Nonfiction November, Week 5: New to My TBR

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Nonfiction November, you fly by too fast! I love nonfiction and I love hanging out with my fellow nonfiction readers. It’s been a pleasure, y’all.

 

Here’s this  year’s final prompt:

Week 5: New to My TBR (Nov. 27 to Dec. 1)  Host Lory @ Emerald City Book Review: New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

 

This year: an embarrassment of riches! So many great nonfiction additions to my TBR. Here’s a sampling…

 

Spaceman by Mike Massimono

Suggested by Julie of Julzreads (hi, Julz!)

 

Grocery by Michael Ruhlman

Suggested by JoAnn at Lakeside Musing 

 

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

Suggested by Kate of Books Are My Favourite and Best

 

 

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Suggested by Heather of Based on a True Story in a comment on my post about self-improvement books

 

The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama

Suggested by Iliana of Bookgirl’s Nightstand in a comment on my post about self-improvement books

 

Wake Up Happy by Michael Strahan

Suggested by Kristilyn of Reading in Winter in a comment on my post about self-improvement books

 

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Suggested by Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves  

 

I’m super happy to have all these enticing books on my list.

 

My fellow nonfiction readers… Any of these books call out to you, too?

Best nonfiction book of 2018: Rocket Men by Robert Kurson

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon

3 words: lively, heroic, crisp

I’m a cautious soul by nature. But I have no problem declaring Rocket Men my favorite nonfiction book of 2018. Even though it’s still 2017.

When a book is this perfect, I know it’ll hold its own against all the others coming down the pike next year.

I’m one of the luckies (along with Andy Weir!) who got hold of an advance copy of Rocket Men, which drops on April 3, 2018*.

And while I’m an aviation/space fanatic who’s inclined to enjoy a book about astronauts, I’ve also read enough books on the subject to become fairly discerning. I’m a picky little thing when it comes to books on topics I love.

This book works for all kinds of reasons:

First: the writing style

Kurson’s writing is crisp and lively and compulsively readable. There’s exciting forward momentum throughout the book, yet he sneaks in each astronaut’s back story and details about 1968 America in a way that feels natural. The structure of the book is very satisfying. And even though we know the happy outcome of the mission from the start, there’s tension in this story. During the perilous Trans Earth Injection (when the spacecraft accelerated out of lunar orbit to return to Earth), my stomach got a little bit flippy when I read this section about the CapCom attempting to reach the astronauts:

“Mattingly writing a full eighteen seconds, then called again.

‘Apollo 8, Houston.’

Still no answer.

Susan Borman and Valerie Anders were silent. There was no sound in the Borman home but for the squawk box, and their husbands’ voices were not coming out of it” (p. 274)

People, that is intense.

And then, Lovell: “Houston, Apollo 8, over,” followed by “Please be informed—there is a Santa Claus.”

 

Second: the subject matter

Apollo 8 was humankind’s first trip to the Moon, and it was risky as all heck. In order to beat the Russians to the Moon, NASA decided to hurry up the timeline for the mission, so: even riskier. When they ran the idea past Frank Borman, Apollo 8 commander, he accepted on the spot, then headed back to tell crewmates Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. “Sometimes Borman used the T-38 to do aerobatics, looping and rolling to help clear the cobwebs after a hard day’s work. This time he flew level and fast, back to his crewmates in California in the straightest line a test pilot ever flew” (p. 38). Anyone else get goosebumps from that?

 

Third: the focus on the humans

This book brings these people to life: the astronauts, their wives, the flight controllers. We particularly get to know the personalities of the astronauts and their wives, who emerge as real people facing challenges with all the courage they had—and sometimes struggling. It makes them more impressive to know how difficult it was, and it also makes the true story more interesting and nuanced than the standard story of heroic triumph. Granted, these humans were not standard issue humans; this happened when they were on the launchpad: “And in a testament to the cool that runs through the bloodstream of fighter pilots, Anders fell asleep, ready to awaken when things got good” (p. 147).

But this wasn’t easy stuff, and the unsentimental heroism of these people made me weepy (lots of times: weepy). Plus, I love reading about the camaraderie of a crew, and this crew had it going on: they liked each other, and they worked smoothly together, and they did that beautiful reading from Genesis on Christmas Eve (which also makes me weepy every single time I hear it). There’s a fantastic human story here.

 

Fourth: the clear and informative scientific details

While the human story draws me in most, the science-y sections made me smarter without making me bored. I’m a serious skimmer when I get restless as a reader, and I did not skim anything here. I found myself marveling at how the author described the science in a way that held my attention. I’ve read a fair number of books about space and aviation, and this one stood out in the way the author presented the technological details in a way that made them compelling. I learned more than I’d ever learned before, and I enjoyed it.

 

Reading this book was a complete delight. It’s so good, I’ll be re-reading it with pleasure next year, so it can truly be the best book I read in 2018.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… space; tales of heroic daring; crisp, clear writing

 

*thanks to the author, with whom I’m acquainted (which in no way shades this review, since I’d say absolutely nothing if I didn’t like the book, and I’d write more modest praise if I merely liked it. It’s sheer good fortune on my part to know an author who can seriously write.)

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

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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? 

Nonfiction November, Week 2: Book Pairing

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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.

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!

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?

 

 

 

 

Deep Work is deep work

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

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

3 words: game-changing, thoughtful, practical

The book that’s most challenged me recently? Here we have it.

I’ve both craved and resisted the message of this book, which is:
In order to do our best work, we need to restructure things so we can work without distraction.

And I seriously love a good multi-task. Or at least a good layering of activities. (As I type this paragraph, I’m at the track, stretching my calves before a run. I’m guessing Newport would say this is fruitful time for germinating ideas but not for doing actual work.) So this new method does not come naturally to me these days. Especially with the tug of email and other distractions.

But when I’ve tried it in small doses, it’s been abundantly fruitful. Some tasks require focus, and when I give myself permission to go into the thinking cave, I’m surprised by how much I accomplish.

Newport’s method requires larger scale changes than I’ve made thus far, but I’m implementing it in small ways to gather my own evidence that it can work for me. And then I’ll experiment with other ways I can expand it.

Examples:

  • Logging out of email while I spend 40 minutes dedicated to a project at work
  • Placing my iPhone in another room when I’m working on a project at home
  • Clearing my workspace so I’m not distracted by clutter (sometimes. I do this sometimes.)

So far, so good. So far, so amazing.

Give this book a whirl if you like… productivity, diving deep, focus, denying distractions, taking back control , living a rich life

My fellow self-improvement junkies… what habits are you trying to build?

 

Inspired: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

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

3 words: inspiring, youthful exuberance, triumphant

If I’m having one of those pitiful days when I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself, thinking about this book will pop me right out of it. Not because it guilts me that my problems are actually darn puny, but because this story’s as inspiring as all heck.

William Kamkwamba and his family and his village in Malawi faced hardships (think: near starvation in a drought year), and “he started retreatin’ and readin’ every treatise on the shelf.” (OK. That’s actually Hamilton, but: Same Concept.)

He had a fascination with science and a yearning to learn and a scientist’s mind. And he writes lovingly of the books he’d check out over and over again from the small school library, so he could learn about physics.

And then he decided to build a windmill.

(Side note: these rhapsodies about reading and windmills and learning occasionally had me verklempt.)

And to build the windmill, he had to work for it. There was garbage scavenging for parts like the soles of shoes — just to hook up a tiny lightbulb so he could read after sunset. (We can understand this, can’t we, readers?)

And then he dreamt of using windmills to pump water to help alleviate the ill effects of dry years.

From starvation to science. This is seriously inspiring stuff.

Give this book a whirl if you like… stories of hope in grim circumstances, the quest for learning, self-sufficiency, perseverance

What book has most inspired you lately?

I found my Strengths, and my Strengths won

 

My Strengths mug!

Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

3 words: descriptive, practical, personalized

Oh my goodness. When I was running a couple of months ago, I heard an episode of Side Hustle School where a guy started selling customized mugs that list a person’s top 5 strengths from Strengthsfinder. And I was all, “Must Have Mug.” (I’ve also been meaning to go for the Strengthsfinder thing for a while now, but it took a mug to tip the balance. Because: mugs.)

So I bought the Strengthsfinder 2.0 eBook via the Gallup website, which also includes the strengths evaluation. And I got my list of 5 strengths.

And now… back to the podcasts. I’ve been listening compulsively to the Gallup’s Theme Thursday podcast, especially to the episodes dealing with my 5 strengths. Oh, my.

The coolest thing is that when you buy this book, you gain access to the Strengthsfinder quiz, which reveals your top 5 strengths. And you also receive these great info sheets that tell you how to use your strengths to their best advantage.

Totally worth the $15 price of the eBook!

This book is full of concrete tips for each strength. While the sections about my key strengths spoke to me directly, it was also fascinating to read about all the other strengths. One nice feature is that each strength chapter contains a section called “Working with others who have [that strength]” — which makes each section more relevant to every reader.

So now I’m writing goals that align with my strengths, and I review them while sipping tea from my customized mug. It would be embarrassing if it weren’t so enjoyable. (Maybe it’s more embarrassing because it’s so enjoyable?)

Give this book a whirl if you like… personality types, building on your strengths, self-improvement books

What’s your favorite book about personality types?