Nonfiction November: Books I’ve Added to My To-Be-Read List

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.

What I’m Thankful For

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. 

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Nonfiction November: Reading about Race

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:

  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward

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:

  1. Don’t be defensive and don’t assume I understand. DiAngelo talks about how every progressive white person thinks they understand the experiences of black people, but we don’t. For example, just because I had family die in the Holocaust, or because I grew up wearing thrift store clothing, or because I’ve had jobs where I was nearly the only white person — those experiences may have shaped who I am, but they don’t mean I understand what it means to be black.
  2. Be aware of privilege. I may have experienced discrimination but I’m also privileged in ways I haven’t been aware of. It’s time to be aware. Learning to drive without being afraid of being shot was a privilege. Having teachers go easy on me when I did something wrong was a privilege. Not having people question whether I’m capable of a job based on my name or skin color is a privilege.
  3. Good intentions aren’t enough. White people make the mistake of thinking if their intentions are good, that’s the important thing. These books have made me realize that’s not the case. Maybe my intentions are good, but if I say something that seems racist, I need to apologize and listen. I know I won’t always say the right thing, but if something I say bothers someone, I need consider why they are upset and take responsibility instead of explaining why I meant well.
  4. Don’t expect black people to educate me about race.
  5. Learn the history of racism in this country that’s been covered up or ignored, like the massacre in Tulsa in 1921and the history of voting suppression, lynching, and forced labor.

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?

Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

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.)

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Review: Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

I love reading about Australia, ever since I traveled there in 2013. I was struck by the similarities in the history of Australia and the United States, though I felt Australia was much more open about its troubling treatment of Aboriginal populations.

Too Much Lip tells the story of Kerry Salter, a young woman who comes from the Bundjalung community. She left home years ago for Brisbane; now she’s back because her grandfather is dying.  She arrives in the small town of Durrongo on a stolen Harley, and she’s already trying to figure out how to get out as soon as possible.  Of course getting away from home won’t be so easy.  Kerry is reminded how much she loves the land when it’s threatened by the local mayor’s plan to have the area developed and turned into a prison. 

Importantly, this is a book about race and history in Australia.  It’s about what the white colonists stole from the natives, and about the many abuses that impact families to this day.  It’s about how abuse repeats itself over generations – it doesn’t just go away as we might like to think.  Be warned – this isn’t an easy book, and it shouldn’t be. Its characters endure slavery, rape, extreme violence, and children separated from their families.

There was so much I loved about this book, particularly the way Lucashenko weaved together Kerry’s culture and mythology, including animals as totems and the importance of land and family history.  I liked the magical realism elements, which were minimal enough that they added to the story without detracting from the very difficult issues. And I really liked the way Lucashenko uses local dialect. Though I had trouble at first understanding a lot of the words, I enjoyed trying to figure them out and over time the book became much easier to read. 

Kerry dropped into second as she cruised past the corner store, clocking the whitenormalsavages, a dozen blue eyeballs popping fair outta their moogle heads at the sight of her. Skinniest dark girl on a shiny new Softail, heart attack city, truesgod. So yeah, let’s go for it, eh, you mob. Let’s all have a real good dorrie at the blackfella du jour.

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko
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Nonfiction November: My Year in Reading Nonfiction

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. 

  1. The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
  2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  3. Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam
  4. So You Want to Talk About Race by Oluo Ijeoma
  5. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  6. White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
  7. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
  8. The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
  9. The Yellow House by Sarah Broom
  10. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
  11. No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder
  12. Know My Name by Chanel Miller
  13. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
  14. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
  15. The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff
  16. Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi
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My October Reading Wrap-Up

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

Here’s what I read in October:

  • City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (audio)
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix F. Harrow
  • Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
  • All Adults Here by Emma Straub (audio)
  • Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian
  • The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (audio)
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (audio)
  • The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

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. 

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Review: All Adults Here by Emma Straub

I really got into this book about three generations of a family in small-town Connecticut, though I felt let down by the ending, for reasons I’ll try to explain without saying too much.

The novel begins with Astrid, a widow, who sees a friend struck and killed by a speeding school bus.  Astrid is so shaken that she begins to reevaluate her life, particularly her secret relationship with a woman in town, and her difficult relationships with her three adult children.  She begins to see that while she tried to give her children freedom and space, the reality is that she wasn’t there for them at key moments in their lives. She resolves to be more honest and address past mistakes head on. 

Around the same time, Astrid takes in her 13-year-old granddaughter, Cecilia, who had trouble with bullying in her middle school. Cecilia is feeling betrayed by her friends and abandoned by her parents. She meets August, a transgender teen who identifies as Robin but hasn’t come out yet. 

I loved the complicated issues raised in this book about family relationships, friendships, and love. I could identify with Astrid and all three of her children. Astrid meant well as a parent but realizes she really doesn’t know how to relate to her children as adults. Cecelia and August’s stories got me choked up more than once. I liked the way Astrid needed to navigate her complicated feelings towards her dead husband, her partner, and her children. And I particularly identified with this portrayal of a family that doesn’t always like each other all that much. For example, the oldest son is a guy no one likes, nor do they like his wife or his two young sons.  Initially he feels a bit one-note but Straub does a nice job of drawing out his character so he becomes understandable and sympathetic (though I found the youngest son much less developed).

I appreciated the way the characters wrestled with parenting. They didn’t have perfect children or easy lives after having children. Their marital relationships struggled in some ways because of parenting. They had to question whether they were parenting too closely or not closely enough.  And I especially liked the way Astrid constantly questioned her relationships with her adult children, whether her perspectives on their childhoods were correct, and where she might have done lasting damage. 

But towards the end, there were things that really detracted from this book. (NOTE: if you’re like me and hate to know anything about how a book ends, feel free to stop reading here. But I’ll keep details to a minimum.)

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Review: Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

If you’re like me, the first time you knew anything about the 1921 Tulsa race riots – or race massacre – was this summer, when Trump scheduled a rally in Tulsa on June 19 (Juneteenth). Before that I was mostly unaware of this history. What happened in Tulsa is a perfect example of the way our country covers up history it doesn’t like. 

On May 31 and June 1, 1921, mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has been called the single worst incident of racial violence in American history, destroying more than 35 square blocks of the district—at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States. As many as 800 were injured, and no one knows how many were killed (Oklahoma only recorded 36 official deaths but that number is certainly far higher). Greenwood was not rebuilt and no reparations were made to the estimated 10,000 people who were left homeless.  And no white person was charged with a crime. 

Much of what happened was covered up and never talked about. Author Latham, who is white, lives in Tulsa and was inspired to write this novel by visiting the Greenwood cultural center and listening to and reading the interviews of witnesses. Only in recent years have there been coordinated efforts to research and memorialize this tragedy. A Washington Post article published just this week talks about the current effort to identify and locate the bodies of those who were killed.

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Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

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.

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My September Reading Wrap-Up

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:

  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (audio)
  • A Burning by Megha Majumdar (audio)
  • Network Effect by Martha Wells
  • The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory (audio)
  • My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
  • Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam
  • A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King (audio)
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (audio)
  • If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
  • Faithful Place by Tana French (audio)
  • The End of the Day by Bill Clegg
  • The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
  • Sherwood by Meagan Spooner (audio)
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Review: The End of the Day by Bill Clegg

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. 

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