15

Nonfiction November (Week 2): Book Pairings

Well. Things look a little brighter on this Monday no?

This week Julie @ Julz Reads is our host for what is probably my favourite week of Nonfiction November:

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. 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.

I love the idea of this prompt so much. One of my favourite things to do is follow up a fiction read with the nonfiction version! Here are my pairings this year!

Gentrification

I read How to Kill A City: Gentrification, Inequality and the Fight for the Neighborhood back when it came out in 2016. It was the first time that I was really introduced to the policies that shaped the way cities are formed, often at the expense of Black and Brown people. Pride and When No One is Watching use the theme of gentrification as the anchor for their stories, a chance to see how these policies affect the people cities aren’t thinking about.

Instagram

I really enjoyed getting to read the behind-the-scenes story of Instagram. I spend an embarrassing amount of time on there and it was interesting learning about how it became what it is, how it changed our culture. More books featuring instagram and influencers are starting to come out (Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner comes to mind) but My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella was an early adopter and I loved it.

Edward VIII’s Loves

This wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t include at least ONE historical fiction/biography pairing! I’ve characterized them as Edward VIII’s loves but one thing you should know about Edward VIII was that he didn’t fall in love with pushovers. I consider Anne Sebba’s biography of Mrs Simpson to be the definitive one. I read The Woman before Wallis this summer and it was a delight; I’m on the hunt for a thorough biography of Thelma Morgan please.

Those are my pairings for 2020! I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else has picked this year!

And if you want to see what I recommended in year’s past, here are some of my old posts!

41

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction

Well, here we are. November! Did you ever think we’d make it this far?

There’s other noteworthy things happening but around here, it’s all about Nonfiction November!

This year it’s hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey, Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction, Julie @ Julz Reads and Leann @ Shelf Aware. Each of them will host a week and we all get to benefit from some really great nonfiction discussions and fill our TBR with new titles! There’s also an instagram challenge that you can get in on.

Week 1: (November 2-6) – Leann will be kicking things off with Your Year in Nonfiction : Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? 

One thing that the pandemic *was* really great for was reading. Especially in the early days when we didn’t really know what was to come, we didn’t know enough to be really fearful. I’ve read 116 books so far this year and 33, or 28%, have been nonfiction. I usually roll into November with around 29% of my reading being nonfiction so I’m super consistent.

I don’t think I can pick one favourite that I read this year. I read a lot of really excellent nonfiction! It started off really strong with Mary Laura Philpott’s essay collection, I Miss You When I Blink. She wrote about things I felt that I didn’t have words for. I made a lot of friends read that one afterwards and looking back now I honestly can’t believe it was *this* year that I read it! The same thing happened with Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. I think she fundamentally shifted something in me with that book and I’m a full Glennon convert now.

I read and loved Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns for the first time this year. I took it out from the library and that was a mistake. I did not make the same mistake when Caste came out this summer. I loved that one too! Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond was such an eye-opener about the cycle of poverty and how imprisoned in it so many people are in that system.

The best true crime book I read this year was definitely Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. Another library book I wish I owned! I read about Jessica Simpson (Open Book), Meghan and Harry (Finding Freedom), The View (Ladies Who Punch), about Instagram (No Filter) and Pixar (To Pixar and Beyond) and all of them were really good!

I also read a lot of parenting books this year because my kid is now at an age where I really need to learn what I’m even doing. I loved The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, looking at how a child’s brain development can inform interactions and successful discipline. They were really illuminating. I loved the validation of The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in an Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon and wanted to learn more about how to still see people this winter by reading There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda Akeson McGurk.

The worst nonfiction book I read was absolutely, no question Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.

I’ve never laughed louder at nonfiction than reading Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. I have Wow, No Thank You on deck for this month and I cannot wait.

I think out of all of the books I read this year I recommended Glennon Doyle’s Untamed and Jesse Thistle’s From the Ashes the most. You already know about Untamed, From the Ashes is a memoir about an Indigenous man cut off from his culture, abused as a child, his addictions and homelessness and his redemption. The book was selected for Canada Reads this year (a big deal up here!) and I will never get over that a man who picked up a book for the first time as an adult has now written one, and one that is this good.

I for sure read a lot of memoirs this year: I was also drawn to social justice type books: Medical Bondage by Deirdre Cooper Owens, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. It seemed that the harder the world burned, the more I wanted to learn about how we got here. I have a number of these that I still want to read and I’ve been saving them for this month.

As for what I’m hoping to get out of this Nonfiction November, it goes without saying that I’m going to discover a whole host of new amazing titles for my TBR. What I’m really excited about is getting to talk about nonfiction with all of you! It’s the total highlight of my reading year!

See you next week!

10

Daylight reading only: If You Tell

A few weeks ago I was listening to the My Favorite Murder podcast when they were talking about this woman who started a “clinic” to help people with a myriad of health conditions by starving them. She wound up killing a bunch of her patients – the story was horrific. I can’t remember if it was Karen or Georgia doing the telling but she got a lot of the story by reading a book that Gregg Olsen wrote about it.

Weirdly, a few days later someone from Gregg Olsen’s publishing team reached out to see if I would be interested in reading his new book, out December 1st. I didn’t even finish reading the email before I replied YES.

cover - if you tell

I thought the story of the starvation cure was awful but it has nothing on the heinous deeds of Shelly Knopek and her husband, Dave. If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood tells the story of Shelly and Dave Knopek, the Washington State couple who abused, terrorized and murdered three people who had moved in with them, while also inflicting heinous abuse on their three daughters.

I very much appreciated that Olsen began the book by telling readers that the Knopek’s daughters, Nikki, Sami and Tori are today, safe and thriving in their new lives, away from the devastating abuse that was forced upon them for years. As I made my way through their story, I hung onto the fact that the girls, at least, were going to be OK in the end. The things that they saw, the things that were done to them, the way their mother gaslighted them throughout their lives – it is remarkable to me that these women are anywhere near OK today.

This story is one of the worst that I’ve ever read and Olsen does an incredible job of not reveling in the gruesome details. He manages to describe what happened without an ounce of rubbernecking which I for one was grateful for. I got the sense the entire time that he was a friend of the family, someone who had worked to gain the trust of these women who had burdened with horrific family secrets for so long. I’m not trying to be coy by not describing the details – for one thing, I think the reading experience is a bit better by not knowing too much, for another, it truly is a disgusting tale and if true crime isn’t your thing, you don’t need to know the details!

I couldn’t put this book down. I raced through the pages in less than two days, reluctant to leave the family at any point where things were especially bad. Olsen’s writing is spare, to the point, sticking to the facts and refraining from embellishing a story that’s already worse than anything you’ve read recently. It’s the kind of book that I wouldn’t read before bed, for fear that the Knopeks would haunt my dreams. I recommend full daylight when someone else is home for your own reading experience.

If you’re a true crime reader, if you’re a murderino, if you love 48 Hours and Dateline, I know you’re going to want to pick up If You Tell when it’s out next week.

Thanks to Dandelion PR for an ARC of this book. 

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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:

nonfictionnovember2019

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!

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Making Elitist Memories

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

In the last few years there have been a number of books flooding the market about happiness and how to increase yours. One of the niche markets within the happiness market is the one looking at how Scandinavians live and stay so happy. I’ve definitely read my fair share of these books – I’m game to find out how I can increase my personal happiness!

(Note: these books are not geared towards folks who are struggling with their mental health due to medical conditions like clinical depression.)

making memories.jpeg

The Art of Making Memories: How to Create and Remember Happy Moments by Meik Wiking is another one of these books. But while the ones before focus on ways to make your life happier, this one looks at what you can do to ensure that you remember those happy moments better. Wiking is also the happiness genius behind The Little Book of Hygge and The Little Book of Lykke. He mans the World Happiness Institute in Copenhagen and spends his life looking at how people experience happiness.

This book is his effort at showing readers what they can do to actually remember those simple happy memories. He’s not talking about the big life changing happy moments like getting married, graduating, or meeting your baby for the first time. He’s talking about the every day happy moments, a walk with family when the light is just right, a great meal shared with friends, reading a bedtime story with your freshly bathed kid. He talks about the senses that are connected with memory and what you can do to engage those when you make the memory so that you can trigger that sense to remember the moment – choosing a specific scent to wear on your wedding day so that whenever you wear it later, it reminds you of that day; going on a memory walk where you choose a route in a neighbourhood that hits locations that have meaning for you; write in a notebook on your happiest days capturing how you felt, what you smelled, what you wore etc.

It was an interesting look at how memory functions and how you can exploit those functions to better capture those moments of perfect contentment.

But at times this book felt a little elitist and out of reach. Talking about changing your annual sailing vacation destination from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean isn’t something that most of us can do to change the way we remember our experiences (the idea being that novelty captures memory better). Writing about your time on Hornby Island off the coast of British Columbia while you work on your book seems kind of accessible for those of us who live in the general vicinity (if we’re willing to pay the exorbitant BC Ferries rate) but it’s a pretty rareified experience for most.

It’s also not a super in-depth look at memory. As far as I could make out, it was based on one massive survey rather than years and years of work. Other professionals’ work was summarized but it was mostly very surface level.

Still, it was an incredibly gorgeous book. Every page is full colour, there are beautiful photographs and punchy illustrations that make the reading a memorable experience. It’s a bit like reading a TED Talk which means it’s very readable.

It just felt a little out of reach at times.

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Nonfiction November 2019: Be/Ask/Become The Expert

Week 3: (Nov. 11 to 15) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Katie @ Doing Dewey): 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).

This is a week that I always look forward to during Nonfiction November even though I overthink it every year! Turns out that this is actually the fourth year that I’m participating and so far I’ve chosen to Be The Expert every time. This year is no exception I’m afraid. It’s partly that I think I know everything 😉 but mostly it’s that I get so excited about books that I’ve read that I want to tell everyone about them so that they can read them too. And Be The Expert us such a great opportunity for that!

In years past I’ve done Royal Women, Movie Stars and Authors and legitimately had read so much on those topics that I was pretty close to an expert. This year I’m picking a little from the Be The Expert column and a little from Ask The Expert because I would love to find more titles on my chosen topic which is:

LGBTQ+ Lives

In my opening post I wrote that I like to read about experiences that aren’t mine. As a ci-gendered hetero (white) woman, I think it’s important to educate myself on the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. The part about educating myself is particularly important as the burden for educating me to be an effective ally should not rest on the community.

Here are some of the nonfiction books about LGBTQ+ people I’ve read and loved.

loveliveshere Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family by Amanda Jette Knox. I know, I’m kind of cheating because I already mentioned this book in my first Nonfiction November post. But it’s that good. And although it wasn’t written by someone who is transgender – something that was rightly pointed out to me – the author’s experience of loving two members of her family who are is one that should be more widely read. This is a memoir of love and understanding and of not knowing all the answers but willing to work to find them.

 

saeed jonesHow We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones. This debut from poet Saeed Jones will take your breath away. It just won the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction and Marlon James, Roxane Gay, and Jacqueline Woodson have all sung its praises. It is the story of Jones growing up as a gay black boy in Texas, with a mother who knew he was gay but never wanted to hear it spoken aloud and a grandmother who slapped him across the face when she realized his truth. Jones’ writing is raw and perfect and beautiful. How We Fight For Our Lives is an incredibly honest book, with descriptions of sex that I’ve honestly never come across before – and I mean that in the best possible way. I love love loved this one.

darling days

Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright. I read this one when it came out in 2016 and I still think about it.  Darling Days tells the story of the way that Tillett Wright grew up, namely in absolute poverty with a mother who was fighting demons of her own and a father who wasn’t always present. Somehow through all of that trauma, Tillett Wright came out of his childhood with love. I was remind of iO Tillett Wright via the podcast My Favorite Murder – he was a part of a weekend event they hosted, as the host of his own true crime podcast, The Ballad of Billy Balls.

 

me

Me: A Memoir by Elton John. Taking a bit of a different direction with this last one and I haven’t finished reading it as of writing but feel confident recommending it. Elton John’s memoir is unflinching in its honesty and he strikes me as someone who has benefited greatly from therapy – his memoir is incredibly introspective. And aside from the seriously great gossip in this book (he was friends with Billie Jean King! John Lennon! He and Rod Stewart are in a decades long prank war and call each other Sharon and Phyllis!) it is almost casual in descriptions of his sexuality and encounters. And I mean that in the most positive way. Elton John didn’t have a big coming out moment, he just realized it, the people around him realized it and when he officially came out via a Rolling Stone interview, he barely thought about it. And considering all of that happened before 1985, it’s kind of mind-blowing. I am *loving* the time I’m spending with Sir Elton John.

So that’s it, that’s my list! Do you have any LGBTQ+ that I should read ASAP? I’ll take fiction as well, honestly. Ones that I’ve loved have included Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn, The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai…

 

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Nonfiction November 2019: Fiction/Nonfiction Pairings

Week 2 of Nonfiction November is a real highlight for me every year. This week is hosted by the brilliant Sarah @ Sarah’s Bookshelves (seriously, have you listened to her podcast? So many great books all the time!) and is really a great way for people who don’t think they like nonfiction to get introduced to some great books. For the nonfiction/fiction book pairings:

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.

Without further ado, here are mine!

Kick Kennedy

I first read about Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy when I read Laurence Leamer’s The Kennedy Women. But as she died when she was 28, there wasn’t a whole lot of time devoted to her or her story. Which is bananas because her life was…well, when I finally read her biography, I was sobbing.

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher. This book looks at a very specific time in Kick’s life. We meet Kick in 1938 on the day she debuts in London Society, as the daughter of the American Ambassador to England. The book follows an incredibly popular Kick at all the parties and the estate weekends she is invited to. And then she meets Billy Hartington, the son and heir of the Protestant Duke of Devonshire. As they fall in love, they must grapple with the issues of faith that would keep them apart – Kick is very serious about her Catholic faith and would have to give that up were she to become the Duchess of Devonshire. This book doesn’t follow Kick to the end of her life and when I finished it, I immediately ordered a biography of the extraordinary women at the heart of this book.

Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Sister and the Heir of Chatsworth by Paula Byrne. This book was exactly what I hoped it would be. The author was also introduced to Kick by way of Laurence Leamer’s book and tried to find out more about a woman who had kind of been erased from the Kennedy myth because of the circumstances surrounding her death. I don’t want to say anymore really (not that you can’t google it) because I really want you to read this book. Kick seemed like the most wonderful person, everyone who knew her loved her. Her brother Jack never spoke of her after her death, it was too painful. And little brother Bobby named his first child Kathleen but on the condition that she never be called Kick. It’s not a big biography, it reads like a novel about a romantic, rebel intent on following her heart.

WWII Paris

OK so WWII can be one of those genres that people get fatigued by very easily. I’m one of those people who kind of steers clear of these books as they all start to run together after a while. But when I read these two books this year, I knew I had to include them in this post.

Mademoiselle Chanel by CW Gortner. I’ve always found Coco Chanel to be somewhat enigmatic, someone who wasn’t super keen to be well known, to want to live her life in the background. Mademoiselle Chanel was the first time I felt like I read something where I got to know the woman behind the legend. While this book doesn’t focus just on what Chanel was doing during WWII, when I finished it, that was the part that really stuck out for me. Even though it was a fictionalized account of her life, I thought Gortner did an incredible job at getting to the real person, warts and all.

Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation by Anne Sebba. I mean, this title kind of says it all no? In some respects, it reminded me of A Train in Winter in that it covers the lives and deaths of a great number of women. But while that book focused on the lives of those women who had been involved in the Resistance, Les Parisiennes looks at those women plus the society women who maybe colluded with the Nazis to continue living their fairly comfortable lives. For a lot of people, Nazi occupation didn’t really change their way of life and that’s something people don’t like to think about outside of Germany.

The Lusitania

I’m not normally one for nautical reading but stories about the Lusitania have such a human element. It was one of the reasons American involvement in the Great War was justified two years later.


Seven Days in May
by Kim Izzo. Sydney and Brooke Sinclair are New York heiresses set to sail for England. While Sydney is heavily involved in suffrage and women’s causes (the novel opens with her visiting a clinic that helps women who have had illegal abortions), Brooke is engaged to an impoverished English peer. They have no idea that the Lusitania has been targeted by German U-boats when they board for their crossing. Isabel Nelson does have an idea about the fate of the Lusitania. Back in London, Isabel works in a coding unit for the British Admiralty. Her work with codes and cyphers means she is privy to secrets around the true cost of the war. The novel follows all of them over the course of the seven days in May that will change the trajectory of history. Izzo does an incredible job recreating the atmosphere on board the ship and the eventual sinking, peppering the novel with real life stories of those who were on board. If memory serves, I believe she has a family connection to someone that was actually on the ship.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. Here is my annual plea for people to read books by Erik Larson: Guys. If you have not read anything by Erik Larson, you need to. Dead Wake covers the last crossing of the Lusitania in heart breaking detail. Larson has put together a timeline down to the minute. I read this a while ago but I remember that I read the whole thing in one day. I could not put it down. It doesn’t read like nonfiction (Larson’s work never does) and I couldn’t believe that what I was reading actually happened. I spent a long time after finishing this book googling the things he wrote about.

So those are mine. Which book recently sent you on a quest for more information?