Nonficiton November is back! Thank you to the hosts, Katie @ Doing Dewey, Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction, Christopher @ Plucked From the Stacks, and Rebekah @ She Seeks Nonfiction, and Jayme @ The OC BookGirl, for their hard work in putting it all together!
From November 2021 to October 2022, I read 32 nonfiction books (out of 126) – about a quarter of my reading this year was nonfiction. I especially love memoirs, but can appreciate other forms of nonfiction as well.
I’ve broken my nonfiction reading out into categories. You can click the title to take you to the original post that will have additional/differnt thoughts. I hope you find a few that are new to you and that you’d like to give a try!
No Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Needed to Hear by Kate Bowler – This is a book that could sit on my shelf for years and every time I went to pick it up, I would find beneficial advice that would carry me forward. Bowler is honest and raw about her own cancer journey, but she also relays such hope and inspiration for all of us on this journey called life. Since reading this book, I have become an even bigger fan of Bowler through her podcast, Everything Happens, and her instagram account. She is a person who has a way with words – they soothe, inspire, and give such peace.
Corrections in Ink by Keri Blakinger – Blakinger’s personal story is interesting and crazy all by itself – a star ice skater who goes to an Ivy League school but ends up in prison for drug dealing – but what really impacted me was the atrocities that women in prison face. To be fair, all prisoners lose their freedom, voice, and dignity, but Blakinger really highlighted how those things are amplified for women in prison. After she was released from prison, she became a reporter whose mission it is now to uncover the brokenness of our society, how we can best help to rehabilitate prisoners back to society in a meaningful way, and to show that redemption and second chances are possible. Because she lived in this system firsthand, her testimony is powerful and convincing.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward – Ward grew up poor in the New Orleans area. She watched her family struggle to make ends meet, and her friends’ families struggle too. Despite the hardships, she had a tightknit group of friends, and as they got older, she watched many of them lose their lives – she talks specifically of five men who died within five years. The overall theme here is how the cycle of poverty and unjust systems and laws continually feed off these kids, generation to generation; how we fail to address these systems; and the absolute preciousness of every individual life. One of the men Ward speaks about is her own younger brother. The whole book is emotional, intellectual, and important.
Speak: Find Your Voice, Trust Your Gut, and Get Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Tunde Oyeneyin – Tunde is my favorite Peloton instructor because she quite literally exhuberates joy and happiness. She is light and happy and encouraging. She inspires you to find what makes you unique and interesting and relevant in this crazy world that sometimes wants to beat you down. I always feel better after spending some time in Tunde’s presence and this book felt no different. Tunde overcame hardships, but what I admire the most about her is her competitive spirit and her hardwork ethic. She literally rose to the top through her own efforts and she lets you know that you can too! I loved this one on audio as it felt like a personal coaching session every time I listened!
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad – No one should ever compare one’s cancer journey to another, and I am certainly no expert on the various ways this feels individually or personally, but I am forever grateful to the authors that write about their cancer journeys because it gives me such insight into what my mom may have been thinking and feeling during her own journey. We definitely talked about things, but I also think there were a lot of things my mom didn’t mention as a way to protect me. Unfortunately, she didn’t beat the disease so there’s no way for me to ask her anymore, but I appreciate being able to read other’s experiences in place of those conversations. This book made my heart hurt as it brought so many painful memories to the surface, but it also reminded me that we only get this one life to live…it’s important to use that gift to the fullest. I learned a lot through my mom’s sickness and death and this book also gave me new insight.
What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma by Stephanie Foo – This is an exploration of complex posttraumatic stress disorder and a journey to healing this diagnosis. Foo is very open and honest in her personal account of being diagnosed with this disorder and the steps she took to come to terms with it and its implications. For me, it wasn’t as compelling as it was for most others, but I do appreciate how this could be helpful in their own journey. Sometimes just knowing there is someone else out there can be so incredibly beneficial and I believe many will find hope within these pages.
Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives by Mary Laura Philpott – Not many books address the stage of motherhood where parents are getting ready to send their kids out into the big ol’ world, but this one does. And while it centers around Philpott’s son’s sudden illness, she tackles so many other motherhood moments with such accuracy that the book felt so relavant to me and where I’m at in my own journey with my kids. This book feels like sitting down with a trusted friend over coffee, talking through and supporting each other through motherhood, and coming out the other side thankful and refreshed.
The Crane Wife: A Memoir in Essays by C.J. Hauser – I was unsure when I started this one, but something about the writing kept me reading, and eventually, I was totally sucked in. Not much about these essays are particulary relavant to me, but the writing was superb and I couldn’t put it down. As Hauser unpacks themes of relationships and home, I found her voice to be funny, relative, and thought-provoking.
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett – All these months later, what really stands out to me is the essay about Ann’s friend that came to stay with her when she was sick and getting treatment. It warmed my heart to know that there are people out there that will care for you in your worst of times. That they love you so unconditionally that they will open their home to you, love you, and care for you. I want to believe that there is more of this in the world than we at first realize, and I also really want to be one of Ann Patchett’s friends. This was an absolute delight on audio and I would recommend reading it that way! Patchett has a way with words that’s just so warm and comforting.
Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level by Laura Tremaine – I think this book would have been stronger if I had a group of like-minded friends that tackled it with me. There are so many great tips and ideas to take your friendships deeper, but not everyone is going to be willing to make those changes. I feel like a majority of the women I know like to keep things on a superficial level – our kids and their many activities, work-related conversations, etc – and without having people that crave more authentic connections makes this book hard to implement into life. These are all things relavant to me, so if you have a group of friends that like to have deeper conversations, this would be a really fun exploration!
Notes to Self: Essays by Emilie Pine – Pine quickly sucked me in with her essays, and I really enjoyed her ruminations on topics like infertility, motherhood, divored parents, and several differing levels of trauma. It was open, honest, and vulnerable. Sharing her stories seemed therapeutic and healing for her. Obviously, some resonated more than others, and I appreciated Pine’s vulnerability.
Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation by Erika Krouse – This was an intense story about a college football team that is steeped in sexual misconduct. I was instantly invested for several reasons: it’s about a local college to me, the University of Colorado, I was once a college athlete myself and have some personal insight into this very topic, and because I read Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (by Jon Krakauer) years ago and have never forgotten it! There’s something very intriguing to me about the social hieracrchy that athletes enjoy and how that elevated sense of entitlement can quickly be abused. Krouse’s investigation was fascinating and I couldn’t read this one fast enough. Krouse also interperses the stroy with her own personal stories that, while very relevant, also really messed with its cohesion for me. I would have preferred she had mostly stuck to the CU story; however, I can understand her decision to include it as it did contribute to her background story and why this was so important to her.
Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson – I never caught onto the craze surrounding Go Ask Alice, and I’m surprised after reading this…it sounds like a book I would have devoured in my high school days. Somehow it just never crossed my path. Anyway, this book opened up my eyes to a crazy piece of history I knew nothing about. It turns out, the woman who wrote Go Ask Alice and Jay’s Journal was a total fame-hungry con artist. She manipulated a grieving family who trusted her with their son’s story in hopes of saving other young kids and turned it into a whole story that tainted the family and their name. Emerson wrote this story in such a compelling way and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.
The Monsoon Diaries: A Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing from the ER Frontlines to the Far Reaches of the World by Dr. Calvin D. Sun – I stumbled across Dr. Sun’s instagram account in the thick of the covid-19 pandemic. Living outside of the epicenters of this virus, what I was watching on the news and seeing with my own eyes wasn’t jiving. I was confused and, admittedly, skeptical of what I was hearing. Through forces unknown to me, I found Dr. Sun and his personal account as a doctor on the frontline of this pandemic in New York City no less, became a source of firsthand experience. I appreciated his blunt honesty and the fact that he documented his journey on social media so that we could put a face to the tragedy. Throughout all the awful things he witnesses and the difficult choices he had to make, he also always kept a sense of hope and positivity. I admire his courage and strength, and applaud him for giving the world his story. Now that the pandemic is not as severe, he still documents parts of his doctor life, but also his adventureous spirit as he travels the world!
Every Minute Is a Day: A Doctor, an Emergency Room, and a City Under Siege by Dr. Robert Meyer and Dan Koeppel – Another book that gives you a front row seat to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Meyer collaborates with journalist, Dan Koeppel, to also share his story. While Dr. Sun’s (see above) book also takes on the lighter side of his life, like his travel and adventure stories, Meyer really dives into the panic and intensity he faced even before we knew anything at all about the coronavirus. It’s an intense read – one I couldn’t read fast enough and one I found myself holding my breath throughout. Funny side note: Dr. Sun and Dr. Meyer know each other! I love how small this world can sometimes be!
Voices from the Pandemic: Americans Tell Their Stories of Crisis, Courage, and Resilience by Eli Saslow – Saslow interviewed a lot of people in the United States to record their experiences with COVID-19. He crossed political aisles and talked to people from all walks of life. Thirty of those interviews make up this book, and it will be very interesting and invaluable to have these chronicled for all time. While COVID-19’s devastation reached all parts of the world, it’s important to remember that everyone had their own experience with it. It’s an event that we will all remember for the rest of our lives, and we can still see and feel its affects today…nearly three years after it first broke out.
Solito by Javier Zamora – I just finished this one, and wow! What a powerful story that will stick with me for a very long time. At just nine years old, Zamora embarked on a 3000 mile journey to the United States to be reuinited with his parents…by himself! Sent off from El Salvador by his grandfather, he crossed ocean water on a boat, journeyed tons of miles on a bus, and walked so many more across a dry, unfriendly desert. Throughout the journey, he was protected and cared for by three people – complete strangers at the beginning of the trip, but found family by the time it ended. Detained in a border patrol cell, he was deported twice, but eventually was reuninted with his worried parents. He says he would have never made it without the kindess of the three strangers – Patricia, Carla, and Chino – and hasn’t seen them since they day they arrived in America. I would love to see a follow up story where these four were reunited, but it is enough to know that there are good people out there. Zamora’s journey was harrowing and emotional, but also so very hopeful. i have since watched interviews he’s done and his human spirit is contageous!
The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande – Grande grew up in extreme poverty in Mexico. Years ago, her parents had left for the United States with promises to return soon to take her with them. As the years passed and they didn’t return, their promise felt empty. Raised by a grumpy grandmother, Grande constantly dreamed of a new life in America and wished for her parents to return for her. The first half of the book is about Grande’s life in Mexico in extreme poverty with her grandma, and then the second half is about Grande’s life once she gets to America. It doesn’t go into great detail of how Grande entered the US, but I really appreciated how Grande chronicled the hardships Immigrants still face once they get here. There’s the constant fear of being deported, the added strain of worry for the family members still struggling in Mexico, and the outrageous costs involved in becoming a US citizen. Grande is a valuable voice in the immigration experience and she has also worked tirelessly to help promote #ownvoices equality.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith – Another powerful book that helped me see my personal blinspots and where I can do better. I think this is one of those books that should be added to high school curriculums across the United States because of the potential for insightful and deep conversations. Smith’s writing is lyrical and digestible – making this a book that is accessible to everyone!
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee – First off, I must say that I was blown away by McGhee’s thoughtful, well laid out thesis. I am not well-trained in political discourse and find that so much of that information can easily fly over my head. But not the way McGhee lays out her thoughts and opinions. She took deep, hard, and controversial topics and made them easy to understand and digest. She backed up her claims with facts and statistics and she laid the groundwork for compelling calls to action. At this point in time, it’s just true ignorance to not understand how this country has been founded and built upon racism. McGhee takes that fact a step further by showing us how “zero sum policies” hurt US ALL…whether you’re Black or white, rich or poor, immigrant or born citizens. She argues over and over again that “a functioning society rests on a web of mutuality, a willingness among all involved to share enough with one another to accomplish what no one person can do alone”. This book is smart and timely and has information that we can all benefit from reading, digesting, and implementing.
Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne – Using recent, high-profile examples, Manne details how “himpathy” – a need to sympathize with men in their wrongdoing while erasing the woman’s experience at the same time – has invaded our social and cultural mores, thus upholding this system that demands women work harder, longer, and better than their male counterparts. In what feels like a long list of books that highlights how white, priviliged males dominate society, Manne adds so much to the conversation. She even calls out women as perpetuators in this unbalanced act due to social and cultural contracts. It’s thought-provoking and it shifted my paradigm a few times!
Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell – I listened to this one on auidobook and it may have stuck with me more had I actually read it in print; however, it was still an absolutely fascinating read! I was particularly drawn to the chapters about MLM companies and Peloton. It’s interesteing to examine the reasons people are drawn to particular companies and leaders, and I found so much of Montell’s arguments to be compelling and thought-provoking.
Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen – While nothing anyone uncovers about why mass shootings are happening, especially in schools, it’s still important to read, learn, and understand those commonalities that are discovered in hopes that it can help us deter more from happening. I don’t know the answers and it stops my heart every time I hear about another school shooting, but it’s important for us as a society not to become complacent in this issue. I was in college when Columbine happened, but I’m from Colorado so it felt a little personal. Since then, there’s been more shooting than I can keep track of. What made Parkland unique was the uprising of students that proclaimed to the world that enough was enough. Many of these students are still very active in the anti-gun movement and, since reading this book, I recognized some of their names after the shooting at Uvalde. I admire the kids’ strength and determination and feel like they really started a movement that is still active.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear – Just because this one wasn’t very groundbreaking for me, I know it could still prove to be invaluable for lots of people. Clear gives a great step-by-step formula for creating goals and probably what struck me the most while reading this book was that it would make a great graduation gift for seniors and/or for use with team building goals.
The Book of Boundaries by Melissa Urban – I kind of happily stumbled across Melissa Urban’s instagram account and immediately appreciated her no nonsense advice about creating boundaries that keep you safe, happy, and healthy. Even more helpful is the fact that Urban provides numerous word-for-word examples to help you navigate tricky situations. There is even a green, yellow, and red example to help you when situations continue to escalate. Communication can be tricky – especially within a family – and Urban is helping break those walls down so that we may be able to experience peace within our lives instead of turmoil.
Didn’t We Almost Have It All: The Genius, Shame, and Audacity of Whitney Houston by Gerrick Kennedy – Even though I wouldn’t really call this a biography of Whitney Houston, it does have a ton of information about her. Really though, it’s more about the culture surrounding her rise to fame. Kennedy’s in-depth essays about race, culture, and the music industry were thought-provoking and really made me think about the nuances behind stardom. Kennedy talks about a lot about 90s musicians – Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and Mariah Carey – as well as Houston’s acting career. If you’re someone who was raised in the 90s, I think the nostalgia of those times alone is worth it!
Going There by Katie Couric – Couric is one bad a** girl and I loved reading about her shattering glass ceilings and making a name for herself. She came about when women in news was still not a thing and she changed the way we consume media. As a co-anchor on the TODAY show, she covered some of the biggest stories of my lifetime and was certainly a household name when I was growing up. Hidden behind her girl-next-door exterior is a girl that didn’t take flack from anyone and paved her own road to success.
Hello, Molly! by Molly Shannon – Molly Shannon really opens up about her life and how it was drastically changed when she was only four years old. That moment would define so much about her life – her loss of control and how she discovered that making people laugh not only made her happy, but gave her some of that control back into her life. She used to be one of my favorites on Saturday Night Live and when she talks about some of the skits she’s famous for, it gave me a sense of nostaglia (thank goodness for YouTube!).
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy – I would never try to dismiss someone’s personal experiences, especially one of such a tragic and horrible childhood, but this particular memoir didn’t really work for me. I’m not saying McCurdy’s mom wasn’t awful and that she had to overcome a lot of obstacles to reach the degree of success that she did, but this didn’t feel like it was groundbreaking or revealtory in a new sense. For me, it was another example in a long list of such examples of a horrible mom who demeans, manipulates, and degrades her daughter into success and fame for her own personal gain. I felt sorry for McCurdy and her childhood, I felt so sad that the other adults in her life (her father and grandparents) didn’t do a thing to step in and help her, and I felt uncomfortable at her seemingly disconnectness from her own story. None of that is meant to detract from her experience – it just felt like the same story with a different author.
The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy – Even though my intrigue of celebrities and Hollywood has waned over the years, I’m still curious about the behind-the-scenes gossip and happenings. This book felt like it was going to be salacious and hard-to-resist, but instead I felt bogged down in celebrities that are about a generation to old for me. Instead of getting a lot of the glitz, glamour, and gossip I was looking for, I got a lot of historical background of Chateau Marmont itself. Intriguing for those that are interested in this type of thing, but not what I was ultimately looking for.
Super Gut: A Four-Week Plan to Reprogram Your Microbiome, Restore Health, and Lose Weight by William Davis – I mean, unless you struggle with gut issues, this one may not be for you. I swear as I age, my body is constantly changing and it’s a never-ending spiral of trying to figure out what is going on. I learned a ton from this book and have implemented some of it into my routine and feel like I can always refer back to it for some good ideas.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk – Enough people have read and sang the praises of this one for you to know that it is worthy of its message and deserves a place on the shelf. For me, it was way too medical and dense that I had a hard time focusing and applying the details to myself. I wanted to finish the book and be changed for the better for having read it, but even now I struggle to be able to explain much of the takeaways. The most important thing I learned (actually reinforced in my brain) was that trauma is stored in the body. Trauma affects us years after it is initially instigated, and in order to heal, that trauma has to be worked through.