Nonfiction November: Be The Expert

Just like that we’re in the middle of Nonfiction November – a month long celebration of all things nonfiction! It’s been an absolute joy to participate again this year, collecting new titles to read and chatting with other nonfiction readers! It’s been so liberating to just get to focus on nonfiction for a whole month.


A huge thanks to all of you hosting this year: Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), and Rennie (What’s Nonfiction)

This week Julie at Julz Reads is hosting Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert so be sure to hop on over to her post to find links to everyone else’s post!

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three 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).

Since I am pathologically incapable of not pretending I know everything when it comes to books, I’m choosing to Be The Expert for the third year in a row. Insufferable right?

This year I’m choosing a to focus on one of the reasons we’ve all become readers: authors.

A caveat before we begin: in my experience, author biographies are the most fun if you are familiar with most of the author’s work.

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud

It should honestly be mandatory that all Canadians have to read Anne of Green Gables. Since it’s not and I’m constantly shocked by all the Canadians who have “always meant to read them” I thought I’d spotlight her creator, L.M. Montgomery. In particular, Mary Henley Rubio’s masterful biography Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. Please do not be put off by the title, this book is brilliant. I grew up loving Montgomery’s work but knew next to nothing about the woman. This book changed that.

Roald Dahl

roald dahl

Another author that had a massive impact on my reading life is Roald Dahl – guys I have a kid named after one of his characters. But while Roald-Dahl-the-author understood children in an incredible way, Roald-Dahl-the-man could not have been more irritated that he was known for his children’s books instead of his serious man work. Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock isn’t afraid to get at the man behind the myth. This isn’t one you should read if you aren’t ready to have any illusions about him shattered but it is an incredibly thorough and interesting portrait of the man who created some of the most memorable stories.

Charlotte Bronte


Whenever I think about Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman I just get really sad. Not only was she a talented woman who had to hide her gender to have her work taken seriously, or had to outlive every one of her five siblings, but when she finally found happiness on her own, she died. I will always think of Charlotte Bronte sitting down to write Shirley, alone, at the table where she and her sisters used to work on their stories together every evening. This is a dense biography but it really served to help me better understand her work. This one isn’t for those of you that have a more casual relationship with nonfiction!

Charles Dickens


The granddaddy of English Literature, Charles Dickens was kind of an a**hole. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin doesn’t shy away from the truth. He really did care about the plight of the poor and did his best to use his work to illuminate truly horrific living conditions in Victorian England. But. The treatment of his wife and children was completely abhorrent. If you have a love affair with his work, this biography is a must-read.

If you want to go further, I definitely recommend the biography of all of his children, Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens by Robert Gottlieb. This one is short too so it’s an easy one to pad those reading stats if that’s where your head’s at!

Have you read any great biographies of writers that I should get my hands on? Let me know!

And make sure to visit Julie at Julz Reads to find links to even more great nonfiction!

28 thoughts on “Nonfiction November: Be The Expert

  1. I’ve been half way through Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson for a couple of years – the font is really small which is why it’s taking so long.
    A lighter, easier read is The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne. I also just finished Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon which was fascinating.

  2. Bahaha! Well, I’m joining you in being insufferable..I’ve done Be the Expert 3 years in a row as well!
    And fun list! I’d love to read the Dahl..I heard he was a total weirdo!

  3. Interesting list! The Charlotte Bronte biography seems like a great read. Dense biographies of famous authors are so easy to get lost in during the long winter months.

  4. Nice choice of topic. I haven’t read many author biographies (a few ‘historical fiction’ books about author’s lives, none of which I can recommend apart from Vanessa and Her Sister by Parmar – it’s about Virginia Woolf) but I do have one about Richard Yates in my TBR stack (A Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey) and two about Henry James.

  5. Your comment about Roald Dahl being known for his children’s works instead of adult reminds me of Shell Silverstein, who is known for his children’s poems but also wrote “The Great Smoke Off” (about who can smoke the most pot) and “A Boy Named Sue,” which became a Johnny Cash song.

  6. Yay for LM Montgomery! I’ve read nearly all her fiction, but I haven’t read any NF about her. I live on PEI so I’ve heard a lot about her life. I thought there was a new biography of her released this year, but I can’t find it right now.

    I was glad to find an expert as I blog hop around. It seems like nearly everyone (myself included) decided this year to become an expert.

    • I’m so jealous you live on PEI – seems like the most beautiful place in the world to me. Montgomery was always sad that she made the place famous with her work, felt it ruined something about it. I thought there was a new biography about her that just came out too – I think it might be for young readers, The House of Dreams?

  7. My absolute favorite literary biography is A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey. I’ve read most of Yates’s novels (not too close together as they are so depressing)… he was such a talented writer, but his life story is, indeed, tragic.

  8. I’ve not read many author biographies, but they do always catch my attention, in the same way as books about books. And picking up author biographies when you’re familiar with the author’s work seems like great advice! Thanks for the list 🙂

  9. I love reading biographies and autobiographies of writers too! (And that LMM one is stellar!) I second the recommendation of the du Maurier book (she led a fascinating life). Another which comes to mind, but she was not the writer in the family, was Vera about Mrs. Nabokov, which I thought was wonderful (by Stacy Schiff, IIRC). And that’s with no serious interest in Nabokov either, only a distant interest. As an intro to Jane Austen, I adored Carol Shields slim volume form the Penguin Lives series about her, but as much for what it says about writing and craft and how it might have been for Jane Austen than for actual details about her life (which annoys some readers).

  10. Pingback: Nonfiction November 2019: Be/Ask/Become The Expert | The Paperback Princess

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