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?

The Warmth of Other Suns: perfect narrative nonfiction

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

 

3 words: narrative, absorbing, poignant

You know when you read a book that you realize is going to unseat one of the books on your top 10 favorites list? Happened to me with this book.

Isabel Wilkerson is one of those remarkable writers who blends intimate, individual narratives with a broad look at a major event in American history. In other words, she’s a genius writer of narrative nonfiction. 

Her writing invites the reader to walk alongside the three people she follows, and I marveled at the detail she included. Once I read the Acknowledgments, I saw that she spent countless hours interviewing the three people whose stories she tells in depth, and she traveled with them back to their starting points in the South. They clearly developed a closeness and trust, and that comes through in the writing. 

The Great Migration took place during the first part of the 20th century, when millions of Black Americans moved from the South to the North, seeking a better life. In some cases, their stories are terrifying, as they fled the threat of lynching. This book blends uplift with heartbreak, hope with fear, and self-deliverance with a tempering of displacement. 

One of the things that makes this book so powerful is that the reader gets to learn on multiple levels — intellectually because the book is filled with fascinating facts about the Great Migration, emotionally because we as readers grow to care deeply about the people we’re reading about, and spiritually because this narrative is an important part of our American story and who we are as a nation — the good and the ugly. These unique stories tell the bigger story, and at the same time remain the experience of the single individuals who lived them. 

And throughout the book, the writing is lyrical and expressive and a pure pleasure to read. More than once, I read a sentence out loud for the sheer pleasure of the language.

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

The Yellow House — a gorgeous memoir

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

3 words: lyrical, evocative, strong sense of place

 

You know when you’re reading a book and the writing’s so lush and beautiful and honest and creative, you just wish so hard you could write like that? The Yellow House is one of those books. Sarah M. Broom is one of those writers.*

It’s no surprise that this book won the National Book Award. Not only is the content is important, but the book is hard to put down. 

Broom writes of her childhood home–a shotgun house in New Orleans. A home that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, which Broom terms “the Water.” 

And while her family’s home is at the heart of this book, really this is a coming of age story about family and race and inequality.

Broom is the “babiest” of twelve children, and her writing about her siblings makes a person appreciate the joy of being part of a large family. After her father’s much-too-early death, her mother raised them all herself, and that in itself is a marvel. 

The New Orleans where Broom grew up was not the Big Easy known by tourists, and she’s frank about the struggles her family experienced due to racism and financial hardship. 

The Yellow House is a memoir that’s powerful, expressive, and poignant. If you appreciate a unique and creative narrative voice, reading the work of Black authors, and experiencing a compelling reading experience, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Yellow House

 

*You can experience Sarah M. Broom’s writing by visiting her website, especially the Q&A section

Well-Read Black Girl and the power of books

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves edited by Glory Edim

3 words: literary, #ownvoices, personal

Hello, readers. We’re here because we love the written word and because we know books have the power to change lives. And we understand the power of books as mirrors and windows — reflecting our own lives and giving us insight into the lives of others. 

Well-Read Black Girl is all about the importance of books as mirrors. And since it’s filled with essays written by Black women authors, it’s also about the role books can play in building a literary life. 

Here you’ll find essays by Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, N. K. Jemisin, Stephanie Powell Watts, and many other Black authors who write about their love of reading and their experiences of finding in a book (often after a long wait) someone who reflected their own experience. 

Or for Tayari Jones, who writes, “As a baby, I teethed on board books featuring children explaining how much they loved eating vegetables and being black” (p. 23), it wasn’t so much about experiencing a lack of representation in the books she read as a young person. Instead, books provide a way to deeply explore questions about life as a Black woman. The way she writes about her experience of feeling challenged and exposed by ideas in a novel she re-read… it’s like an ode to the power of literature.

Since the authors of these essays are people devoted to the written word, the writing is by turns lovely, powerful, frank and lyrical–often all within the same essay. I was tempted to read one right after the other, but I tried to pause between essays to hold the thoughts for a while. 

If you, too, are on a journey to read more #ownvoices books, this book is a wonderful source of recommendations. Throughout the book, you’ll find lists of books on topics like “Well-Read Black Girl Recommends: Science Fiction and Fantasy Books by Black Women.” And at the end, there’s a list of all the books mentioned in the entire book. 

Your TBR will thank you for reading this book. (I lost count of how many books I added.) 

Glory Edim, the creator of this book, is the founder of the Well-Read Black Girl book club, https://www.wellreadblackgirl.com/  a book club dedicated to Black women writers. Her website and Instagram are great sources for reading ideas. 

Give this book a whirl if you like… #ownvoices narratives, essays about the power of finding oneself in books, the love of reading, books as mirrors, Black women and literature, books that contain lists of other recommended books

What #ownvoices books are you reading these days? 

Little acts of stoicism

 

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

3 words: joyful, quietly enthusiastic, encouraging

Reading this book during the onset of a global pandemic turned out to be a really good idea. As things were getting scarier and stranger by the hour, I was bolstered by the calm, quiet, gently encouraging tone of this book, which offers guidance on how Stoicism can offer a sense of peace. 

I needed to find a way to experience peace. 

And I have to say thank you to Bybee of Blue-Hearted Bookworm, whose review of this book made me sit up and take notice when she posted a few years ago. Sometimes people and their words reach us at just the right time. Thanks, Bybee dear. 

William A. Irvine is a kind guide through the ideas of Stoicism, and for me, the book really got going once he started describing the actual practices of Stoic living. 

For example, imagine the loss of everyone and everything you love, because this will increase your appreciation for them. 

Clearly, that sounds dreadful (especially when the world’s so frightening), but he describes how this approach can actually lead to our living the way we really want to live — in loving appreciation of the gifts we’ve been given. 

And another… determine which aspects of life you have some control over, and focus your efforts in those areas — and let go of the areas where we have no control. This reminds me of Viktor Frankl’s words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Irvine distinguishes between our setting a goal of winning a game vs. setting a goal of playing our best. The first goal is outside our control, while the latter is something we can actually achieve if we put our mind to it. 

And there’s much more… 

So I’ve determined to begin practicing Stoicism in small ways, and then perhaps in larger ways. And this means I’ll be re-reading this book, because the first reading of this kind of life-changing book can inspire me, but it’s the second and third readings where I’m actually able to grasp the ideas and put them into practice. 

 

Anyone else like that? A single reading just isn’t enough, if I think there’s potentially life-changing stuff at hand.

 

What strategies and mindsets are getting you through this difficult time?

 

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

New nonfiction on my TBR

The glory of Nonfiction November is learning about all the great nonfiction books a person somehow missed and really must read. This is a terrible, wonderful thing. So many books! So our final post of the month is about the expansion of our already burgeoning TBR lists. 

New to My TBR, hosted by Rennie from What’s Nonfiction: 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!

Here are the books I’ve added to my TBR this month, with thanks to the wonderful book bloggers who wrote such glorious and enticing reviews.

Shoot for the Moon by James Donovan 
Recommended by JulzReads

Failure Is Not an Option by Gene Kranz  
Recommended by Never Enough Novels

Design Your Next Chapter by Debbie Travis 
Recommended by Beverley A. Baird

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl 
Recommended by The Book Stop

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Recommended by booksaremyfavouriteandbest

The Wisdom of the Enneagram 
Recommended by Lisa Notes

Home Sweet Maison by Danielle Postel-Vinay
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson 
Recommended by Susan of Blue-Hearted Bookworm

Houseworks by Cynthia Ewer 
Recommended by Amy 

At Home with Books by Estelle Ellis
Recommended by Head Subhead

 

My fellow nonfiction fans… what books did Nonfiction November add to the top of your TBR?

Nonfiction favorites: what makes me love nonfiction

Nonfiction November continues….  Here’s this week’s installment.

Nonfiction Favorites, hosted by Leann at ShelfAware: 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.

I seriously love a unique and authentic voice in nonfiction. So this usually means I have a soft spot for memoirs, since they’re the nonfiction most likely to be narrated in an author’s own voice. This year, the standout memoirs I’ve read include…

Working by Robert A. Caro   
Caro’s self-deprecating humor delights me, especially since the dude’s one of the preeminent biographers of all time.

 

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The quirkiness of this book–and the author’s sheer joy in living–make me smile every time I think of it.

 

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
Philpott’s a master of the personal essay, and she’ll catch you by surprise every now and then. 

 

Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Jacob’s wry humor and the unique format of her memoir (a graphic novel told in conversations) create one of the most remarkable reading experiences I’ve ever had. 

 

What makes you fall in love with a nonfiction book? 

If you love British TV…

Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can’t Stop Watching by Sarah Cords and Jackie Bailey

3 words: enthusiastic, lively, knowledgeable

Bingeworthy British TV

 

When a person who’s a reluctant television watcher gets this excited about dipping into a book about TV shows, you know the book’s pretty remarkable. 

 

When I first learned about the publication of Bingeworthy British Television, I immediately emailed some friends who are serious Watchers of the British TV Series to tell them about it. 

I didn’t realize I was part of the intended audience, but now I know. 

Here’s why this book sucked me in… 

When authors blend a depth of knowledge, enthusiasm for the subject, and an engaging writing style, they’ve got me. Cords does all of those things. 

By the time I was 25% through the book, I was in awe of the amount of TV viewing and research that went into this book’s creation. You’re seriously in good hands here: Cords knows her British TV. (We already knew that from her blog, The Great British TV Site, but it’s abundantly clear in this book.)

I also started jotting down TV series I want to watch. While I tell myself I don’t really watch TV, I have a Downton Abbey habit. And a Sherlock thing. And a history of Foyle’s War viewing. And a weakness for The Crown. And now I have a list that contains Detectorists and Mr. Selfridge and Moone Boy.

My librarian’s heart was made happy by these words at the end of each TV show’s section: “What to Binge on Next.” She provides watch-alikes! (I think I just coined a term.) I was so over-excited by this, I took a photo of that section to text to a friend who’s wild about Being Human. For librarians serving patrons who love love love British TV shows, this book’s a godsend. When your Downton Abbey viewers are sad that the series has ended, open to page 124 for some suggestions for them.  

This book also made me laugh with delight. Because it contains sentences like this: 

“Basil Fawlty, proprietor of the hotel Fawlty Towers, is everything you don’t want in your hospitality staff: excitable, eccentric, violent, and violently snobbish.” (p. 22)

And this: 

“When housewife and mother Alison Braithwaite wins thirty-eight million pounds in the lottery, the first thing she doesn’t do is tell her family.” (p. 74) 

When this depth of knowledge is delivered with warmth and humor and exuberance, you’ve got yourself a book that’s a complete pleasure to read. It’s a wildly pleasant place to hang out. 

Give this book a whirl if you like… British television series, lively writing style, finding TV series similar to your favorites, a warm tone

What are your favorite British TV shows? 

(Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review)

Book pairings: sociopaths

Nonfiction November rages on, and today’s topic is… 

Book Pairing, hosted by Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves : 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.

Today we’re getting grim, my friends, because: sociopaths. 

Yes, we’re talking about the true story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, the totally bogus biotech company she led — and the people whose lives she damaged because they crossed her. It’s creepy, it’s chilling, it’s disturbing as all get-out. And the fact that it’s true makes it all the more unsettling. 

So our nonfiction title today is Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. 

Bad Blood pairs nicely with My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. While this novel has a bit of a cheeky tone, it’s suspenseful and all too maddening to watch the sociopathic sister (yes, an actual serial killer) get away with murder. 

Both books contain situations that are downright infuriating, because the gall! The audaciousness of their behavior is shocking. They also both deal with issues of integrity and loyalty and complicity. And both can be deeply disturbing. 

 

So if you’re a sensitive soul, these books are not good for bedtime reading. While they’re not scary, they’re unsettling. (I had a troubled night of sleep after reading a chapter of Bad Blood at bedtime — and afterward would read it only during daylight hours. Because this stuff is true, and it’s seriously messed up.)

 

Anyone else moderately (yet not unpleasantly) disturbed by these books?