And so we come to the end of Nonfiction November and the start of the holidays. We had a great time hosting Thanksgiving at our house, and we’re mostly decorated–in the low-key way that we favor–for Christmas. Shopping is almost wrapped up (even if the gifts aren’t), and holiday events for us are at a minimum this year. It certainly won’t be this way every year, but we are excited to have a quiet, unbusy Christmas and New Year.
As for November, I read much more than I expected this month. It was great to read a lot of nonfiction, but I’m ready to get back to mostly fiction, with a bit of NF here and there. Here’s the wrap-up.
Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit.
In this letter to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses how the United States was built on and by the bodies of black people, and how those bodies continue to be endangered, used, and abused to maintain a system that thrives on their subjugation. Coates recalls recent incidents of police brutality as well as the long history of race and its importance to those in power--"the people who believe themselves to be white." Powerful, emotional, and filled with brutal, uncomfortable truths that demand to be known and acknowledged. More info →
Roxane Gay's life was changed forever at 12. The victim of a gang rape, Gay began building a fortress around herself, attempting to both keep herself safe and regain control. Instead, she found herself in what she calls an "unruly body," one that, in its obesity, provides some measure of safety while also shrinking her world in various ways. At the same time, she asserts herself as fully human in a world that is determined to dehumanize her: highly intelligent, fully able to love and be loved, and in no way ignorant of the health and nutrition facts people throw at her. Gay is brutally honest and raw in this memoir about her struggles to understand and care for herself--weight, past, and all. More info →
When Will Schwalbe's mother was diagnosed with cancer, he began attending chemotherapy treatments with her and discussing the latest books they had read. This soon grew into a "book club" of two, where mother and son shared book discussions, memories, and thoughts on living. At times, Schwalbe's mother seemed both saintly and superhuman in the things that she'd accomplished; the family seemed orbit around her. I didn't love this, but I did love the idea of sharing beloved books with someone who counts reading as a passion as their life comes to a close. More info →
I absolutely loved this retelling of the Little House on the Prairie book, from Caroline "Ma" Ingalls' perspective. When I read and re-read the books as a child, Ma didn't particularly stand out. She was just solid and steadfast, always the voice of reason and sure of what needed to be done (except maybe in the face of Indians, where her weaknesses and prejudices came out). This book moves through familiar scenes while highlighting the challenges and uncertainties of being a young, pregnant mother, alone on the prairie with only her wanderlust-filled husband and three- and five-year-old daughters. Only now, as a mother of daughters of similar ages, do I realize what a terrifying feat this was (and just how young Laura and Mary really were!). Miller's prose is lovely and provides a wonderful grown-up dose of nostalgia. Highly recommended for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder. More info →
As a day at the zoo winds down, Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, make their way toward the exit and realize that the fireworks they heard earlier were, in fact, gunshots. Joan and Lincoln spend the next three hours running, navigating the false wilderness and exhibits that provide hiding places--for themselves and for their hunters. This book had me on the edge of my seat--I read it in a matter of hours--and I could feel the weight of the four-year-old in her arms, as well as the desperation to keep him quiet and make him understand the situation without causing hysteria. I have to admit to some reservations about the zoo after reading this book! My only complaint was some questions that were left unresolved by the end of the book--it could have used another chapter or two. More info →
A book of "advice on love and life" is not the kind of thing I would normally read, but the raves piqued my curiosity. Strayed, known as "Sugar," the anonymous advice columnist for The Rumpus, gives the kind of advice we all hope to get from our best friends, or our therapists. She doesn't always have the answers, but she does have perspective, and she is searingly honest in her analysis of some of life's biggest questions. At the heart of all of her columns is one life essential: love. More info →
I debated whether to start the illustrated version of this book yet with my six-year-old, thinking it might be too scary, but ultimately she was too excited to wait. There were definitely scary parts, and the time travel was very confusing (we talked through it several times), but we both loved this book. It really felt like Harry's story moved forward even as he gained a deeper understanding of his past. My daughter has even suggested that we go ahead with the next book, even though the illustrated version isn't out yet--she'd previously been adamant about waiting for them, so it's clear she's gotten very invested in the story and characters. More info →
Ishmael Beah was a regular 12-year-old boy in Sierra Leone when the war came. He went to school, hung out with friends, and loved to dance and rap in local talent shows. All of that was lost in an instant as the rebels rampaged through villages, killing everyone they found. He found himself on the run. After surviving for months, at times with a small group of boys, at times completely alone, starvation and desperation brought him to a village that seemed safe. Instead, he was pressed into service by the government army, drugged, and trained as a killer. Beah tells his story in a way that is both matter-of-fact and fully cognizant of the innocence that was stolen from him and so many other children. A word of warning: this was so hard to read--at times I struggled to continue, knowing that things were only going to get worse. That it's a true story, for Beah and for thousands of other children, made it feel important to finish. More info →
I grabbed this sweet middle grade book on a whim, not realizing it's a graphic novel and a memoir of the author's own experience navigating elementary school as a deaf child who uses hearing aids. Cece wants more than anything to find a true friend, but she feels like her hearing aids and her deafness create a barrier between herself and the other kids. They either treat her too differently or forget to speak so she can lip read and understand. Cece soon realizes that she may have differences, but they can be good and even give her superpowers. This is an excellent book to share with kids to discuss the feelings of people who have differing abilities, and how they can view their own differences positively. More info →
Anna Quindlen's memoir is less the story of her life and more a series of essays reflecting on her own life and how the lives of women in general have changed over the last century. From marriage, friendships, parenthood, careers, loss (and the familial expectations placed on women during those times), to facing our own aging and mortality, Quindlen's reflections have a universal feel for American women even several generations after the baby boomers. I wasn't sure whether to laugh in solidarity or cry in...exhaustion, maybe?...over Quindlen's views on how the expectations of motherhood changed from when she was a child to when she was raising children. The activities, constant supervision, and the need to entertain and enrich every moment. This, from a woman who was a parent when I was a child, at a time that, compared to now, seemed filled with childhood freedoms and less parental oversight in every aspect of life. Or maybe this is the perspective of most children, once they become parents and hold the awesome responsibility. This is the part that stands out, since it is the stage of life that I'm in, but so much of what she says rings of truth, regardless of generation. More info →
I’m reading Seabiscuit–one last nonfiction before I grab a novel. I’ve avoided this one for a while, having zero interest in horse racing, but the raves and Hillenbrand’s famous meticulous research and compelling storytelling won me over. I’m only about a quarter of the way through, but I’m finding the lives of jockeys alternately fascinating and horrifying. The little I’ve read of Seabiscuit himself so far has made me laugh, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the character of this horse.
As I mentioned in my post on my winter reading list, I’m going to return to my fall list and read Sweetbitter and The Woman in Cabin 10.
We watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban after reading the book. This one, more than the first two, seemed to deviate or omit parts of the book. I’m sure this has been exhaustively documented by Potterheads everywhere, but I expect that this continues through the series as the books become longer. (?) Anyway, we really enjoyed the movie, and I think watching it helped my daughter understand the time travel part a little better.
Otherwise, I’m on the last season of Parenthood, which I love just as much–or more–the second time around.
It’s been a busy month on the blog! In case you missed it:
What were your favorite reads in November?