Nonfiction November Week 1: Year in Nonfiction

Nonfiction November, that time of year to celebrate stories filled with facts and footnotes, truth being stranger than fiction, and very, very long subtitles begins today!

This week, a look at your year in nonfiction:

Week 1: (Oct. 28 to Nov. 1) – Your Year in Nonfiction (Julie @ Julz Reads): 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 are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?



I haven’t had a clear favorite this year. Maybe I’ll have revised my opinion before the year’s out, but there’s been no phenomenal standout Library Book for me yet.

My most recommended is tied between The Vagina BiblePleased to Meet Me: Genes, Germs, and the Curious Forces That Make Us Who We Are and The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence. This section seems to have skewed more heavily than usual (for me) towards the science-y, medical, and psychological, but I’ve found these three coming up endlessly in very different contexts and conversations.

There have been three topics I’ve been especially drawn to this year. One is foodoirs — that is, memoirs centered around experiences with food, kitchen, and cuisine. Although they sometimes have recipes, these aren’t just cookbooks with more stories than usual, they’re life stories that highlight the significance of food in our histories, families, and identities. I always read a couple of food-centric memoirs each year, but for some reason this year I’ve been in the mood for them pretty much constantly. Some standouts have been:

Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger, by Nigel Slater
My Life in France
by Julia Child & Alex Prud’homme
Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table
by Boris Fishman
The Bread and the Knife: A Life in 26 Bites, by Dawn Drzal
Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking It All with the Greatest Chef in the World,
by Jeff Gordinier
More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen,
by Laurie Colwin

I’ve also been reading more about culinary culture in general. Some good ones here have been The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, a genre-bending look at foodways, culture, tradition, and genetics by chef and historical interpreter Michael W. Twitty; folklore historian Emily Wallace’s Road Sidesabout the significance of roadside dining culture; and The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating, a smart, readable scientific look at how wellness gurus, marketers and others have messed up our understanding of the science behind food and health and how it all affects us.

Which brings me to the second topic I’ve been drawn to: debunking, especially of bad science and popular myths in health and medicine. But more on that in Expert week!

The third topic I’ve especially found interesting this year is historical true crime. As much as I love true crime, stories from further in the past usually appeal to me less. I started changing my mind about this sub-genre last year thanks to some exceptional books like Incendiary, The Poisoner’s Handbook, Blood & Ivyand The Lady in the Cellar.

This year I’ve loved:

The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, a Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation, by Rich Cohen 
The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection,
 by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler
Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation, by Brad Ricca
 The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars, by Paul Collins (Although let’s please retire the “murder of the century” label permanently. It’s lost all meaning with overuse.)

What’s been your favorite nonfiction read so far this year? Do you have any favorite foodoirs, culinary histories, or historical true crime to recommend?


84 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 1: Year in Nonfiction

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    1. So glad I could give you some recommendations! That book is much less about germs or anything worrying, and more about genes and how they can react to environment. I can get stressed about health stuff and I promise it doesn’t have that effect! 🙂

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    1. I didn’t even know he had a book! I love it when a celebrity memoir ends up surprising you, especially when you’re not a super fan of the person. I was impressed with Liz Phair’s memoir this year, and for one of the reasons you mention, that it wasn’t all about music.


  1. Favorite nonfiction of the year (this should come as no surprise) is Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, but Constellations by Sinead Gleeson is also up there! I also really loved Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister, Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer, Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev, and Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramovic. It’s been a good year for nonfiction, apparently! I’m so glad you rare The Vagina Bible so highly. You also put The Crimes of Paris on my radar when you reviewed that and I’m looking forward to picking it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw Constellations on someone else’s list, I need to investigate that one. I feel so behind for not having gotten to Say Nothing yet, especially since you had such high praise for it! I really need to bump that one up the list. I’ve been on the fence about Mother Winter, aside from the motherhood aspect it seems like a story I’d love, especially having anything to do with Russia, but I read some reviews with excerpts and I’m wary of the language/style. But I don’t know, since you liked it so much I’m reconsidering. And I’m glad you’ve had such a good year for nonfiction!

      The Vagina Bible is def a must read and The Crimes of Paris was so entertaining. One of those that ends up telling a lot of different, totally fascinating stories.

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      1. I think you would love Constellations! It’s kind of like I Am, I Am, I Am (can’t remember if you read that) but better and more cohesive? And obviously I’d recommend Say Nothing whenever you’re in the mood for it! Mother Winter is trickier to recommend – it’s definitely not for everyone, but I think the writing style really suits it. It’s not the sort of style that I ordinarily gravitate toward, but for whatever reason it really worked for me and the whole book is just gut-wrenching. It’s worth checking out if you’re curious, especially as it’s not very long, but if you end up reading a few pages and hating it, it’s probably too much of a book/reader mismatch to persevere.


  2. Yay, Nonfiction November is here!! I should have my post up sometime within the next day or two. 🙂 The Vagina Bible is def high up on my TBR list, so I’m glad to hear you’ve been recommending it so much!

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    1. My favorite time of year!! Excited for your post!

      I’ve ended up recommending that one so much because there have already been so many instances where someone repeats one of the myths she debunks. It just amazes me how prevalent the wrong information can be and I want everyone to read it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved My Life in France! I don’t tend to read too much about food but this post is making me want to!
    Very much agree with you re: the crime of the century label. I have a hard time with ‘old-timey’ murder stories, even though some of them are bananas. I like to read about the ones post Helter Skelter. Very interested in Mrs Sherlock Holmes though!

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    1. YES also a ban on crime of the century – it’s enough! They can’t all be that! Old-timey crime stories didn’t really work for me for a long time, I think I just always picked duds that were dry and textbooky so I started avoiding all of them. I’ve found a couple really good ones though, and I loved Mrs. Sherlock Holmes. It’s a page-turner!

      Wasn’t My Life in France so good! I can’t believe it took me so long to read it. There were so many life lesson gems in there and I’d always had an entirely different and wrong impression of her.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember you liked that one! I still can’t decide whether or not to read it because I read another book about the Donner Party that came out not so long ago. But I’ve heard from a couple of people that that one is so good.

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      1. I liked the movie too! I watched it after reading My Life in France. But I’ve avoided Julie and Julia, I wasn’t so sure I would like her memoir specifically. Maybe I’ll have to give it a try eventually though!

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      2. It’s not the movie tie-in that bothers me, as I said I liked the movie. It’s reviews I’ve read of it and what I’ve read about the author herself that makes me think it’s just going to be a style of memoir I don’t really enjoy. I’ll page through it next time I come across it at the library and see!

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      1. It’s old now, but I enjoyed a lot of the chapters in Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant – some of them are short fiction, but a lot fall into the “foodoir” category – basically people’s essays about what they cook and eat when they are living alone.

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  4. If you are writing about your foodie reads I have a link up for you. It starts on the first of every month for reviews of books about food. There is a chance to win a gift card. The link is on the right side bar of my blog if you need it in the middle of the month.

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  5. As usual, I’ve not read very many nonfiction titles this year, but my favorites so far are Burnout, The Feather Thief, 24/6, and The F*ck It Diet. I’m listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power and it’s also very good so far.

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    1. Isn’t it the best term? I can’t remember where I came across it now! I loved My Life in France, I can’t believe it took me so long to get to it. It’s one I’ll be happy to reread too.


  6. I have more time to finally catch-up on some ‘year in non-fction week 1’ posts.
    Yours is very interesting and has spurred me on to think about my reading for 2020.
    28% of my books in 2019 were non-fiction…and there was not one book I did not like,,,or at least learn something valuable. Now I am going to sift through the other 72% and ask myself …if fiction gives met a constant buzz…or were there many books not worth my reading time.
    it will be interesting to see these stats. I’m considering reading only non-fiction in 2020 and this could be the ultimate challenge for me! i’m drawn to history, biography, memoirs and where you delve into ‘foodoirs and food culture’ I like to delve into the theatre and literary criticism! To each his own! True Crime…I’ve read only 3 this year and have difficulty with this genre. I will have to have a look at your TC suggestions. Thanks so much an all your insightful reviews….and you will see in Decembeer 2019…a post on my blog with my 2020 ‘reading plans/challenges!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know I’ll be supportive of a year reading only nonfiction!! And you definitely have enough different areas of interest to make it work for you. When I found myself changing over to it entirely from reading fiction I also noticed that there was a ton of fiction I was reading that I just didn’t like or get anything valuable from but I was still learning something from every nonfiction title I picked up. And of course if it’s a really good one, it has everything that great fiction has too.

      I think if you’re not particularly interested in true crime the historical ones could be of more interest to you. They took me awhile to get into because I read a few that were dry or didn’t have enough facts but the good ones end up being fascinating histories as well.

      Excited to see your posts and what you decide for next year!


    1. I know, same – I never understood how people could say history was boring. They’re just not looking in the right places 🙂 Are there any historical true crime titles you really recommend?


  7. I enjoyed that one about cooking from the Julia Childs book that came out a few years ago, although I’m blanking on what it was called and who it was by! Some very interesting reads here though I shy away from true crime myself!

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  8. Pingback: October Miscellany
  9. I’ve so enjoyed reading your food-focused reviews! There seems to be a huge market for these types of books right now, whether food memoir or cultural exploration, and you seem to routinely find the best of the best. And it’s great seeing Julia Child’s My Life in France on your list—loved that one.

    Now I’m really looking forward to your Expert Week post! (Well, not that I wasn’t already…) I can get lost in debunking books for days. Have you read Bunk by Kevin Young? It’s a lot to get through, and I can’t say it was my favorite, but it led me down so many fascinating rabbit holes.

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    1. Food stories have seemed to be getting increasingly popular in recent years, haven’t they? I enjoy them so much (and so happy to hear you like those reviews!). The especially good ones like My Life in France are some kind of sublime.

      And I’m so excited that you also like debunking books!! I hadn’t heard of Bunk but it sounds great! Is it more academic and dense? I think those are still worthwhile sometimes even if not the smoothest reading for the reason you mention, if they can give you additional areas to look into.

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      1. It’s VERY dense. I think it mostly comes down to style. He plays with language in a very academic way that sometimes clouds his meaning. Which is a shame because he has all of this amazing research that would be compelling if it was showcased differently. Definitely worthwhile though, like you say. I kept my phone next to me the whole time I read it, adding notes about things to look up later.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh blergh. It sounds like maybe a better editor would’ve helped develop the right showcasing for that research too. I’m going to have to see if I can get it from the library. I absolutely love those kind of books that lead you onto lots of other interesting topics though. Really good to know!

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