Nonfiction November, Week 4: Nonfiction Favorites

In Week 4 of Nonfiction November,  Katie @ Doing Dewey brings us Nonfiction Favorites.

She says: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

 

First, can I say I love this question?

Especially since I was recently pondering this very topic. A few weeks ago, while talking about books with the Dear Man, I said something and then realized it was abundantly true: I think narrative voice is the most important element for me as a reader.

It stopped me in my tracks, that’s how true it was.

If I enjoy the writer’s voice, I’ll read nearly anything. Here’s proof:

I’ve read and loved these books, which are about topics I wouldn’t say I enjoy reading about:

 

Sports

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

Over Time by Frank Deford

An Accidental Sportswriter by Robert Lipsyte

 

Police Life (too gritty for my sensibilities, I always think, but then… these books)

Blue Blood by Edward Conlon 

The Job by Steve Osborne 

 

I think their lively narrative voice is the reason I dearly adore reading books by journalists. They get right to the point, and they keep it punchy.

 

So, my fellow nonfiction fanatics… I read for narrative voice. What nonfiction books should I add to my TBR?

Nonfiction November, Week 3: Be the Expert/Ask the Expert

(Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash)

This week Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness brings us Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert!

Here’s our topic: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

 

Self-improvement books make me very, very happy.

When I look back on the ones that have made me the happiest, these books wing their way to the top of the list. These five authors are my gurus.

Starting with the most sweeping and challenging…

 

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown   

Probably Brene Brown needs no introduction. But if her work is new to you, the quickest way I can sum it up is:

Warm. Honest. Challenging. Hopeful.

 

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin  

While I’ve never officially done a happiness project, I’ve definitely been a lifelong dabbler in the science. Rubin, who now has an entertaining podcast along with her sister, breaks happiness down for us here, and she does it by making herself the experiment. It’s informative, it’s fun to read, and it’s inspiring.

 

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

The latest self-improvement Big Impact book I’ve read, Deep Work asks us to slow down and go deep. And as a multi-tasking whirlwind (actually, I’m hooked on stacking and nesting tasks, cuz we all know multi-tasking doesn’t work), I resisted this concept like my stubborn toddler self used to dig in her heels. (People who know me now find this unfathomable, but this is the way I was.) But once I gave it a try, I was on board. And now I’m one of those annoying converts who can’t stop proselytizing. This stuff works.

 

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

Ever since I read Getting Things Done the second time (about 2 years ago), I’ve been following this system, and I don’t know how I lived without it. It’s made me both more organized and less stressed. That subtitle don’t lie, my friends.

 

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide for Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley 

Narrow the focus to writing, and this book is my hands-down favorite. Handley is encouraging and she’s wise and she makes me want to be a better writer. And she makes me want to actually sit down and write. (Sometimes that’s half the battle. Am I wrong?)

 

So, good people of the Interwebs… What self-improvement book changed your life? 

Telling stories

(Photo by Alysa Bajenaru on Unsplash)

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

3 words: sharp, modern, clever

 

Sometimes books actually live up to the hype. American Housewife: it can handle the hype.

Once I started listening to this audiobook, I was sold.

These stories are smart and sharp and pointed and surprising. They’re snarky and sometimes grim and sometimes hilarious and always rewarding.

The tone varies among stories, which is another thing I really like in a story collection because it shows the author’s range and keeps me wondering what’ll be next.

And Ellis seriously makes you wonder, because she’ll go from a wicked neighborly feud via email to vaguely dystopian tale of a writer hired (and forced) by Tampax to write a novel. And then there’ll be an increasingly creepy story of a woman who lives in a high-rise building, and a tale about book club initiation rites, and a really great one about an author on a reality TV show.

Given its title, I expected these stories to focus on marriage, but they really focus on the wife. In many of the stories, she stands alone.

And that’s just fine, because the women in these stories are fascinating all on their own.

For a quick dose of something bracing and thoroughly enjoyable, oh I sure hope you’ll read this book.

(And then stop back by, so we can gossip about it. I’m aching to discuss it with someone.)

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… a quick and rewarding read, clever use of words, a fair amount of snark, creative stories, the occasional dark twist, variety in tone among stories

 

My fellow readers… what book are you aching to discuss with someone?

 

Nonfiction November, Week 2: Book Pairing

(Photo by Dominik Schröder on Unsplash)

This week, our host, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, brings us this topic…

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Looking at the books I’ve read this year, the fiction and nonfiction books that leap off my list and into one another’s arms are…

 

  • Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (that would be the nonfiction)
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman (that would be the fiction)

The thing that binds these two books is the response to grief — specifically, the death of a spouse. And that’s a really sad and scary topic. But both of these books are empowering, even though they’re also honest about the pain of that type of loss.

Though certainly not read-alikes, they could be companion books. I wouldn’t mind reading both of them for book club, to discuss the different ways we deal with loss.

That time we saw Hamilton

 

3 words: overwhelmed, verklempt, ecstatic

We saw Hamilton*, and I’m still floating nearly a week later.

I just keep thinking how lucky we are to be alive right now.

We bought the tickets three seasons ago, and I’ve been flapping with anticipation ever since.

(The flapping last week reached record levels.)

 

 

The Dear Man and his dear sister and dear brother-in-law and I went downtown, and we ate lovely food

(photo credit: Dear Man’s dear sister)

and then lovely cookies.

And then: the theater.

And I’m tellin’ you: The experience was overwhelming.

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for well over a year, and it usually provides my internal background music. (So many phrases set it off… and then I’m helpless…)

So I’ve got the music down.

And I knew what the set looks like, because I’ve read Hamilton: The Revolution twice and flipped through it dozens of times.

But the whole visual experience. I was not prepared. It was overwhelming. In the very best way.

I didn’t realize how hard my brain was going to be working to take in the people on the stage and their mannerisms and their movements and their expressions. There was choreography. There were changes to the set. There were interpersonal dynamics happening up there. There was so much to watch!

My eyes were hungry, and they couldn’t eat fast enough to keep up. I felt like Lucy.

I kept wanting to slow it down so I could savor it.

At the same time, I was completely swept along with the pace and the current of the thing. It was filled with so much energy and it was thrilling.

I felt like I’d internalized the words (by reading them but mostly by listening to them so often I’ve memorized them), and now there was another layer being added to an already extraordinarily rich text.

I knew I’d be awed, but I didn’t expect the way my senses would be swamped because I wanted to take in all the details.

I like having my senses swamped, so this is not a problem. But wow. It was seriously something.

The next day and the day after that, I kept telling the Dear Man the ways the experience was still dawning on me.

The thing that wasn’t surprising: my supposedly waterproof mascara proved my tear ducts are stronger than science. My face was kind of a mess afterwards (expected!) because: all that crying. I cried during the sad parts, yes (Hamilton betraying his faithful wife, their son dying tragically young, Hamilton dying way too young), but the part that always gets me while I’m listening (the part about government that only the Dear Man gets to know is my favorite) had me sobbing.

Ugly crying in the theater?

 

 

So, a week later… Am I still overwhelmed? Yes.

Am I Satisfied? HECK YES.

 

*So we’re doing this  (1:33)

Nonfiction November, Week 1: Your Year in Nonfiction

Hello, my friends, and welcome to Nonfiction November — one of the best holidays of the year!

Each week this month, I’ll be posting on Monday to play along.

This week, our host is the darling and clever Julie of JulzReads.

And she gives us these topics:

 

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions…

First, here’s my year in nonfiction thus far:

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

On Writing by Stephen King 

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner 

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking  

Lovable Livable Home by Sherry and John Petersik

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope by Wendy Holden

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home by Amy Dickinson

March: Book One by John Lewis

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything In Between by Lauren Graham

The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

George Rogers Clark: I Glory in War by William R. Nester  

Find a Way by Diana Nyad 

Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages by David Ross

Boone: A Biography by Robert Morgan

United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath  

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer 

32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line by Eric Ripert  

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul  

Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America by Andrew Ferguson

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman by Nora Ephron 

You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice by Tom Vanderbilt

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

Encounter with an Angry God: Recollections of My Life with John Peabody Harrington by Carobeth Laird

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

 

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

I seriously love the nonfiction, so this is a tough one. But when I look over the list of nonfiction books I’ve read so far this year, the one that stands out is Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home by Amy Dickinson. This book did all the things a book is meant to do: it made me laugh and cry, it made me stay up past my bedtime, and it made me happy to be alive.

 

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

We’ve got a tie here, folks. And I’m realizing that my answers reveal way too much about my inherent dorkiness. You’ve been warned.

First: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

(Full disclosure: I’m writing this post during a 40-minute bout of deep work. It’s nice in here.) This book is gradually changing the way I approach aspects of my work and my life, and it’s making both better. Did I resist change at first? Yes, I did. Am I glad I powered through? Darn right.

 

Also first: The U.S. Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell

I’m not much of a graphic novel reader, so for me to be handselling one all over town means this book is pretty stinkin’ amazing. I loved this book’s Schoolhouse Rock style, and I loved that I kept getting verklempt about our government while reading it.

 

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

As I look over my nonfiction reading for the year, the books that make my heart sing tend to be memoirs and essay collections. I don’t necessarily gravitate to memoirs, so this feels a bit surprising. I’d be OK with reading more memoirs next year.

 

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I can’t wait to expand my TBR with suggestions from other bloggers. Last year JoAnn of Lakeside Musing inspired me to read My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor, a book I really enjoyed.

I’m looking forward to more discoveries this November!

Comforting and genteel… the loveliest novel

(U. S. Department of State photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

My Mrs. Brown by William Norwich

3 words: genteel, leisurely, comforting

Some books pull you in by their driving narrative. Others hold onto you because of their compelling characters. This is one of those.

For bedtime reading, I’ve rarely found a more suitable book. This story is soothing and gentle and filled with good, decent people.

Yet… there’s an intriguing plot that keeps a reader turning the pages, however leisurely.

Mrs. Brown, an unassuming salon cleaning lady, becomes taken with the idea of owning a couture suit. Actually, if we’re honest, she becomes obsessed. But not in a creepy, all-encompassing way. Instead, in a life-changing, affirming way.

It’s like she’s being reborn.

It’s a bit of a Cinderella story, but without the fanciful bits. And without the prince.

In her unlikely quest, Mrs. Brown encounters kind people who go out of their way to help her. And meanwhile, she’s also helping a young woman who becomes her friend — even though they’re living very different lives.

And there are some haters, too, because what’s a story without some conflict?

But the overall feeling is: comfort. A perfectly lovely book.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… dressmaking, novels about fashion, quiet lives, intergenerational friendships, Elinor Lipman, fulfillment of modest dreams

 

What’s the best bedtime reading you’ve encountered lately?

October is National Reading Group Month

It’s October, and that means: book clubs!

This is the month we specially celebrate book groups, though some of us celebrate every month with a gathering and a book and food and drink and lots of talk.

Our book club’s theme this summer was Humor.

Since one of us has a rather grim sense of humor, one of my friends said, “If we choose Humor, the books have to be generally accepted as funny…  not MK funny” — which totally made me laugh.

And we achieved it. Here are the ratings of the books we chose, plus the completely non-humorous book we read before the Humor spree.

Pre-humor…

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Discussability Score: 4

Because: Our conversation went on and on, and I have a feeling we’re going to harken back to this book in the future. Even when we started talking about other topics, we returned to the book. That’s a good sign.

 

The Humor trilogy

(because we’re talking Humor, and this photo cracks me up)

We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman

Discussability Score: 4

Because: We talked a good long while about the fact that we all liked the book, and why. And also about character development and believability.

 

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

Discussability Score: 4

Because: We talked about sexism and culture and generational differences, and we talked about writing style and differences in tone among essays.

 

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

Discussability Score: 4

Because: We all liked Nora Ephron very much, and we wish she were alive so she could join our book club. At least I know I do, and I think the others would agree. We liked and remembered the same essays, which we discussed at some length. And then we debated whether early Ephron is more zingy than later Ephron. Opinions were mixed. Discussion ensued.

 

For more of all things Book Club, check out Book Club Central.

 

Readers, does your book club ever read by theme?

Currently… anticipating Hamilton!

Reading | I’m in the final 200 pages of Ron Chernow’s magnificent Alexander Hamilton, and I’ve begun re-reading Hamilton: The Revolution (that beautiful book filled with all the lyrics), because we’re going to see Hamilton later this month!! When I’m not immersed in Hamiltoniana, I’m completely loving Anne Bogel’s new book, Reading People. The reading life is very rich these days.

 

Listening: the audiobooks | The audiobook that’s edged out all others at the moment: My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King. Usually I listen to an eAudiobook around the house, and a CD audiobook in the car. But I’ve been taking this one with me and listening to it everywhere, because I’m completely absorbed in her story.

 

Listening: the podcasts | What’s been making me happy in the podcast universe lately: Happier in Hollywood, By the Book, TED Talks, and What Should I Read Next?

 

Loving | Pizza #83, you made us very happy! The Dear Man and I went to Impellizzerri’s in Louisville, and this pizza knocked our socks off. I’m thinking it might make the top 5. Definitely top 10.

 

Learning | I’m still working on developing some Deep Work habits, and I gotta say: it’s not always coming naturally. But I’m taking some serious steps to implement it, and I had one perfect day when I was so productive it was nearly frightening. It was pretty freakin’ amazing.

 

Celebrating | We just completed another canoe trip, and, as usual, we were all fresh and jolly and raring for more when we arrived at the outfitter at the end of a day of paddling. And also as usual, this shocked the outfitter staff, who apparently are accustomed to people being either super cranky or wretchedly exhausted after a pleasant day of river canoeing. We are chipper.

 

Anticipating | Hamilton!!!!!! Did I mention we’re in the countdown? We are. Flapping commences every time I realize this is the month. (There’s a lot of flapping going on.)

Why I love Brene Brown

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

3 words: narrative, thoughtful, engaging

Oh my goodness. Brene Brown.

I seriously can’t say enough good things.

When I want to feel both encouraged and challenged, she’s my go-to writer. For me, she appeared out of nowhere just when I needed her research to help me out.

And life just keeps offering ways to use the ideas she puts out there.

When she spoke at the American Library Association conference, she talked about and directly demonstrated the concepts in Braving the Wilderness, and she brought us along with her:

“People are hard to hate close up. Move in.

Speak truth to BS. Be civil.

Hold hands. With strangers.

Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.”

We were all singing together and it was beautiful as all heck.

So she’s walking the walk and inspiring others to do the same. It’s hard work, y’all. (I sometimes slip into Brene Brown speak when I’m thinking about her.)

But there’s such warmth and humor here, too. This part made me smile out loud:

“After fifteen years of this work, I can confidently say that stories of pain and courage almost always include two things: praying and cussing. Sometimes at the exact same time.”  (pp. 24-25)

She spoke about that at ALA, too — the fact that some organizations ask her not to cuss, and others ask her not to mention God. But she’s gonna do both, doggone it.

It’s hard stuff, this living a good and decent life. And she makes us realize that to do it really, really well is super hard and super rewarding.

Give this book a whirl if you like…books that explain society and challenge us to be our best selves, reconnecting with yourself and others, cultivating integrity, showing up as our true selves

What book or author showed up in your life just when you needed them most?