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?

 

 

 

 

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?

 

News of the World: the news is good

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

3 words: thoughtful, direct, touching

The book I keep recommending to everyone I see? It’s this one.

The primary reason is: characters. The two main characters are fascinating, decent, complex humans, and their developing friendship completely absorbed me.

We’re looking at historical fiction here, with a touch of Western. One character is an elderly widower who travels around Texas, reading the news of the day to audiences. And the other is a 10 year old girl, abducted by the Kiowa four years earlier and now being returned to her family against her will.

And they hit the road together.

There are relatively few pages here (it’s only 240 pages long), but there’s so much story.

It’s quiet, it’s dramatic; there’s introspection, there’s action.

A perfect gem of a book. Get near me, and I’m handing you a copy.

Give this book a whirl if you like… intergenerational friendships, well-chosen words, 19th-century America, intersection of cultures, journalism, Native American culture, widowers, Civil War veterans

What book is making you borderline obnoxious these days?

Bite Size Reviews: End of Summer Edition

We’re keeping it brief this week, because vacation!

A couple of quick notes about books I read and liked during the final days of summer…

 

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

3 words: enthusiastic, coming of age, honest

Commentary: So grateful to Bybee of Blue-Hearted Bookworm, who sent me this audiobook. It was sheer delight to listen to Ripert’s story as it carried me away from my commute.

Give this book a whirl if you like… workplace memoirs, chef’s lives, stories of painful childhoods, reading about achieving mastery of a skill

 

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

3 words: witty, sociological, self-deprecating

Commentary: Here’s the quote I can’t stop thinking about. Here, Koul is writing about women being watched by men.

“It’s such an ingrained part of the female experience that it doesn’t register as unusual. The danger of it, then, is in its routine, how normalized it is for a woman to feel monitored, so much so that she might not know she’s in trouble until that invisible line is crossed from ‘typical patriarchy’ to ‘you should run.’” (p. 171)

Give this book a whirl if you like… occasionally piercing observations about society, a feminist viewpoint, essays that are sometimes humorous and sometimes pointed, views of a young 1st-generation Indian-Canadian

 

What’re you all reading as this summer winds to a close?

Bookish Tourist: The Novel Neighbor

The Novel Neighbor bookstore, Webster Groves, Missouri

3 words: blissful, lucky, jubilant

During a recent long weekend in St. Louis, the Dear Man and I spent one of the best days ever.

It included a kitschy antique store visit, Route 66, a fast food restaurant we checked off our list, the Daniel Boone home, another fast food restaurant we didn’t expect to see (where we ate amazing donuts), an iconic bookstore, life-changing pizza (at our 78th pizza place), and the Gateway Arch.

Making a purchase at an antique store on Route 66

 

Hello, Tim Hortons!

Of course we’re gonna focus on the bookstore, partly because this is a book blog but mostly because It Blew Us All Away.

I learned about the Novel Neighbor from the What Should I Read Next podcast, where Anne interviewed Holland Saltsman, bookstore owner and reader extraordinaire (and they even taped a live show there).

On one of the episodes, Holland raved about The One-in-a-Million Boy. I’ll be forever grateful for that.

And when we visited her fantastic bookstore, I fell head over heels in love with it.

I was seriously in a blissed-out daze.

This bookstore is intensely comfy and cozy, yet it’s also wide-ranging and it just keeps going. And there are delights around every corner!

Here’s what I bought (minus one gift I bought for a friend)…

I selected the book Tell the Wolves I’m Home from the “Holland’s Favorites” shelf because I trust her like that. I bought a book I’d never heard of, simply because I trust her taste. (I adore shelves of staff picks!)

Oh, my goodness, dear readers. If you’re ever in St. Louis, I sure hope you stop by the Novel Neighbor. It’ll bliss you out, too.

My fellow bookish tourists… what’s your best bookstore experience?

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?