Nonfiction November 2019: Favourites

I can’t decide if November is flying by or crawling, but either way we’re in Week 4 of our Nonfiction November efforts:


Week 4: (Nov. 18 to 22) –Nonfiction Favorites (Leann @ ThereThereReadThis): 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’m not sure that I’ve ever really taken the time to think about why a book is one of my favourites! So let’s see how this goes.

I am hugely drawn to books about extraordinary women and that’s been true since I was 11 reading biographies of Shirley Temple and Audrey Hepburn. So when authors tell the stories of women who have been ignored or maligned by history, those tend to turn into favourites. Kick by Paula Byrne, The Radium Girls by Kate Moore and The Mistresses of Clivedon by Natalie Livingstone are all recent additions to my favourites list for this reason.

I also prefer a light touch when it comes to nonfiction. That’s not to say that I shy away from heavy topics – I’m currently reading a book about the heredity of cancer, with plans to follow that up with some horrific true crime. But I don’t have a lot of time for an academic style of writing. I think in the last few years there’s been a shift away from distant, dry, staid nonfiction. Seems like nonfiction is more accessible than it used to be when only your dad was plugging away at military history or massive presidential biographies. There is a glut of celebrity memoirs on the market these days but they rarely make it onto my list of favourites (Me: A Memoir by Elton John is a recent, notable exception) while those books from “regular” people tend to be more relateable and strike a nerve with readers.

I will always gravitate towards books about people, whether that’s biographies or memoirs or those social science books that look at how we think or why we do the things that we do. I’m much less interested in books that take a more journalistic approach to the topic at hand, finding them to have a fair bit of distance between the author and the subject matter. One of the best books I’ve ever read is Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. This book tackles incredibly difficult subject matter (children with autism, children with severe physical and developmental disabilities, children who have committed crimes, children conceived as the result of rape etc) and Solomon manages to make the book completely about these families while examining difficult realities that they are navigating. It could have been a dry, academic investigation into difference and one would have forgiven Solomon for needing some distance from his subjects. Instead it is a warm, inclusive, beautiful book that will reduce you to tears. I would say the exact same about One of Us by Asne Seierstad about the 2011 massacre and terror attacks in Norway.

I find it much more difficult to articulate what I like about books than what I don’t like about books! Anyone else?

Now let’s all head on over to ThereThereReadThis and join the rest of the conversation!

20 thoughts on “Nonfiction November 2019: Favourites

  1. It’s so hard to explain what’s amazing about a book than what’s less impressive! But actually I think you expressed this so well, way better than what I could put into words!

    I also love books about extraordinary women. Have you read A Woman of No Importance yet? That’s the best book I’ve read recently about an extraordinary woman. She was an American spy and organizer in France during WWII and it was an exceptional story and well done biography, which I always feel is saying something when it comes to the crowded WWII genre. I think you might like it! It’s the best I’ve read in that area since A Train in Winter.

    I’ve had One of Us on my list since you recommended it to me before but I still keep shying away from it because I know it’s going to be emotionally devastating.

    • I can’t count how many times I’ve picked up that book and not bought it. It’s definitely on my list. Comparing it to A Train in Winter is definitely launching it back up to the top of my list!
      It is definitely that. No one can fault you for being hesitant to pick it up. In a way, I was lucky that I didn’t know how bad it would be.

      • I really think you’d like it. She was a fascinating character and it’s one of those unputdownable writing styles. She also introduces all of these additional people who were part of the networks and they were so interesting too! Definitely the best WWII book I’ve read since Train in Winter.

  2. I only listed two or three favourites, but of course, there are many more. I enjoyed ‘Mistresses of Clivedon’ by Natalie Livingstone. Love reading about old houses or castles and the people in them.

  3. This is a really interesting question-I don’t think I’ve ever thought much about it either. Like you, I can look at a book and quickly decide if I’m interested in reading it or not. And you’re totally right about non-fiction becoming more accessible!!!

  4. I found it difficult to articulate what I like about nonfiction, too! But I agree- I love stories that shine light on a previously unknown person or tell me a compelling story. I like darker reads but I need to take a break after reading them and it takes me a long time to get through them.

  5. I also really love books about impressive women and about people (psychology, sociology, etc). Weirdly I’ve been getting more into academic-style books lately, but I also still share your love a nonfiction that’s written in an accessible, enjoyable way.

  6. Pingback: #NonficNov- New To My TBR + Wrap Up | book'd out

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