Narrative nonfiction for book bingo

Narrative nonfiction… the mere words create happiness.

This is my natural reading place, and I’ve delayed posting a list of five (only five!) narrative nonfiction books because paring down my list of favorites? Not so very easy.

If you ask me on a different day, you’re likely going to get a completely different list of books.

But these five are seriously solid choices for any nonfiction reader.

My fellow narrative nonfiction fanatics…
What titles would you put on your list of 5 sure-bet narrative nonfiction books?

(Can you tell I’m wanting to increase my TBR?)

The Cookbook Reading Extravaganza

Anyone else reading cookbooks all the time for the sheer comfort of it? Same here.

I’ve never in my life been a cookbook reader, and suddenly, mid-pandemic, it’s like someone flipped a switch and suddenly I’m checking out every readerly cookbook I can get my hands on.

I hold Molly Yeh and Deb Perelman and Priya Krishna and Melissa Coleman fully responsible. Their cookbooks are beautiful and full of friendly and relatable stories, and I feel like they’re my kitchen friends (the kind of friend who’s way smarter than me about everything involving food and photography and writing and every other useful life skill — and I adore ’em anyway).

And since I’ve been in the kitchen a lot over the past year (we’ve been “traveling” by making recipes related to places we’ve actually visited in the past), it’s been a quiet little victory to expand my cooking horizons and really fall into the rhythm of cooking.


Now I wouldn’t say this new habit is a problem, but one of the challenges is when library holds on multiple cookbooks arrive on the same day. And cookbooks — the pretty ones filled with photos — are heavy monsters to carry. So there are days I feel like a pack mule just getting the library books home. (Such problems!)  And then I have a stack of cookbooks distracting me from other reading. (Again, not an actual problem)


And truly, some of the cookbooks are just for browsing… I’ll flip through and look at every recipe, mark a few that I’d like to try, and that’s that.


But other cookbooks are so much more than that. My most recent cookbook reading delight was Molly Yeh’s Molly on the Range, which describes her life as a Chinese American/Jewish food blogger (and Juilliard-trained percussionist), transplanted to the rural Midwest — to an actual farm, because of love. Her voice is original and funny, and her recipes are creative yet approachable. And she makes me really want to try to bake challah. She gives me faith that it might not be a total flop if I attempt it. (Stay tuned… I’m probably gonna flop. At least at first.)


And I actually bought a copy of Melissa Coleman’s The Minimalist Kitchen, which cleared my very high bar for cookbook purchases (more than 75% of the recipes are things I actually want to cook — and feel capable of cooking).

All those bookmarks!


So I’m asking everyone — I’m definitely asking you

What are the readable cookbooks you love best?

Books by Black Authors for book bingo

Books by Black authors is our next book bingo category, and once again: way too many great suggestions come to mind.

But the goal with these posts is to suggest 5 books per category. So, after endless consideration, we’ve got a very short list of amazing titles. Today’s list features classics, contemporary fiction, and memoirs.

What book by a Black author do you plan to read for book bingo this year? And what books by Black authors are your all-time favorites to suggest to other readers?

Breezy books for book bingo

When we’re talking breezy books, I think: romance. And then I think: cheeky narratives. And then I think: fun-to-read cookbooks full of sunshine. Here we have some examples of each…

  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
  • Frost on My Moustache by Tim Moore
  • The Wedding Dateby Jasmine Guillory 
  • Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie
  • Indian-ish by Priya Krishna

So what’s your favorite type of breezy book? Any contrarians who want to offer up some grim titles for this category?

Unconventional Books for Book Bingo

My readerly friends would tell you I’m a total sucker for unconventional books. 

Is it a memoir in the form of an encyclopedia? I’m there. 

Is it a philosophical essay in multiple choice test form? Sign me up. 

A series of personal essays, some of which are 3 sentences in length (and powerful as all heck)? One of my favorite books ever.

So I’ve got 5 books for us today, and I fervently want you to tell me about the unconventional books you’ve loved (or hated — I know they’re not for everyone). 

Here are 5 unconventional books to consider for Book Bingo:

  • Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly
  • Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun
  • Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
  • The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon by Sei Shonagon

These books are surprising and delightful, and often they go down easy and then leave a lasting impression. Sure, they look simple and sprightly, but I’m convinced there’s more wisdom per word in these books that turn the usual narrative structure upside down. 


So I’m seriously yearning for you to leave a comment that contains the title (let’s be honest: I want multiple titles) of your favorite unconventional books. Titles… please!

Great book discussion book: Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Let’s face it: usually most book clubs only discuss the book for about 20 minutes, then we’re off to weekend plans and family updates and discussions of the world’s problems.

Am I right?

But recently when my book club met via Zoom to discuss Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones, we talked about the book for more than an hour

This is extremely noteworthy.

So let’s talk about why this book generated so much conversation.

First, this book deals with hard topics. It’s set during the Atlanta Child Murders of the early 1980s, and anytime bad things happen to children, that’s some rough subject matter. One of my friends said she had a difficult time sleeping one night, after finishing the second section of the book — and I understand why; much about these characters’ stories is heartbreaking. 

So that was another topic we discussed — the way fiction has the power to create empathy. 

Through Jones’s pitch-perfect dialogue and insights into the minds of children, we found that she captured much that is universal about childhood, while also providing a window into the lives of Black children living with economic insecurity and fear of a predator. 

This novel is divided into three sections, with each one focusing on a different child’s point of view. The three children attend school together, so like any multiple-viewpoint novel, we get to see characters from different angles. (I love that.)

The other thing that’s wonderful about this book is that Jones uses a close third-person viewpoint for the first two sections, and a first-person narrative for the final section. We talked about the genius of this choice, which allows Jones’s lyrical descriptions to permeate the first two sections. Her writing is gorgeous; by the time I finished reading the first page of the book, I was humming with pleasure because her writing is so evocative. 

Then, with the final section, we hear the voice of a character coming through — so the emotional power of the book is brought home in that final section, as we walk with young Octavia through her experience.

Our group had an in-depth discussion of the situation at the end of the second section — discussing the character’s mindset. Like I said, it’s an agonizing thing to read and to ponder, but it’s important and it invites us to face our shared humanity, even in the worst moments. It’s one of the most heart-felt discussions we’ve ever had as a group.

Tayari Jones provides discussion questions on her website, which we looked up partway through our discussion to make sure we didn’t overlook anything. (It’s a pdf, which I can’t figure out how to link — so you can find it by Googling: Leaving Atlanta Tayari Jones questions)

We cannot recommend this book more highly.

If your book club has read it, or decides to read it, please tell us about your discussion. It’s always fascinating to hear about book discussions and how they approach a book.

Quest books for Book Bingo

Hello! It’s time for our next installment of Book Bingo categories… Quest.

It’s one of those words that wants to be said with emphasis, isn’t it?

So here, we’re not just talking about a small “I want” — we’re going big.

We’re going fairytale-size quest, we’re going to the moon.

Here are 5 books of people on a serious quest…

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
  • Robbergirl by S.T. Gibson
  • You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
  • Rocket Men by Robert Kurson

So what amazingly quest-filled book are you going to read for this category? And what are the favorite quest books you’ve read earlier?

We could all use a little more quest in our lives…

5 Anti-racist Books for Book Bingo

Hello, readers! As I mentioned last week, this new series of posts will offer 5 books for each Book Bingo category. 

“Anti-racist” is up next, and there are so many great books to choose from. 

Finally, I selected 3 nonfiction books: a moving memoir, a powerful sociological/self-improvement book, and an historical perspective; and 2 works of fiction: a heart-rending novel and a soul-stirring YA book.

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

As I mentioned, there are many, many remarkable anti-racist books. For more suggestions, check out these articles:


With so many books to choose from, what book about anti-racism are you going to read next?

5 Books from “1000 Books Before You Die” for Book Bingo

Introducing a new series of blog posts, all about Book Bingo! 

We’re going to be taking a look at this year’s book bingo card and suggesting 5 books for each category. 

And because I love orderliness in my list-making, we’re starting in the upper left corner and taking them in order from left to right… just like we’re reading.

…which means: 1000 Books Before You Die is our first category. 

For this category, the idea is to choose a book from James Mustich’s magnificent opus, 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. He’s generously created a website that lists the books, so you can check it out there. Or… check out his book from the library, or even buy a copy.   

When I heard Mustich interviewed on the Just the Right Book podcast, host Roxane Coady asked him to name just one book. He named two. (Let’s admit it: we’d all name more than one.)

His top 2: Middlemarch by George Eliot and The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban


Here’s my selection of 5 sure bets from his full list… 


There are oodles (995!) more to choose from, so let the games begin!

Once you decide, I’ll be curious to hear… Which book are you going to choose from 1000 Books to Read Before You Die?

Favorite Books of 2020

While the blog’s been on unplanned hiatus due to Covid-era weariness and needing to place my attention on other things, there’s been some reading going on here.

Here are my top 10 favorites this year…


Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

3 words: literary, complex, introspective

Give this book a whirl if you like… literary fiction, novels by Black authors, stories of immigration, scientists doing experimental research, exploring faith vs science, novels about depression

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

3 words: heartwarming, quirky, character-driven

Give this book a whirl if you like… stories of found family, fantasy for readers who don’t love fantasy, orphanages, amazing teachers, LGBTQIA+ fiction, #ownvoices, books about kindness

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

3 words: absorbing, layered, character-driven

Give this book a whirl if you like… #ownvoices contemporary/historical fiction, stories about race, books about twins, novels with two timeframes, stories about loss, interwoven narratives

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

3 words: irreverent, surprising, engaging

Give this book a whirl if you like… a touch of magical realism, first person narratives, twins, unconventional nannies, quirky characters, politicians in fiction, female friendship

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

3 words: clever, layered, creative

Give this book a whirl if you like… blend of Gothic horror and contemporary realism, smart humor, dual narratives, LGBTQIA+ fiction, boarding school setting, Hollywood setting, meta-fiction, footnotes in fiction, horror novels for people who don’t like horror novels


The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

3 words: narrative, absorbing, poignant

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning about the Great Migration, narrative nonfiction, lyrical writing, #ownvoices nonfiction, individual stories interwoven in a larger historical context

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

3 words: joyful, quietly enthusiastic, encouraging

Give this book a whirl if you like… developing a philosophy for living, envisioning the worst so you can appreciate what you you have, finding peace, diminishing anxiety

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

3 words: powerful, thoughtful, thought-provoking

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning about anti-racism, actionable guidance, Black authors, a blend of sociology and memoir, #ownvoices nonfiction, introspective narratives, an invitation to become a better human 

The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro

3 words: in-depth, psychological, heroic

Give this book a whirl if you like… reading about the JFK/LBJ transition, LBJ’s first months in the presidency, a person being his best self, moving from despair to triumph, political power

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

3 words: practical, encouraging, totally do-able

Give this book a whirl if you like… customizable tactics for adding good habits and eliminating bad ones, research-backed strategies, a conversational tone, small steps that can make a big difference

What were your favorite books this year? I’d love to add them to my TBR…