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.)

I learned a lot from this book about how addiction destroys families, not just the person who is addicted. Macy writes about family funds being depleted and parents spending years trying to heal from the problems in their children’s lives (or their too-early deaths). I also learned that treatment/rehabilitation for opioid addiction is complicated, expensive, and not available to most people.

Yaa Gyasi’s second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, is completely different from her first, Homegoing, but it’s every bit as good if not better. The main character is Gifty, a young woman from a Ghanaian family pursuing a doctorate at Stanford, studying how pleasure-seeking behaviors affect the brain and how they can be treated. When she was young, her older brother Nana suffered from opioid addiction, devastating the family and leaving Gifty struggling with issues of trust, hope, and faith.

I was knocked out by how good this book was, from an author who is so young and has only written one other book.

While Transcendent Kingdom covers many issues like mental illness, science, and religion, it’s also the perfect illustration of what Macy describes: how opioids were prescribed to blameless people who were helpless to resist its addictive qualities, and how opioid addiction tears apart families, with impacts that last for years. Both Macy and Gyasi write about how hard it is to fight addiction, how people go through cycles of withdrawal and rehabilitation, only to go back again and again. And how families give everything they have, watching helplessly while the person they love becomes a stranger.

I’m fortunate that I haven’t experienced any of this directly. It’s easy to blame people who use drugs, thinking they are criminals or must be weak, but these two books will give you a very different perspective.

Another book I just read that pairs well is Liz Moore’s Long Bright River. It’s not nearly as good as Transcendent Kingdom, but I recommend for people who like dark mystery-thrillers, especially those that focus on troubled families (like the books of Tana French and Jane Foster).

  6 comments for “Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

  1. November 14, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    That is a perfect pairing. I’m definitely interested in reading about the opiod addition. I was given an opium based medicine a few years ago after surgery – when I told the surgeon a few days later that it made me feel very strange, he said he wasn’t surprised since it was essentially pure poppy juice. I threw it away very quickly!

    • November 15, 2020 at 10:19 pm

      Wow, it sounds like you should have gotten much more guidance on how to take that medication. My sister had heart surgery a few years ago and they really emphasized that she should get off the pain meds as quickly as possible. These are both great books – devastating though.

  2. November 14, 2020 at 9:43 pm

    Oh I didn’t know Transcendent Kingdom touches on the opioid crisis. I’m really looking forward to reading it but am waiting for the paperback.

    • November 15, 2020 at 10:20 pm

      Sorry you have to wait for this one – but when you get to it, I hope you like it as much as I did.

  3. November 16, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    What great pairings! I’ve been wanting to get to Dopesick and several other nonfiction reads on the opiod problem. I’m less sure about Transcendent Kingdom, but a couple of people have used it in their pairing posts with nothing but good to say about it, so I’m starting to consider it.

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