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I’ve decided to challenge myself and participate in Nonfiction November, a blog event co-hosted by Sarah at Sarah’s Bookshelves, Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Julie at Julz Reads (hosting the intros), and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.
And believe me, this will be a challenge! Fiction is what I love, and while I occasionally pick up a nonfiction book, it’s rare that I choose one over my tempting list of fiction reads. On top of that, I almost never stick to a reading list—just participating in Nonfiction November is throwing me off my fall reading list (at least there’s one nonfiction book on that list that I plan to read). But, I think it will be worth it to read a bunch of other books that have been on my list, find some other great recommendations, and connect with some new bloggers.
My Year in Nonfiction So Far
Such a short list! Here’s what I’ve read so far this year:
I have never read any Stephen King before because I’m a big fat wimp and I know I’d have nightmares and be afraid to go in my basement (anyone else still give those wide-open storm sewers the side-eye after that clown appeared in It? And I only watched about five minutes of that movie.). But this book is pretty much required reading for anyone who wants to write. King is a prolific writer who knows how to tell a story, and he has great lessons to share with other storytellers.More info →
I've seen this memoir recommended by readers for years, but it was actually the movie trailer that prompted me to pick it up. My impression was that the book was dark and heartbreaking, while the trailer gave the impression that it was about a carefree, inspiring family. I hadn't yet seen the movie when I read this, but I did find the book heartbreaking. Walls seems to cling to the uplifting moments of her childhood, when her father in particular infused their family with a reckless sense of freedom and privilege in their free-spirited rootlessness. While there are appealing elements of his spirit, ultimately the parents' selfishness and neglect is breathtaking, but the resourcefulness of the children is inspiring. (And thankfully, the movie trailer was somewhat misleading. It did stay pretty true to the spirit of the book.)More info →
I am a huge Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, and Lauren Graham fan. I find her very charming in the roles she plays, and I will probably be re-watching Gilmore Girls until I’m old and gray. I listened to the audiobook, and hearing Graham narrate her own story only added to the charm. I enjoyed hearing the background of her unusual childhood and years as a struggling actor, along with her reflections on Gilmore Girls and Parenthood.
There’s very little dishy gossip on her co-stars here—she seems to have real affection for them but is also open about her hard-won savvy about what to share with the public. What she does share with the public is a love for the families, locations, and stories she’s been privileged to inhabit as an actor, and she brings that nostalgia and affection to her writing and narration. Recommended for any other fans of the shows and her work, and get the audiobook if you’re missing Lorelai Gilmore or Sarah Braverman. One note: Listening at 1.2x speed actually sounded more natural to me because I'm used to her talking so fast on Gilmore Girls.More info →
I've mentioned before that Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors, and this essay provides a bit of background on her road to authorship, as well advice for anyone struggling with the question of, "What now?" Originally a commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, Patchett relates to the graduating students who have inevitably been asked the same question by detailing her own uncertainties and circuitous path to success. This is a short audiobook listen and a good reminder that sometimes the most unlikely situations can give rise to the next opportunity and take us on exactly the right journey toward our goals.More info →
I listened to this one on audiobook, and at long last I think I've landed on the kind of audiobook that works for the way I listen: short, non-fiction, personal vignettes. I've gone through periods in my life where I did a lot of running, but I wouldn't count myself a runner now, nor do I particularly miss running. Nonetheless, I found Murakami's running memoir fairly compelling. Some of the race recaps were maybe a bit detailed for my taste, but I enjoyed his insights on running and writing (and how he actually doesn't think much about writing or stories while running!). I loved his thoughts on the physicality required to be a writer. As a former competitive swimmer, Murakami's efforts to improve his own swimming for triathlons particularly stood out. Any athlete--especially endurance athletes--will appreciate Murakami's insights into running, his successes and failures, and how they bleed into other areas of his life and work.More info →
Janice Kaplan spent a year focusing on gratitude in her own life and talking to experts about the ways that gratitude affects our lives. In all areas of life--family, career, health, and even grief--gratitude has a measurable effect on our well-being, our relationships, and our overall happiness. Daily conscious efforts to be grateful can actually change the neural connections in our brains and retrain the ways that we automatically respond to negative situations. This book made me more conscious of my own responses and the ways that I can build gratitude into my own thoughts and actions; read my full review and thoughts on moving through life with more gratitude.More info →
My Favorite Nonfiction Read this Year
I think The Glass Castle was the most riveting, but I’m hoping The Gratitude Diaries sticks with me the longest–more thoughts on that.
The Nonfiction Books I Recommend the Most
These two both blew me away:
This tale of Louis Zamperini’s trials during World War II is so harrowing, you’ll have to remind yourself that it’s not fiction—because you won’t believe that one person could survive all that he did: a plane crash, months at sea on a raft, shark encounters…and that’s just the start. This book was hard to read, but also hard to put down. It stuck with me long after I finished it and provided perspective when day-to-day concerns threatened to overwhelm. It’s worth the reread for that reason alone.More info →
Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo immersed herself in a slum of Mumbai to tell the stories of the people who live there. Annawadi sits ironically in the shadow of a billboard reading “The Beautiful Forevers” and is pressed on all sides by the growth of the city that is leaving it behind. Boo herself is not part of the story, and she doesn’t need to be. The lives, hopes, and hurts of the families are richly painted and bring home the individual struggles and systemic obstacles that stand in the way of people rising above the inequality into which they are born. For those of us in the U.S., the stories of struggling families in this faraway country feel closer to home than ever in today’s political climate and stratified economy.More info →
Types of Nonfiction I’d Like to Read More
I want to read more from the smart authors writing about race, inequality, and the Black Lives Matter movement. I am painfully aware of my privilege in this country and I know that my first job, if I want to be an ally and raise children who are as well, is to listen and educate myself. All recommendations are welcome! These books won’t encompass my reading for the month, but I’ll be starting with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.
Why Nonfiction November
I’m hoping that this challenge will help me get through at least a few nonfiction books that are on my shelf, and maybe increase my affinity for nonfiction books so I pick them up more frequently in the future.
Nonfiction Books on My Shelf
I won’t get to all of these this month but I hope to make a dent in this list. There may also be others that I start reading, depending on which library holds come in, but these are the books I have at hand:
- Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Swerve: How the World Became Modern – Stephen Greenblatt
- Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed
- Hunger: A Memoir of My Body – Roxane Gay
- A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier – Ishmael Beah
- Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi
- Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies – Jared Diamond
- The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century – Thomas L. Friedman
I find the last two somewhat intimidating (I find the topics interesting, but I think it will be a challenge to keep my interest through the whole books, if that makes sense), so I don’t anticipate even starting them this month. I’ve already started The Swerve, and I think that will be my real “challenge” book for the month.
What are your favorite nonfiction books?