This week’s host for Nonfiction November is Katie @ Doing Dewey, and it’s about the nonfiction titles we’ve added to our TBR list this month. Below I’m highlighting just a few of the books I hope to read.
Here for It; Or How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas is a book described as “a poignant and hilarious memoir-in-essays about growing up seeing the world differently, finding his joy, and every awkward, extraordinary stumble along the way.” I don’t read a lot of essay collections but I’ve seen this book recommended frequently. Katie at Doing Dewey describes it as funny and hopeful while also addressing serious issues. The audiobook is narrated by the author, always a bonus.
A particularly relevant topic right now is Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright. This was described by Introverted Reader as her favorite nonfiction read this year.
The way the brain works is a topic that always fascinates me. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk was recommended by Lory at Emerald City Book Review as an important book about the way trauma clouds our thinking.
Catch and Kill: Lie, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow is about another topic, sexual assault, that I feel is really important. This book, recommended by Kristin Kraves Books, is about systemic sexual abuse in Hollywood and the beginnings of the Me Too movement.
I got a lot of other good recommendations, so thanks to the other bloggers who participated in Nonfiction November, and to our four hosts! You can find links to the other “new to my TBR” posts here.
I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about the things I’m thankful for. I’ll be honest– I’m struggling to feel good about the world these days, as much as I’m grateful for the many things I have. A good friend just found out his wife has cancer, and I’m devastated for him. So many people have lost loved ones this year, and so many are spending this holiday season alone. And while that makes me treasure what I have even more, that gratitude is mixed with guilt. It’s not that I think I’m to blame for the suffering of others, but I see this country growing more and more unequal every day — so the comforts I have really do mean that others have less. I do what I can to volunteer my time, to donate to good causes, and to be there for friends and family. But in the face of what’s happening right now, it feels like so little.
What am I thankful for? My husband of nearly 20 years, who’s supportive and funny and generous, and who knows me better than anyone else in the world. My home, for being a place we could comfortably quarantine in this year without driving each other crazy. My family, especially my parents, who thankfully remain in good health. My job, which is challenging and meaningful, and importantly, lets me work from home rather than risk my health. For the extra time we’ve had this year with our cats, who won’t be with us forever. For the time to read and blog, and for the friendships I’ve built around reading.
I’m grateful for the city I live in, especially for the walking trails and parks near my home. My daily walks this year have kept me sane, and the natural beauty that surrounds me is something I never take for granted. I’ve spent the year taking photos of my walks, and I’m hoping some of those photos will be worth using in some way.
And I’m thankful we’ll have a new President and VP soon! While it doesn’t change the underlying problems this country is facing, it’s much better than the alternative.Read More
This week’s Nonfiction November prompt is hosted by Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction:
Week 3: (November 16-20) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 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).
Over the last year, like many others, I’ve been reading more about race. I had already been trying to read more diversely over the last few years, but this summer my reading switched over from memoirs and novels to books that address the topic of race directly.
I read these books in 2020:
I’m not going to review those books, but I will talk a little bit about what I’ve taken away from them. I feel they’ve been helpful in giving me a way to talk about race, and to think about my own feelings. In the past I’ve been afraid to broach the topic at all, and that’s a problem. I recently took a new job where I’ll be supervising a group of diverse employees, and I’ve learned from experience that ignoring race isn’t helpful. I can’t pretend to be race-blind or completely non-biased.
So You Want to Talk About Race is a book I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to read on this topic. Oluo discusses a range of issues in a thoughtful but also personal way, sharing her own experiences as a black woman. I was particularly struck by her description of what it was like learning to drive, and experiencing being pulled over by police again and again, sometimes for driving just one mile over the speed limit, or for having tags that were close to expiring. When I compared that with my own experience of having never been ticketed (and I do not consider myself a particularly good driver) I was shocked and saddened.
White Fragility is written by a white woman who leads seminars on addressing race issues in the workplace. She regularly talks with people about their perceptions of race, and her book provides helpful ways for white people to consider their own biases. Her book is highly regarded by many, but it’s also been criticized; it oversimplifies some issues and is quite repetitive. That said, I found her book helpful, because of her frame of reference as a workplace trainer, and because I saw myself in much of what she talked about.
I also found The Fire This Time meaningful and relevant. It’s a collection of essays inspired by James Baldwin’s classic work, compiled in 2016 to address incidents of police violence like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Reading this today, I found it so disturbing that despite all the protests, nothing seems to be getting better. As with any book of essays, some resonate more than others. I was particularly struck by an essay by Garnette Cadogan about walking as a black man in Jamaica and New Orleans. Like driving, the experience of walking down a street is completely different depending on whether you’re black or white.That feels so wrong to me.
So here are some of the things these books have made me think about – and resolve to do better:
Two other books on this subject I recommend often (but read before 2020) are Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum. I’m currently reading Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge, about racism in Britain.
The more I read on this subject, the more I feel I need to learn. I know a lot of other bloggers have been reading and writing about this topic as well. What books on racial issues do you recommend?
This week’s Nonfiction November prompt comes from Julie @ Julz Reads:
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.
Dopesick is an in-depth look at opioid addiction, particularly at how the drug company pushed OxyContin in rural areas where people would be most susceptible to it (my full review here). Macy balances medical, business, and legal information with personal stories. The opioid epidemic is one that touches many people, whether rich or poor, but Macy really shows how this crisis fell on the backs of the poor. Reading this book, I was infuriated to know how far back this goes and how little was done until wealthy people started dying. For example, OxyContin’s manufacturers were told early on that they needed to do something to their pills to prevent them from being crushed or injected, yet they did nothing. (Interestingly, just last month Purdue Pharma settled a huge lawsuit, though it’s probably not nearly enough.)Read More
This year I’m returning to Nonfiction November, one of my favorite blogging events. This event is hosted by Leann @ ShelfAware, Katie @ Doing Dewey, Julie @ Julz Reads, and Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction to discuss our favorite nonfiction reads of the year. The first question comes from Leann:
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 is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
This year, like a lot of people, I focused on books about race, and these books have given me a better understanding of a lot of issues. I can see how my experiences (e.g., with police) differ so much from those of other people, just because of skin color. I can also see where perceptions I have held were completely wrong, and where I’ve been defensive or misunderstood my own racism.
So far I’ve I read 16 works of nonfiction in 2020, many of them by audiobook.
October wasn’t a great blogging month for me, because there’s really only one thing that mattered this month — the election. I started volunteering with the Biden campaign, which helps my stress levels a bit because at least I feel like I’m doing something. If you’re in the U.S., PLEASE VOTE! A great site to find voting information for your area, like where to drop off ballots and how to track your ballot, is IWILLVOTE.com.
Here’s what I read in October:
My favorite reads: The Vanishing Half had a great story and gave me so much to think about. I also recommend Dreamland Burning because it’s good historical fiction about the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, something most of us know little or nothing about. The Salt Path is a quiet, slow-paced read that is quite inspiring.Read More
I liked everything about Harrow’s new novel, a story that blends the mythology of Grimm’s fairy tales with historical misogyny. The Eastwood sisters Beatrice, Agnes, and Juniper haven’t seen each other for seven years. The two elder sisters fled the family farm because of their abusive father, and the youngest, Juniper, has been scarred by the abandonment of her older sisters. They meet up in 1893 in New Salem after an act of magic that seems to open a door but also opens up longstanding wounds.
Harrow writes this story in a dreamy, allegorical way that puts a new spin on the maligned witches of old fairy tales. You could compare this novel to Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic in some ways. But at the same time, Harrow doesn’t neglect character development and manages to explore all kinds of issues, including women’s suffrage, feminism, race, LGBTQ relationships, motherhood and family.
Beatrice, Agnes, and Juniper are trying to revive witchcraft so they can take back the power that they and all women have lost. They are seeking the Way of Avalon, a mythology about three elder witches: the Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden. No one is sure if opening that door is possible. Beatrice, the eldest, seeks power in the library, researching the lore of spells and compiling a book of notes. Agnes, the middle sister, is the strong one – but she has a baby to protect. And Juniper is the brave one, the hothead. She’s angry and she’s not going to pretend otherwise.
I love a good sister story, and I really appreciated how this book built the sisters’ relationships. It’s easy to write about sisterhood as easy and uncomplicated, but it’s anything but. Sisters support each other but they also tear each other apart. And when sisters betray each other, those wounds are difficult to repair.
I also liked how this book dealt with issues of anger and violence. The sisters have to deal with their history with their abusive father and they are left wondering why the mother they barely knew didn’t do more to protect them. Each of them struggles with feelings of guilt, and they constantly try to figure out how to accomplish what they need without giving in to despair. If they stuff away their anger as they’re expected to do, they accomplish nothing. But if they give in to anger, they also threaten everything they’re working towards, and the people they love. Fundamentally, this felt like what being a woman is all about.Read More
September felt very, very long. I started a tough new job, spent the month alone while my husband visited his family in California, and worried about my niece who may have been infected with COVID (she wasn’t, thankfully). We lost RBG, and the country seems to be in free-fall.
I’ve got my mail-in ballot sitting on the dining room table, which I will soon complete and drop off at my registrar’s office.
Last weekend was the National Book Festival, held online of course — and that was okay with me as I hate crowds and long lines, and you have to watch most of the authors on a video screen anyway. I watched interviews with Emily St. John Mandel, Madeline Albright, and Colson Whitehead.
Here’s what I read in September:
I loved Clegg’s first novel, Did You Ever Have a Family, so I was happy to receive an advance review copy of his second novel, The End of the Day. Unfortunately, this book fell flat for me.
This novel is a story about three women in their sixties who grew up together in rural Connecticut and who haven’t talked to each other since they were young. Dana Goss comes from a wealthy family and lives on a rural estate called Edgeweather. Jackie is her neighbor and closest friend, and Lupita’s parents and sister work for the Goss family. The book begins with Dana paying Jackie a visit for the first time in over forty years – with a briefcase full of papers.
What happened to these three women (who aren’t quite friends) is told over the course of the book. Unfortunately, the characters never feel developed. This book felt long, though it wasn’t, and I left it without any real sense of who Dana and Jackie were as people. Clegg’s way of telling the story keeps a lot hidden, and even when facts are revealed there’s not a lot of clarity. For example, there’s a character who we discover was adopted, but his parentage is unclear. There’s a husband and wife that separate for a time but the reasons aren’t explained until much later in the book. There are abusive parents and abusive (adult) children, but they don’t connect much to the story.
The book feels very disjointed at first, but that’s true of a lot of novels where it takes a while to see how the characters connect. With this book, I kept waiting for it to come together, but I was ultimately disappointed by the direction it took.Read More
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