the United States, on Bedlow's Island, New York, Thursday, October 28, 1886 (1887). Proceedings were very similar to those for the Washington monument, fog horns and fireworks drowning out the speakers, lots of speeches and drama. Or for a more personal account try The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, written by the sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), for the "benefit of the pedestal fund," in which he talks about his motivatations in designing the statue. Bartholdi begins" One evening, twenty years ago, I had been dining at the home of my most regretted and illustrious friend, M. Laboulaye, and his guests were smoking in the conservatory of his charming retreat, Glavigny, near Versailles... The talk fell upon international relations, upon the sentiments of Italy toward France... "


Think Inventions and Inventors are Cool? You may enjoy recording something from Practical Pointers for Patentees, 1901 which has an intriguing chapter "Inventions as a Poor Man's Oportunity to Advance;" Stories of Inventors, 1904 particularly the chapter titled "A MACHINE THAT THINKS, A Typesetting Machine That Makes Mathematical Calculations;" or Homemade Toys for Girls and Boys includes patterns and detailed instructions for windmills, kites, a doll house, a minature merry-go-round complete with horses . . . lots of fodder for the imagination in all of these!


Amateur Astronomer at Heart? don't miss the Perseid meteor shower every year on August 10-11. Here are a few readings from Gutenberg to add to the fun: A Field Book of the Stars, by William Tyler Olcott, 1914 has pertinent chapters on “Meteoric Showers July to October,” and the “Constellation of Perseus.” Remarks Concerning Stones Said to Have Fallen from the Clouds, Both in These Days and in Ancient Times written in 1796 by Edward King recounts some historic sightings. And Nathaniel Hawthorne retells the Greek myth of Perseus and Medusa in his The Gorgon’s Head.


Wood and Woodworking Handwork in Wood, with chapters on "Logging," "Sawmilling," and "The Seasoning and Measuring of Wood." Woodworking Tools 1600-1900


Home Decor The Oriental Rug has a tantalizing chapter on "The Mystery of the Rug."