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November reading is typically all about nonfiction for me–in case you missed it, Nonfiction November kicked off on Monday–but a full month of nonfiction isn’t always the best choice.
I love good nonfiction, but the truth is that I almost always love good fiction more. And since this time of year already gets stressful with the holidays and other competing priorities, I decided not to go full throttle into Nonfiction November.
Instead, I’ve chosen two nonfiction books that I am really anticipating.
One is new and has been getting raves from every reader I’ve seen. One is a few years old but has been recommended to me dozens of times. Both promise to be a bit emotionally draining, so I want to give them their proper attention.
I’m rounding out this month’s reading with some fiction books that are also likely to be heavier reads, but they feel right for fall.
Here’s what I’ll be reading. I’d love to hear what you thought of any of these.
Everyone has a story about where they were on 9/11. The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 compiles those stories, from the people who were there. And “there” was so many places: on the ground, in the buildings, in the planes, in the airports, on the phone, and watching from afar.
Several other bloggers who have already read this have raved about how powerful and emotional it is. Nonfiction November seems like the perfect time to focus on it. I’ll be reading this in print, but I’ve heard the audio is also fantastic.
This book has been on my reading list for years and I am finally going to make time for it this month. The publisher’s summary:
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
This 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner absolutely blew me away. Powers constructs a novel that begins with a series of seemingly disconnected stories, each grounded by a tree, and some of them stretching back more than a century. The “understory” finally lands us on a number of central characters: the researcher shunned for her notion of trees communicating; the artist whose family documented a changing tree for decades; the college slacker who turns activist following a near-death experience; the veteran who finds solace only in the solitude of outdoors; the engineer mourning the loss of the only tree visible from her office; the psychologist curious about what drives extreme activists; and the creator of virtual worlds, felled by a tree as a child and compelled to make a more perfect place to exist.
These disparate characters come together in a larger-than-life narrative that becomes a call to activism, a meditation on our place in the world, and an awe-stricken view into the complex and impressive lives and resilience of trees.
This book will not be for everyone; it’s a slow read that requires patience. But for those who find Powers’ style resonates, it is truly an impressive feat of literature. I follow the Now Read This Book Club on Facebook, which has also been reading The Overstory this month, and the feed has been filled with beautiful photos and stories of meaningful and amazing trees. This book seems to inspire such reflection; you can read my own “tree story” in my post on Fiction and Nonfiction Books About Trees.
Harry’s Trees is an entirely different type of book about trees, but it’s no less magical. When 34-year-old Harry’s wife is unexpectedly killed, the Forest Service employee retreats to the trees to grieve and atone for his role in her death. There, he meets a young girl and a mother who are also grieving the loss of their father and husband. The girl, Oriana, is guided by her belief in magic and fairy tales, and is convinced that she and Harry have a mission. Only by completing it will they be pulled up from the depths of their grief.
My reading tastes don’t generally veer toward magic or fairy tales, but Cohen’s lilting writing style drew me in. The fairy tale structure of the book was somewhat heavy handed, but it was also grounded in a healthy amount of skepticism and reality that made it work. This was a much lighter, faster read following The Overstory and I found it to be an uplifting delight.
In the Jim Crow South, a simple mistake sends a black boy to a brutal reform school where boys are brutalized and sometimes disappear. Elwood holds onto his ideals, shaped by the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King, but his friend Turner is just as certain in his cynicism. This tension leads to a choice that has repercussions for years to come.
Based on a real reform school in Florida, The Nickel Boys promises to be a devastating read by a celebrated author.