Nonfiction November: Podcast / Nonfiction Book Pairing

Nonfiction November Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves): 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. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I have to be honest: for almost a decade, with very few exceptions, I haven’t read fiction. I’ve read hundreds of novels, but it’s tough to draw comparisons now when aside from longstanding favorites, nothing is fresh in my mind.

So I’m going to take some liberties with this week’s prompt and do (mostly true crime) podcast pairings with nonfiction titles referenced on the shows or connected to topics covered. “If you loved this podcast, read this!” is the best I can offer here!

Plus I consume too much true crime in all formats, but here’s a chance to at least share more of it. Consume some with me, won’t you?

My Favorite MurderAlthough I’m slightly less enamored with it lately, it’s still a thoughtful, sensitive, sometimes uproariously funny true crime/banter podcast. In their haphazard, occasionally inaccurate way Karen and Georgia cover lots of good stories, leading to a treasure trove of nonfiction ideas.

Pair it with:

The Cases That Haunt Us: From Jack the Ripper to JonBenet Ramsey, the FBI’s Legendary Mindhunter Unravels the Mysteries That Won’t Go Away, by John Douglas: The Mindhunter, FBI profiler John Douglas, examines infamous unsolved historical murders and applies his profiling expertise to come to a conclusion about who or what kind of person is responsible. He explains and analyzes some MFM favorites like JonBenet, Zodiac, and the Lindbergh baby.

The Vienna Woods Killer: A Writer’s Double Life by John Leake – Austrian Jack Unterweger’s story is a wild, and frustrating, one. Unterweger was jailed for one murder, became the poster boy of a massive rehabilitation campaign, and was released only to go on a sex worker murdering spree in Europe and the US. The details defy belief and the book is page-turning. Karen covered his story on episode 66.

The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story, by Miriam C. Davis – Another Karen story, on episode 60. Davis’s recent look at the still unsolved axe murders of Italian grocers around New Orleans (weirdly specific) is an info-packed analysis of what happened and, like Douglas’s book, a profile of the type of person who would’ve done it, since his identity remains unknown. She also debunks some of the myths that tend to linger around historical crimes.

Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson: Karen talked about reading this and really sold it. After finishing it, I read through investigative journalist Jon Ronson’s entire back catalog, which has provided some highlights this year. Lost at Sea collects long-form journalism pieces. They’re not all murders, some don’t address crimes at all, like one about medium Sylvia Browne – just mysteries, odd or question-raising social stories, and strangeness, like the title story about people who have mysteriously disappeared from cruise ships. Ronson has a nose for true stories you never realized you wanted to know more about.

The Michigan Murders by Edward Keyes, and The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial, by Maggie Nelson: Georgia covered the Ypsilanti Ripper, the serial killer behind a string of co-ed murders. The Michigan Murders is a page-turning narrative about those crimes and how the killer was caught. The podcast also touched on the inconsistencies and oddities surrounding one victim, Jane Mixer. Mixer was the aunt of author Maggie Nelson, who wrote The Red Parts, a memoir/true crime/total literary delight about the trial of a different man later convicted of her aunt’s murder and how the revelation affected her life and family. It’s the benchmark by which I judge all “true crime memoirs”.

Last Podcast on the LeftIt rubbed me the wrong way when I first listened, which I think is worth mentioning because it did eventually win me over. The guys hosting do such extensive research, even when telling stories on the more ridiculous end of the spectrum, like about UFOs and alien abductions, conspiracy theories, and poltergeists. And of course, true crime. I love their wide range of nonfiction stories and irreverent humor.

Pair it with:

The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis: They used a different book about the Donner Party for their recent telling of history’s most notorious trek westward, but I’ve read and highly recommend this narrative history from last year.

Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory by Lawrence Wright: An episode about alleged Satanic ritual abuse reminded me about this one. I’ve written already about my love of Wright’s journalism and his incredible writing. This is earlier work but similarly strong in writing and research, about a case of recovered memories and wild accusations that wrecked a family during the Satanic Panic. Wright also looks at the psychology, community effects and legal repercussions.

Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy, and the Fall of Trust in America by Mark Jacobson: They did an amusing Bill Cooper episode. Conspiracy theories are one of my favorite topics on Last Podcast, and Cooper was responsible for some wild ones.

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn: What I love about Last Podcast is how they can tie together a horrible, tragic story with an informative narrative, myth-busting, and elements that showcase whatever bit of shining humanity can be found in such an event, and still, somehow, manage to be hilarious. That’s not something I thought possible with 9/11, but how wrong I was – one of their best, in my opinion. (I can’t think of Henry’s impression of a Florida stripper who thought one of the hijackers had been her client without laughing.)

The detailed narrative in this book covers why and how we were so unprepared for terrorism on American soil and hones in on what transpired inside the towers between the planes hitting and their collapse. It’s tearjerking but the heroism shown during those 102 minutes is truly extraordinary.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn: How Jim Jones amassed a cultish following, nearly 1000 of whom died with him in the jungles of Guyana, is a disturbing but entrancing story. Guinn tells Jones’s biography and the Peoples Temple story so well in an engrossing narrative, but be warned, it’s just as disturbing as the episodes covering this mess of a story were.

Real Crime ProfileI love this underrated podcast from former FBI profiler Jim Clemente, Scotland Yard behavioral analyst and victim’s rights advocate Laura Richards, and Criminal Minds casting director Lisa Zambetti. They cover cases and stories in-depth and analytically. The crime professionals have such interesting perspectives, and Zambetti asks them all the questions us non-professionals are thinking. They analyze lots of headliner cases, including Oscar Pistorius, OJ Simpson, Netflix hits like The Staircase, Evil Genius, Making a Murderer, etc.

Pair it with:

The Forgotten Killer: Rudy Guede and the Murder of Meredith Kercher by Douglas Preston, John Douglas, et al.: RCP’s coverage of Meredith Kercher’s murder / Amanda Knox’s conviction is intense. They stress facts and the failings of the Italian prosecution over occult fantasy, while emphasizing that her actual murderer, Rudy Guede, was convicted with a heap of incontrovertible evidence – a fact that maddeningly often is ignored in favor of hysteria over Knox. Clemente gets pretty angry about this, but he also did something incredible: he offered for anyone in Kercher’s family who’s confused or uncertain about Knox’s innocence/Guede’s guilt to reach out to him and he’d explain the evidence, crime scene, behavior, etc. that the Italian justice system ignored and that make this sad case unambiguous. I thought that was exceptional of him.

The Forgotten Killer is a Kindle single with essays by several authors, including Douglas Preston, and specialists that drives home the truth about Guede’s guilt and the fallacy of ignoring it. It’s a worthwhile quick read, especially for anyone still buying into the media fanfare around Knox. A Death in Italy: The Definitive Account of the Amanda Knox Case by John Follain provides a straightforward but thorough narrative overview of the entire story.

Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell: They interviewed the author of this atmospheric, richly descriptive book about a bomber who prolifically targeted New York City landmarks in the 1950s. It’s an excellent work of narrative nonfiction and interesting for its exploration of an early foray into profiling.

Sin, Shame and Secrets: The Murder of a Nun, the Conviction of a Priest, and Cover-up in the Catholic Church by David Yonke: RCP does a fascinating, deeply personal arc about the Netflix documentary The Keepers. This account of a bizarre, ritualistic murder of a nun and a priest’s conviction delves into territory surrounding abuses in the Catholic church, has more detailed examples of church coverups, and lies and denials eerily similar to those in The Keepers.

Have you read any of these? Do you listen to any of these podcasts, or are there any others you use for reading inspiration?

55 thoughts on “Nonfiction November: Podcast / Nonfiction Book Pairing

    1. It’s definitely seen an uptick in recent years, and I think an improvement in the quality of reporting and storytelling. It’s become more literary, as opposed to the sort of lurid books it used to more often inspire.

      I know, it ended up being a lot of options, but I had so many once I got started, and maybe was a bit of overcompensation since I felt bad about not being able to do the prompt exactly!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I LOVE THIS POST!!!

    (I rarely use all caps but I couldn’t think of a better way to express my excitement.)

    FYI, my husband never reads fiction and I struggled with finding him audiobooks to listen to during his road trips. It’s tough finding non fiction in audio for some of the older titles. But, I got him hooked on the Harry Bosch book series and then the TV series. These are brutally honest stories that read more like non fiction in many ways. No happy ever after here. But I digress.

    These podcasts will definitely pair well for me. I’d read the books first then hubby and I could listen to the podcasts and I could fill in the elements from the books. Either way, you know I am interested in delving into the podcast world. This looks like a great approach…read/listen to the book and then listen to a quasi-book discussion. Yes!!!!!

    Speaking of Amanda Knox….I have never understood how it was so easy to believe she had anything to do with Meredith Kercher’s brutal murder. All the unwarranted attention on Knox dishonored this young woman’s life. I paid lots of attention to the US experts regarding the crime scene, forensics results and timelines. I find it incredible that Knox even made it to trial. I’m dying to listen to that podcast.

    Need I declare that this post made my day? I’ll be coming back to it frequently. Excellent work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh, I’m SO happy to hear that!!! I knew if all caps were involved it was serious! 🙂 And even better when it’s something you can share with your husband. We also have a hard time finding entertainment interests that overlap, and the book/podcast combo is such a great approach. Especially when it’s a topic you’re really interested in, to hear different perspectives and additional details. (And Real Crime Profile is the one I recommended to you before on your post.) Can’t wait to hear what you delve into in your podcast listening! I’m really trying to broaden from true crime ones.

      And ugh, don’t get me started on Amanda Knox. I was teaching abroad (I guess this was around the time she was acquitted) and EVERYONE thought she was guilty. It was as common sense to them as it is to anyone who looks at the evidence you mentioned that she’s innocent. Like you said, when you pay attention to the expert analysis, forensics, timelines, etc. it’s not even that complicated of a case. And completely disrespectful to a victim’s memory and what she went through, not to mention what her family and friends still go through because they’re understandably so confused after everything that’s happened!! They say this often on Real Crime Profile, but Meredith became a footnote in her own murder.

      When I asked why (and these were lawyers, mind you, LAWYERS! Not criminal law, but still) they cited Amanda’s odd behavior (that gets explained on the podcast) and her EYES. I was speechless. A mountain of forensic evidence against someone else exists, but her…eyes? Then Knox mentioned that in the Netflix documentary so the drama of her eyes must’ve been some tabloid thing. Utterly ridiculous. I think you’ll love those episodes, they go over it in detail and even possibly explain why the prosecution may have wanted to shift attention/some blame away from Guede! It all just makes so much sense after that.

      Sorry to write you a novel, it got away from me there…thrilled to give you some listening/reading ideas, can’t wait to hear your thoughts on what you try!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the liberty you took with this prompt! I’m a pretty hardcore murderino – I just saw them in Vancouver – but I know what you mean about being less enamoured of them lately. The whole thing with the facebook group and also maybe a case of the show just getting too big.

    That said, they have led me down lots of interesting rabbit holes for which I’m grateful. And now I have a whole list of books to get to thanks to you! I have been fascinated with the Meredith Kercher murder since it happened – I was on exchange in Europe at the same time as Meredith and Amanda and it seemed like the most insane thing to happen. I’ve followed it ever since but I’ve never read anything about it – I’ve watched documentaries though. I might have to change that…

    Have you listened to Casefile at all? Really well researched and because the host is some anonymous Australian guy, it doesn’t run into any personality issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was (and still am) a huge fan of anything Ann Rule wrote, especially about “local” crimes (Oregon), and she easily one the library’s most requested author (seems a major portion of the nonfiction budget went to replacing her books!). She was also the world’s nicest author as I met her many times during book signings.

      Back in the 80s, I was also a huge fan of anything true crime and read everything I could. I still read a little but not as much as sometimes there’s just too much, you know? The book that captivated me, though, was Michelle McNamara’s I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK, especially since the bad guy was recently caught. I haven’t yet read the podcast based on the book but will as soon as I finish season 2 of Spooked. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You know, the only Ann Rule I’ve read is Stranger Beside Me. I really liked it but haven’t tried anything else. Are there any you recommend? I love that she’s so popular at the library, that’s so funny if they did spend so much on replacing her books but also, I get it…she’s been so popular for so long.

        And I also completely understand, sometimes true crime is just too much. I have to take big steps away from it sometimes. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is one of my favorites from this past year, SO captivating! I read it before he was caught and I want to read it again now that there’s something of a resolution to it. I didn’t even realize there was a podcast about it, how did I miss that?! Thanks for letting me know!! Will be next up on my list 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ann Rule really did seem like she took being a part of her community seriously. I just read her book on the Green River Killer, one that hit so close to her literal home. I haven’t read many of her books yet but every one I have read has been so good.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. How cool that you saw them! Was it amazing? I love MFM too, I guess I felt like I had to mention it with a caveat because I can’t recommend it as effusively as I used to. It’s not even the banter/personalities that I mind, that’s a lot of what appealed to me about them, even more than the crime stories. I guess it’s like you said, it’s gotten too big and maybe that’s affecting it somehow. I don’t even know how to explain it, I’ve just been disappointed and underwhelmed here and there and don’t have the sheer joy lately that I used to have for it. But I have faith in them and absolutely, they’ve sent me down so many rabbit holes too! (That boys on the tracks one recently!)

      The Amanda/Meredith story is such an unfortunate, unbelievable one. The more you learn about the details, the angrier you get because it clearly didn’t have to be this way. What was the reaction among the people you were with when it happened? I ask because my experience while living in Europe was that everyone (completely anecdotal, I know, but without a single exception) thinks she’s guilty. Someone even lamented that “another guy is still in prison for it”, it just baffles me.

      And I absolutely love Casefile, he finds SUCH interesting stories! And tells them in so much detail. Glad I could give you some more reading suggestions!

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      1. It was amazing but also super white (audience) which isn’t something you typically see here and it was vaguely unsettling. I do think part of it is that it’s too big now – the fan cult, the extras, the promos, the book etc. There was something so special about it when it felt like an insiders club.

        I sometimes can’t listen to Casefile because he’s too good. I started listening to the EAR/ONS episodes and turned them off because the recordings of the heavy breathing were the most horrifying.

        Yes, most people I spoke to thought she was guilty as well. I don’t know what the hell happened but I still can’t believe that she did it?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know what you mean, it felt much different before. It’s great for them that it’s become as successful as it has, but it’s all just a little much and feels like the tone has shifted somewhat.

        I know what you mean, Casefile is really intense. It took me a few months to get through the EAR/ONS episodes because I could only listen in short stretches. He outdid himself on that story! So horrifying.

        About Amanda Knox, it’s so clear she wasn’t involved, the narrative about her involvement is so laughable. Except that she and her boyfriend spent years in jail for it and the guy who’s actually guilty got some ridiculously light sentence. It’s definitely worth reading something or listening to the podcast episodes I mentioned about it, it was such an injustice for them and the victim’s family.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post, Rennie! I’ve not listened to many podcasts or read many true crime books, but I’ve discovered a love for both over the past year. This post is fantastic as a reference guide. I do admire Maggie Nelson’s style, and I’ll have to check out The Red Parts the next time I visit her work. I’m familiar only with her lyrical prose and poetry, so I’m very interested to see what her narrative writings are like.

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    1. Thanks so much, glad to be able to give you some ideas! Red Parts was my first from Maggie Nelson and I also liked her sort-of poetry book Jane, which was also about her aunt but released right before she learned that her aunt’s killer was someone other than who they’d always believed. I wasn’t crazy about Bluets, but I’d always be interested in her other writing, this book was just so extraordinary. I think even if you’re not a true crime reader it’s excellent, that’s really one aspect of the very multi-faceted story she tells in it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahh, interesting: good to know that even Nelson’s early work is multi-faceted and genre-bending. Bluets was also something of a miss for me. I fluctuate between liking the beautiful writing and feeling that the storylines in it never go anywhere. The Argonauts is scattered, but she at least develops a lot of fascinating ideas over the course of the book.

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      2. The excerpts I read of Argonauts didn’t really appeal to me but I know that’s her big one. And it was the same for me, Bluets was just a miss somehow but I still appreciated some of her writing. The Red Parts is genre-bending in the best of ways, she’s just masterful in how she structures it.

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    1. Thanks so much!! For true crime My Favorite Murder is a favorite but more so the older episodes so you can get used to their style. Real Crime Profile is one of the best for crime stories, I think. For kind of longer, more detailed investigation-style stories I like Someone Knows Something and the most recent season of Serial. So many good ones, really!

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  4. So weirdly, I can hardly bear to read true crime… my imagination takes me to too many horrible places. That said, I have listened to quite a few true crime podcasts – not sure why they are more tolerable?!

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    1. I can understand it, I think. I’ve found that reading it usually has more details and some podcasts, like My Favorite Murder for one, usually skirt around the more upsetting, difficult to process bits, which I appreciate. Plus you’re kind of alone with your thoughts in reading, whereas podcasts almost feel like having a conversation, hearing someone else’s perspective or them giving voice to your own feelings about it.

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  5. Such an amazing list! I absolutely enjoyed listening to the earlier episodes of My Favourite Murder, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a true crime memoir, so The Red Parts sound amazing. Thanks for all the recommendations 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, glad you liked it! I absolutely loved their earlier episodes too, the newer ones seem to go either way for me. The Red Parts is really interesting because it’s such a blend of different topics and could’ve been a scattered mess but the author is such a masterful writer that it all just works.

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  6. What a great way to cover this week’s challenge. I haven’t listened to any of these podcasts, but you’ve piqued my interest on those as well as several books. Nice job!

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  7. Oooh, thank you for this post! I’m really getting into true crime at the moment through podcasts such as these, and I’m excited to branch out into books. Also, wholeheartedly agree about The Red Parts – I recently read it and thought it was fantastic.

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      1. I’m not sure which post to reply to so will start a new one re: Ann Rule.

        My favorite is SMALL SACRIFICES, the story of Diane Downs who killed her children & blamed some random guy. She ended up in our local state prison and it was quite the deal when she escaped and got pregnant (many think the main reason she escaped), then caught and returned to prison (think she’s still there). Recently read a fascinating article about the daughter who got adopted. Anyway, it was very well done and also liked DEAD BY SUNSET. Of her books she originally wrote as Andy Stack, THE I-5 KILLER and LUST KILLER were both riveting, also because they were of local events. And the reason we had to spend so much money replacing her books in the library was because many of them were stolen. 😦

        Ann was also one classy lady. She ended up living in a small community close to Salem and would do book signings at the local bookstore and at the library.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good to know! I’ve heard something about Diane Downs, that sounds like a rough one. I think someone actually gave me a copy of Lust Killer a while ago, I’m pretty sure it’s that one. How sweet that she did that for the local community! And how awful that the books were stolen, who steals from the library??! What’s wrong with people?

        Thanks for the recommendations, I need to try something else by her soon.

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    1. Agreed, I want to say that I really “liked” the book but it really shook me at the same time. I didn’t know all that much about the Jim Jones/Jonestown story at all, so it was disturbing detail one after another. The ambush on Congressman Ryan was sad and just senseless. Like all of it though – Jones was such a maniac.

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