21

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.

Nonfiction-November-2018

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

charlotte

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

charles

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!

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23

Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

It’s week two of Nonfiction November and I’ve already added a bunch of great sounding books to my TBR!

Nonfiction November is a month-long celebration of nonfiction, a genre that just doesn’t seem to get the same kind of love as fiction! This year, Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Rennie (What’s Nonfiction)  are all hosting.

Nonfiction-November-2018

This week Sarah @ Sarah’s Bookshelves is hosting a fiction/non-fiction book pairing:

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.

Last year when I put this list together, my choices were all pretty heavy. This year, the pairings I’ve come up with are decidedly lighter!

Reality TV

I unapologetically love trashy reality TV. Give me housewives, bachelors, Kardashians, and the really bad stuff on TLC. This year, some of my reading followed suit.

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll follows a Real Housewives type group where all the women are successful, single entrepreneurs of some kind. This year’s newest addition is the sister of an original cast member, who winds up dead during shooting. It was a really interesting fictional look at how those shows manipulate storylines, the cast and ultimately, viewers.

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir follows Esther-called-Essie, the youngest daughter of a mega-famous reality TV preacher family after she finds herself pregnant and tries to take control of her own life for once. This one has loads of dark undertones and also examines the price that some of these reality TV stars pay for fame, especially the ones that have been on camera since they were little kids.

Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman was such a treat! As someone who hate-watches most seasons of The Bachelor, reading Kaufman’s insider look at how the franchise really runs was fascinating, hilarious and gross. Let’s just say that UnReal didn’t get it all that wrong.

Romanov Women

Those of you who have been here before will be familiar with my love of royal women. Those of you who are here for the first time, welcome – I love reading about royal women.

From Splendor to Revolution by Julia P. Gelardi is an incredible biography of four Romanov women, their lives, loves and ultimately their downfall from 1847-1928. That is an immense amount of history at a really crucial time for the Romanovs and Gelardi handles all their stories so well. I will never pass up an opportunity to yell at people about how amazing Julia P. Gelardi is. I am really hoping she releases something new soon!

The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner is the first time that Empress Maria Feodorovna has ever been the star of her own story and I’m just wondering what the heck took so long? Danish by birth, her sister was Queen Alexandra, she was married to Tsar Alexander III and the mother of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. I promise you she is so worth reading about, in fiction or nonfiction.

Magazine Life

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza is a smart, funny look at what happens when you get your dream job, are sidelined by illness and watch your protege step in and run your magazine into the ground. Do you bow out of the game altogether? Fight for your old job? Try and use your talents and connections for something better? The Knockoff is the kind of delicious book that’s perfect for vacation.

The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown is kind of the real life version of The Knockoff, except in the time that Brown writes about she is young, hungry and can get just about any job that she wants. It was interesting to read, not just about the immense wealth and glamour of the 1980s, but also about what it was like for Tina Brown to rise to the top (and stay there) in a man’s world.

Hopefully I’ve added some books to your list! Now I’m going to hop around and find some additions for my list. If you’re looking to do the same, head on over to Sarah’s Bookshelves for links to participating blogs!

26

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction

It’s here!!! Nonfiction November is finally here!

Nonfiction-November-2018

Nonfiction November is a month-long celebration of nonfiction, a genre that just doesn’t seem to get the same kind of love as fiction! This year, Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Rennie (What’s Nonfiction)  are all hosting. Each blog will take a turn hosting a prompt and we can all jump in and talk about all the great nonfiction we have been and are reading.

Sounds awesome right?

Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is taking on the first week so be sure to hop on over to her blog to read her post as well as find links to lots of other bloggers playing along this year. We’re looking back at our year in nonfiction so far!

Overall, it’s been a decent nonfiction year – 19 books, 28% of my book total. I’ve definitely been looking for books with shorter page counts, or ones that I could read in drips and drabs.

These are all the nonfiction titles I’ve read this year:

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

Picking a favourite book at any time is like asking to pick a favourite child. The books that had the biggest impact on me, the ones that I thought about long after I finished them were:

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I honestly could not read that book in the dark or if I was alone, it spoke to my fears so exactly. And when I read it, they didn’t yet know who he was. It was such a unique experience to have read the book and then have a lot of questions answered literally weeks later.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. I had a baby this year, so this was another one that was super specific to my own experience. I appreciated that Gaskin’s approach to childbirth was free of fear, that it was a natural process. I think it made a massive difference to my own experience.

Educated by Tara Westover. This memoir was just unlike anything I’d ever read. It reminded me a lot of The Glass Castle.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I think that I’ve been shying away from heavier content like never before. In the past, I’ve used nonfiction reading to educate myself on important social issues. I have a hard time doing that right now – it all feels kind of futile. At least when I read about history, those things are safely in the past. I’ve also been reading more true crime than normal and I think that’s me being drawn to things with a resolution (now true of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark).

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Tie between I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. They could not be more different eh?

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I’m hoping that I will put a dent in the ridiculous amount of nonfiction books that are currently staring at me from my shelves. I buy so much of it but I don’t always read it – I reason they are too heavy (literally and figuratively) or will take too long to get through. Or I plan to save them for this month!

I’m also really looking forward to connecting with other nonfiction readers! Talking to other readers who appreciate great nonfiction is such a highlight for me.

Are you participating this year?

 

9

DNF Chronicles: Two for the price of one

It is RARE for me to not finish books. It’s something that I have always struggled with and only in the last year or two have I made not finishing books a priority of sorts.

Listen, if you are someone that struggles with this, let it go. It is FREEING to stop reading something you’re not enjoying. Do you know how many books exist in the world? There are so many other books you could be reading right now instead of forcing yourself to slog through the one you’re not connected to, the one that you dread returning to.

Life is too short to read books you don’t love.

So what are the books that I didn’t finish recently?

Well, I was really excited about both of them!

the-wife-s-tale-7

The first was Aida Edemariam’s The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History. It’s the story of Edemariam’s grandmother, who lived alongside some incredible history in her native Ethiopia. I was looking forward to reading about the life of this woman who witnessed history happening while also living her life, married to a man twenty years older than her, the birth and death of her children.

This one lost me because of it’s writing style. It felt almost biblical and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried reading the bible for the stories, but it’s a slog. I couldn’t get into the story because I was trying too hard to figure out what was even happening. The narrative also seemed to keep changing from who was telling the story which added a new layer of confusion for this reader.

It didn’t take me long to get frustrated with this one and give it up – maybe 50 pages. And I’m bummed about it because I’ve not read anything about Ethiopia or its history and I was really looking forward to doing that via a woman’s perspective.

macbeth

The next one was Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth. Last year I posted about Hogarth Press’s project that had authors updating Shakespearean classics. I liked Tracy Chevalier’s take on Othello in The New Boy. I have been a fan of Nesbo’s for ages Macbeth felt like a good fit for him!

I tried really hard to like this one. Nearly 200 pages. In Nesbo’s Macbeth, it’s the 1970s in Fife and a couple of sex workers tell Macbeth, commander of the police’s SWAT team, that he will be the Commissioner but he needs to remove those who are in the way. So, influenced by his girlfriend, a casino and brothel owner called Lady, Macbeth seeks to fulfill the ‘prophecy.’

Part of what makes Shakespeare’s Macbeth so good is the mystical element which is weird and clumsy in the 1970s Scottish underworld. And Macbeth, a trained SWAT commander, reallllllly likes to use his knives as his murder weapons of choice which also just felt like a strange choice to me. I had a hard time with lack of women, which I guess is kind of down to the original but Lady was an old sex worker/brothel madam. I guess an effort was made to have her seem like Macbeth’s partner, but it fell flat for this reader.

Aside from Banquo and his son, everyone in this story is horrible. I don’t remember enough of the original to confidently say that that wasn’t the case there too but I feel like there was a desire to see Macbeth win and I didn’t feel that. It makes zero sense for the man hoping to become police commissioner to go on a junkie bender and murder the people who stand in his way. Does it make sense in a Scotland of old? Yes, absolutely. Less so in modern times.

I want to feel bad for not finishing either of these books but then I look around at the 700 books piled up around my house and realize I don’t have time to feel bad!

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with copies of these books in exchange for honest reviews.

10

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

If you are a true crime fan, if you listen to the podcasts, you were waiting for the posthumous release of Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.

gone in the dark

Michelle McNamara was the brains behind the True Crime Diary blog. When she started looking into the unsolved case of the East Area Rapist – Original Night Stalker, she became obsessed. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the story of both her obsession and the search for the identity of the man who terrorized California with over 60 rapes and at least 10 murders in the 1970s and 1980s.

This book is amazing and horrifying and great and the worst. I could not read it before bed, in the dark, or if I was alone in the house. Three friends read it at the same time as me and one night one texted me about it right before I went to bed. I couldn’t fall asleep for ages thinking about this book. McNamara lived alongside her investigation and as you read the book, you are living that with her. She once scoured yearbooks looking for waterpolo players because one time a victim said that the guy had muscular thighs. She tracked down a pair of cufflinks with the letter N off eBay because she thought they were ones that he stole from a victim. She spoke with those involved in the case, then and now, and with other online amateur sleuths as obsessed as she was.

McNamara’s brilliance is on display on every single page she wrote. This book was put together after her death by her husband, Patton Oswalt, and some of her research partners. Because of this, sometimes the book feels a little disorganized and disjointed. But don’t let that put you off because this is a classic in the true crime genre. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark will live alongside The Stranger Beside Me and In Cold Blood for always, it’s that good.

It’s hard to think about the fact that she didn’t get to see her book out into the world, that her search for the identity of the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer was cut short. I have no doubt that she would have figured it out, if she hasn’t already. I think the hope of anyone who reads this book is that this will spark interest from others who will figure it out.

If you love true crime, this book needs to be on your list. Just, seriously, don’t read it in the dark. Or alone.

11

In which I’m surprised by my own personality

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I think my love of Gretchen Rubin’s work is well documented in this space. I learn so much from her books and I have definitely encouraged others to read them as well!

four-tendencies

Her newest book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), is no exception!

In this one, Rubin posits that there are four personality tendencies based on how you react to internal and external factors. That is, are you motivated by internal pressures or external? Both? None? Based on this, you have a personality trait: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel.

There’s a quiz at the beginning of the book (and you can find it here if you’re interested. You ARE) so that you can find out where you land before you read the rest of the book.

Basically the Four Tendencies break down thus:

  • Upholder (responds well to external and internal expectations, has no trouble making time for themselves and achieving things others expect from them)
  • Questioner (responds well to internal obligations, will only achieve those things that make sense to them, you have to convince a questioner that something should be done)
  • Obliger (responds well to external obligations, likely to burn out because they don’t say no and don’t make time for themselves)
  • Rebel (doesn’t respond to external or internal obligations, only do things they WANT to do, if you tell them to do something they automatically don’t want to)

There is also some overlap – you can be an Upholder with Obliger tendencies or a Rebel with Questioner tendencies. Each chapter breaks down a tendency and then how to deal with it if you are one, are in a relationship with one, have a child who is one or work with one.

As ever, Rubin’s work is accessible and so interesting. I learned so much about myself, my relationship, the people I work with. I’ve loaned the book out twice already (once to my manager!) and forced so many people to take the quiz! I thought I was an Obliger but it turns out I’m a REBEL! Basically this means that I don’t respond to any factors, I only do things when I WANT to. Very, very true. When I was reading the Rebel chapter, I had to laugh because it said that IF a Rebel was in a long term relationship, it was with an Obliger. Turns out, my husband is an Obliger.

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in learning more, I really recommend this one. It’s an easy read – 220 pages. You can feel Rubin’s enthusiasm for the work, she includes anecdotes from people she’s encountered and you can really start to see the people around you in the tendencies as you read. I read this sometime last month and I still think about it all the time.

4

Non-Fiction November: New to my TBR

And here we are, the final day of November, the last post for Non-Fiction November. This month long celebration of all things non-fiction is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

This week is hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review.

A whole month of non-fiction bingeing begs the question: what books made it onto your TBR List?

This year I actually kept track! These are the books that replaced the ones I read this month (and then some because it was not a strong reading month for me!):

Thanks again to Katie, Julie, Sarah, Lory and Kim for hosting another great month of non-fiction. Even though I definitely didn’t get as much non-fiction reading in as I wanted or hoped to, the non-fiction that I did read was pretty great.

(Any event that gets Catherine @ Gilmore Guide to Books to read non-fiction is a success!)

And I’ve added some great new titles to my TBR juuuuuuust in time for Christmas.