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.


  • 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?

Making the Constitution completely fascinating

(Photo by Jomar Thomas on Unsplash)

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


3 words: educational, lively, page-turner

Happy Independence Day, my fellow Americans!

While it’s fair to say I’m primed to love this book (political science major and Hamilton obsessive), there’s so much here to love.

But… I’m not a natural reader of graphic novels, so in order for this book to really work for me, it had to perform on a pretty high level. I need to be won over by a graphic novel, and this one accomplished that feat.

As I was reading, I couldn’t believe how fun the author and illustrator made this book. Yes, it’s about the Constitution, and yes, that could be on the dry side, but… they make it interesting. And colorful and visually engaging. I kept thinking of Schoolhouse Rock, and that ramped up my fondness even further.

The author makes the Constitution and the Bill of Rights downright relatable, and he makes it relevant. We learn the Why.

I gotta say: pretty darn fascinating.

But then, I’m also the reader who occasionally got verklempt while reading this book, because: our government!

It’s messy and sometimes it doesn’t look like it’s working well at all, but it’s built strong enough to endure some serious crap. And that’s a serious comfort, my friends.

And if you need a soundtrack, of course Hamilton provides one.

Give this book a whirl if you like… nonfiction graphic novels, American history, the Schoolhouse Rock approach to learning, the “why” behind the American system of government


My fellow readers… what book would you recommend for the 4th of July?

Boone boon

Boone: A Biography by Robert Morgan

3 words: myth-busting, detailed, literary

Travel-inspired reading: I’m kind of hooked on it.


Anyone else with me on that?

At the reconstructed fort

When the Dear Man and I were canoeing in Kentucky, we also visited Fort Boonesborough.

It’s a place where Daniel Boone lived and dramatic things happened there.

So: we history geeks were into it.

Result: I wanted to read a Boone biography.

During our visit to the truly spectacular Paris Public Library, I asked the wonderful librarian to recommend a biography of Boone, and she suggested the Robert Morgan. I’m so glad she did.

This book, written as it is by a novelist, is seriously narrative. Morgan’s one heck of a talented storyteller, and his writing is downright lovely.

Original site of fort

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being immersed in this story.

Even beyond the drama (being captured by Native Americans and absorbed into the tribe as the son of the chief — who knew?!) Boone’s life offers plenty of food for thought.

There’s some major irony here. Boone loved hunting and exploring, but his efforts led to the destruction of what he valued most. By opening up the West to settlement, there went the hunting grounds.

And when a biography of Boone was published during his lifetime, he became a folk hero and lived with the weirdness of early 19th century fame.

Morgan’s warm, compassionate portrait paints Boone as a decent, talented man who was deeply loved by his family and friends. And that’s an angle I hadn’t really considered — the man’s personal life. Morgan brings him very much to life, and he made me care about this man whose legend has obscured his humanity.


Give this book a whirl if you like…exploration, stories of loners, the frontier, early American history, a nuanced and balanced view of a historical figure


So, good readers… have you ever read a book because of a vacation inspiration?

George Rogers Clark: this is one sad story

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

3 words: detailed, accessible, revealing

OK, guys. Things are about to get super geeky here.

Today we’re talking George Rogers Clark.

Here’s my reintroduction to the dude… The Dear Man and I were touring Cave Hill Cemetery a couple of years ago, so we could visit the grave of Col. Sanders.

So the guy at the gate gave us a map that showed the locations of all of the famous people’s graves. And George Rogers Clark was on the map. We discussed the fact that we pretty much didn’t know who that was, other than: 1700s? Military leader, maybe?

So: learning.

Here’s the quick synopsis of his life…

First, The Good:

  • Revolutionary War hero, but in the West
  • Led a military unit that captured forts in current-day Illinois and Indiana
  • Founder of Louisville

Next, The Bad (aka The Sad):

  • He had a serious drinking problem
  • He peaked in his 20s
  • He fell into poverty

And finally… The Ugly:

  • Late in life, he betrayed his country by making deals with France and with Spain
  • He was an angry, bitter, resentful man in his later years


So there we have quite the story arc. The early rise, and the long downward spiral thereafter.

Which makes this book not the most jolly of stories.


Locust Grove

Nevertheless, the reading experience was a really good one, because the writing is fluid, the narrative is dynamic, and the subject matter is pretty darn fascinating. We got ourselves a seriously flawed hero here, guys.

I finished reading the book during our recent canoe trip to the Lexington area, which involved a stop in Louisville. Because we are some serious history geeks (when we’re not being fast food geeks [I was serious when I said we were visiting Col. Sanders’s grave]), we visited Locust Grove, the final home of George Rogers Clark. The house actually belonged to his sister and brother-in-law, but Clark lived there for the last several years of his life, when he was an invalid.


The office at Locust Grove


Give this book a whirl if you like… the American Revolution, narrative nonfiction about forgotten episodes of major historical events, true stories of the downward spiral, flawed historical figures


So, my fellow readers… what semi-obscure historical figure have you found fascinating?

Memoir of a super tough swimmer

Find a Way by Diana Nyad

3 words: forthright, vigorous, candid

Wow. I mean: seriously.

When I heard about Diana Nyad’s historic swim from Cuba to Florida, I was impressed. But reading her account of the lifelong journey she took to accomplish this goal… Wow.

I’m not sure what knocked me over more:

  • It took five attempts (over the course of 30+ years) to complete the swim
  • She began training for the Cuba crossing after a 30-year hiatus from swimming
  • Nyad was 64 years old when she successfully finished the swim
  • The effort that went into engineering the swim so it wouldn’t kill her (a series of jellyfish stings nearly ended her life during a 2011 swim)
  • The sheer strength of will she personified

And then there’s her remarkable backstory. After doing several landmark open water swims in her 20s, Nyad left swimming and became a sports reporter.

It was only when she reached age 60 that she realized she needed to do something momentous to get her life out of autopilot. And then she set about doing that thing.

Nyad also addresses the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. And it’s both horrific that she had to experience such abuse, and inspiring to see how she overcame it. It’s an unexpected part of her story that surprised me and nearly broke my heart.

So when she goes on to live a big, bold life that she built with her own strength and with the love and support of her loved ones, it’s powerful stuff.

Nyad reads the audiobook, and I’m also glad she did. She’s a talented broadcaster, and she brings emotion to her reading.

Finally, this book is a remarkable thing because of the team Nyad assembled to help her achieve the Cuba swim. Reading about the way the team worked together–and especially the key role played by her head handler, Bonnie–I’m awed. It’s a beautiful thing, this story. There’s plenty of shadow, yes, but: the light, people! This story is filled with light breaking through the dark.
Give this book a whirl if you like… swimming, extreme sports, strong women, perseverance, stories of abuse survivors, senior power, living a bold life


So, folks… Whose stories have you found completely awe-inspiring?

The Cubs Way… is to keep me reading non-stop

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

3 words: personal, detailed, inside baseball

bleacher bums!

Oh my goodness. Such a good book!

If you’re a Cubs fan, then: of course.

If you’re not a Cubs fan, but you are a reader who likes learning the inside story of building a culture of teamwork and success, then this book is also for you.

There’s so much to love here.

First: The people. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon were of one mind when it came to assembling the perfect team. They agreed that the character of the players mattered as much as their athletic talents. So this team is made up of strong people who are devoted to the group, rather than to themselves. And they’re darn tough guys who have faced and overcome tough times with grace.

And Maddon himself. The guy’s fascinating. (I’m kind of thinking I need a “Try Not to Suck” t-shirt to add to my fleet of Cubs shirts.)

Maddon: a reader’s gotta love him. To draw out Addison Russell, he assigned him to read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and talk to him about the book every 50 to 100 pages.

I adore this!

Second: The behind-the-scenes stuff is fantastic. For example, that whole story about Rizzo borrowing Szczur’s identical bat and having immense good luck with it during the World Series? Partly fiction!

(with that stance… Bryant)

Third: Even though we obviously know the outcome (spoiler alert: Cubs win the World Series), this book is a page turner. The chapters alternate between each World Series game and the back story that brought the team together from 2012 to 2016.

Fourth: All that psychology. Here’s Maddon: “Too many times in the past, in the postseason, I know we’ve got the other team by the look in the other team’s eyes. There’s a distant look. They’re anticipating bad. It’s almost like a concession look. I never want us to be that team. So know that something bad is going to happen. Know it is. Expect it to happen. And when it happens, we have to keep our heads and fight through it.” (p. 283)

I mean seriously: Isn’t that good?

And then there’s this scene from the rain delay in Game 7, when Epstein eavesdropped on the players-only meeting. “‘I saw our guys meeting and it snapped me back,’ he said. ‘It reminded me of how much I admired them and how tough they are, how connected they’ve stayed with each other, and the great things human beings can accomplish when they set out to achieve for other people, not for themselves.’” (p. 347)

Verklempt! I read this section at Panera and got all verklempt (in public). I try to avoid displays of readerly overwhelm, but sometimes it does a sneak attack. This book got to me.

We might need a short musical break here…


Give this book a whirl if you like… baseball, stories of Overcoming, workplace narratives, the behind-the-scenes story, camaraderie, building an organizational culture
Anyone else read any great sports books lately?