Nonfiction November Book Pairings: Fiction and Nonfiction about Activism and Social Justice

This week’s Nonfiction November topic is book pairings, which can be nonfiction books on a particular topic paired with fiction, or with other types of media. Thanks to What’s Nonfiction for hosting this week’s topic.

Unintentionally, one of the common themes in my 2022 nonfiction reading was activism. I’m not an activist myself. Though I vote and support causes that are important to me, I rarely put myself out there the way activists do, and I admire them greatly for that.  Of course, Jane Goodall shows us that activism comes in many forms, it’s not all fiery speeches and marching. 

I read these books in 2022 involving different types of activism, from the courtroom to protests to community development, on subjects including immigrant rights, racial justice, the environment, and disability rights.

Judith Heumann inspires with her memoir about how she and her colleagues fought for the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Jane Goodall discusses how we can all fight for the environment and the other things that bring us hope.  Diary of a Young Naturalist shows how a teenager can make a difference in his community and inspire people around the world.  Lady Justice tells inspiring stories of legal justice and activism by courageous women over the last 5-6 years. The Puma Years tells how a young woman works with rescue animals in a nature preserve in Bolivia, and later creates her own social justice and environmental charity. How to Give Up Plastic has practical suggestions for how to influence local laws and corporate practices.

Then I thought about fiction that had similar themes of people rising up to challenge injustice. I’m always fascinated by the give and take that activists experience when trying to balance their own needs and the needs of the people they love, while still fighting for greater change. Here are a few recommendations:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: one of my most recommended books, this is about a teenage girl who fights for justice after her boyfriend is killed by police when they are pulled over. But fighting for justice comes at great risk to her family and community. This is a powerful book that should be read by everyone.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: This is novel about how one woman comes to understand the impacts of climate change. I loved Kingsolver’s portrayal of the clash of cultures between rural, conservative America and more affluent liberals, because it felt very real to me, and also reminded me of the big city “bubble” I live in. The farmers in this community actually see climate change, and it is impacting their ability to work – yet because it’s a liberal issue, they won’t acknowledge it. At the same time, more affluent liberals see themselves as “environmental”, yet they contribute more to the problem of climate change by their consumer habits.

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez: I loved this story about a real class action lawsuit in the 1970s involving poor women of color who were sterilized without proper consent, many of them in prisons or institutions. A number of these women were even pressured to “consent” while going through labor. In this story, a young nurse named Civil has to balance the needs of two young girls while fighting to defend the rights of hundreds of thousands of women nationwide.  

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich: This book about a small bookstore is set in the midst of the protests that took place in Minneapolis after George Floyd was killed. It’s not my favorite of Erdrich (I loved The Night Watchman and The Round House) but it’s still a book that puts activism in the context of real people’s lives.

Those are my book pairings on nonfiction and fiction about activism. Do you have any other recommendations on this topic?

  19 comments for “Nonfiction November Book Pairings: Fiction and Nonfiction about Activism and Social Justice

  1. Sally Jane Smith, Travel Author
    November 11, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    I love this idea, of pairing non-fiction with fiction. Authors are expected to provide “comp titles” when approaching agents and publishers, and it is interesting to see creative ways to do this. One of my favourite newsletters is called “What To Read If…” and does a superb job of linking books not just to other books, but also to music, movies, travel destinations, seasons, emotions, etc.

    • November 13, 2022 at 8:56 pm

      Thanks, I didn’t come up with the idea but I enjoyed the challenge of thinking how my fiction reads pair with my nonfiction. The newsletter you mention sounds great – I think making good book recommendations is challenging because you have to think beyond just the obvious.

  2. November 11, 2022 at 3:19 pm

    Nice pairings – I love the variety of areas of social activism you cover, too!

    • November 13, 2022 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks Liz! Even though I focused on the environment this year, the books I read often covered a variety of issues. I can recommend Lady Justice in particular, each chapter covers a different and equally important issue.

  3. November 11, 2022 at 10:21 pm

    What a great topic! I’ve recently gotten more involved in political activism myself, so I’d like to read more about it too.

    • November 13, 2022 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks Katie! Jane Goodall’s book is an inspiring look at what individuals can do, but I’d particularly recommend Lady Justice, which covers a wide range of issues and types of activism — mostly legal, but she emphasizes we need political and community activism as well as legal advocates to really make change.

  4. November 12, 2022 at 7:02 am

    Thanks for the recommendations! Take My Hand is already on my TBR list. The book about plastic sounds really interesting.

    • November 13, 2022 at 9:02 pm

      Take My Hand was wonderful! I’ll be writing a review soon. Beautifully written and a fascinating look at a historical issue. I had some issues with How To Give Up Plastic, but it’s an important issue and the book has a lot of practical suggestions.

  5. November 12, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    You make me think of one more pairing I could have done with my reading this year: The Sign for Home by Blair Fell, a novel about a Deaf man and his interpreter, fighting against some of the misguided and ignorant people who are getting in the way of his claiming his full rights, and Midstream by Helen Keller, her autobiographical work written in midlife, which includes a portrait of Alexander Graham Bell in appreciation of his work for Deaf people.

    Nice collection of books, many of which I’ve seen recommended but have not yet got around to reading. I need to give this topic some attention next year.

    • November 13, 2022 at 9:04 pm

      Thanks for the pairing recommendation! I really haven’t read enough books about people with disabilities. Judith Heumann’s book was amazing, and not very well known, so I’m happy to recommend it.

  6. November 12, 2022 at 8:22 pm

    What a great job you’ve done!! I still haven’t finished Diary of Young Naturalist, which surprises me–I thought I’d devour it. I liked Puma Years and loved Flight Behavior though. Good work!

    • November 13, 2022 at 8:52 pm

      Thanks! Diary is a slow moving reading, though I did find it got better as it went on. Flight Behavior is underappreciated in my opinion, it’s one of my favorite Kingsolvers. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Sharon
    November 13, 2022 at 12:29 am

    Love the idea of matching a non fiction text with a fiction especially on the subject of activism! I started my reading year with Jay Griffiths Why Rebel and what a powerful little book that was, maybe Richard Powers’ novel Overstory would be a good choice to go with reading about environmental activism. Great post.

    • November 13, 2022 at 8:50 pm

      Well, I can’t take any credit for the idea, but it is fun to think about nonfiction and fiction pairings. I’ve been wanting to read Overstory, though a bit intimidated by it as well.

      • Sharon
        November 14, 2022 at 6:51 am

        It is a bit of a brick but once I got into it I really enjoyed it and it it got me even more interested in things like the wood wide web. I have Powers more recent book Bewilderment on my TBR not sure if I will get that one read before the end of the year but it seems less daunting that Overstory.

  8. November 14, 2022 at 4:05 pm

    Pairing non-fiction with fiction – great idea 😊
    Excellent variety by the way 😊

  9. November 21, 2022 at 4:03 pm

    Climate change and social justice are huge topics.

    I like your pairing and you have introduced me to new books.

    Funnily, I was in Waterstones (UK book shop) looking at a book by Jane Goodall

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