Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction (So Far)
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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:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
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 →
The Glass Castle
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 →
Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between)
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 →
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
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 →
The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life
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:
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
A harrowing tale of one man's survival in a plane crash, months at sea, and in a POW camp during World War II.More info →
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
An illuminating nonfiction book that tells the stories of the residents of a slum in Mumbai.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?
It sounds like we have similar taste in nonfiction – I loved both of your most recommended books, Unbroken and Behind the Beautiful Forevers. I’m also a fan of Ann Patchett, have On Writing on tbr, and would like to read The Gratitude Diaries. From your tbr shelf, Between the World and Me was a favorite a year or two ago, I liked Reading Lolita in Tehran, and remember enjoying The World is Flat, too.
Wondering if you’ve read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I thought it was excellent.
I haven’t, but it does sound like we have similar tastes. I’ll check it out–thanks!
The Gratitude Diaries sounds like something I would enjoy. I kept a gratitude journal for awhile and I found that it really helped me. I think this book could also help me find some strategies to be more positive.
I’m finding it helpful as well, but it’s definitely something I have to consciously work at. I’m hoping it will become more automatic. I wrote more about my thoughts while reading it here, if you’re interested: http://mindjoggle.com/living-grateful-life-gratitude-diaries/
Unbroken was the book I recommended most a couple of years ago during Nonfiction November. I think everyone should read it!
I agree–it is amazing what people can endure!
Between the World and Me is great, I hope you get a chance to read it soon! If you get a chance check out The Charleston Syllabus, a collection of historical documents, analysis, and articles put together after the Charleston shooting. It’s from a college press and gave me a great grounding in the issues underpinning racial inequality today. If you’re interested my review is thisaway: https://alwaysdoing.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/charleston-syllabus-edited-by-chad-williams-kidada-williams-and-keisha-n-blain/
I haven’t heard of this before–it sounds wonderful! Thanks so much for the recommendation. I will definitely try to get my hands on it.
Have you read Homegoing? It’s fiction, but it reminds me of your description of The Charleston Syllabus in that it moves through generations over hundreds of years and provides historical context for present situations.
It looks like we have very similar taste in non-fiction, and you have some great books on your list. Have you read Hillenbrand’s other book, Seabiscuit? Is is one of my favorite books of all time, an absolutely fascinating read and even better than Unbroken, in my opinion.
I haven’t read Seabiscuit, though I keep hearing how wonderful it is! I honestly have just not been drawn in, knowing it’s a story about a race horse. Hillenbrand did such an amazing job with Unbroken, though, I know I should give it a chance.
What a great idea for a reading challenge! I love it! I actually am a pretty big fan of nonfiction, and I have a strange system for how I read, so I end up reading a lot! I’m almost always in the middle of at least four books—one nonfiction (usually a self-help or one about spirituality), one memoir/biography, one adult fiction, and one young adult fiction. But I got a lot of great new ideas from your lists (and I’ve already added a few to my TBR list on Goodreads, so thanks for that!).
I’m pretty fascinated by the food culture in America, so I loved reading In Defense of Food (Michael Pollan) and Animal Vegetable Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver), as well as Fast Food Nation (which stopped me eating fast food for something like 3-4 years, though I need to pick it up again since I’ve gotten back in the habit of having some!). I liked Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird as a guide for writers, and though I personally didn’t love Murakami’s memoir on running, I DO generally like nonfiction books on running, like Born to Run (loved!) and Eat & Run (Scott Jurek). For self-help stuff, I’m a fan of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and Happier at Home (her book on habits was decent too), and I just finished the book Grit (Angela Duckworth) and thought it was utterly fascinating (not to mention inspiring).
Anyway, thanks again for a great post!
Wow, I’m not sure I could read four books at once! I’ve just started reading two at once (an e-book and a physical book) and it’s working well. Maybe I should try three at once and have a non-fiction read going. Even if it’s slow, maybe I would read more of them. Thanks for the idea!
I’m glad you found some good ideas on my meager list! I’ve been meaning to read Bird by Bird for a long time–I’ll have to pick it up–and Grit is really intriguing. Thanks for the recs and the nice comment!
Wow! For someone who doesn’t read much nonfiction that’s a pretty impressive list!
I’m not a runner, but I loved the Murakami ( it was my nonfiction pic a number of years ago.) I’m still to get to the King.
The Strayed book is fabulous & can be read in short bursts. The Diamond is a hard slog (I only read half of it about a decade ago).
But that’s just me ?
I’m thinking the Diamond and Friedman books might have to be read a few pages at a time, maybe first thing in the morning or at lunch–I don’t want them to feel like homework. The Swerve is feeling a little like that. I don’t want to give up yet but I may need something a little more compelling for my bedtime reading–I keep falling asleep!
I loved reading The Glass Castle, though I read it so long ago that I think I need to reread it. I loved Stephen King’s On Writing and read it maybe three years ago? It’s one I recommend all the time! Good luck with your reading this month – I’ve added a few books to my TBR after this post. 🙂
Thank you! Those were both so good 🙂
I was trying to do a gratitude exercise earlier this year but I started to feel too fake, like I was looking for things to “say” I was grateful for even if I wasn’t really, just to get it over with. Maybe the Gratitude Diaries would help me get over that?
She does address this a little bit, in a couple of ways. First, she makes clear that the point isn’t to see everything with rose-colored glasses–problems are real and we have to deal with them, but not everything has to feel like a problem. I know that’s not exactly what you’re saying, but basically even the practice can help train you to search for the good and better identify the real problems in life–not dwell on the little ones.
Second, of all the people in the book that she spoke with, the one that stands out is a mother who lost all three of her young daughters in one car accident. The magnitude of this loss takes my breath away even now, but what I remember her saying is that some days, when it feels like there is nothing to be grateful for, all she can do is is look down and be thankful for her feet. She can acknowledge at least that, and doing so helps her move forward by inches. As above, there’s value in the practice.
The book probably says it better, but I hope that helps 🙂
Unbroken was amazing. Here is my post: https://wordsandpeace.com/2017/11/03/nonfiction-november-my-year-2017-in-nonfiction/
Every year I do NNF because I am a 99% fiction reader. It’s my escape- especially these days. I applaud your wanting to actively make a difference; it’s not easy. The Coates book is mind blowing in its perspective. It is like Behind the Beautiful Forevers in that while we as women have our own set of extreme challenges, I don’t feel as if my very existence is being threatened every day.
Your concern about Gun Germs is valid. I listened to it and it made it easier. It’s pretty dense reading.
My favorite nonfiction is anything narrative. I’m hoping to get through at least 3 nf books this month. Right now I’m reading Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake and it is perfection.
I finished the Coates book and it’s amazing. I do appreciate that he acknowledges the way that women’s bodies are also endangered in a way that he cannot understand. Something I’ve been pondering this year, though, is how I, as a privileged white woman, also present a threat in an entirely different way, especially to black men. It’s a new and very uncomfortable realization.
I have a physical copy of Guns, Germs, and Steel, so I’m thinking I may have to make it a bit of a project–something to chip away at in small bits.
I just finished Quindlen’s Still Life with Bread Crumbs, and while I wasn’t blown away by the story, I just love her writing. Every Last One has stuck with me. I’ll have to check out Lots of Candles–thanks!