Nonfiction November Week 4: Nonfiction Favorites

Week 4: (Nov. 18 to 22) –Nonfiction Favorites (Leann @ ThereThereReadThis): We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

While considering this week’s topic, I revisited my last nonfiction favorites post from 2017. My all-time favorites haven’t changed much since then — The Tiger, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mysteryall things David Sedaris and Primo Levi. As for reasoning, it’s not deep: a favorite becomes one just through feeling. I know it when I read it.

So I put together a list of recent favorites that have come along since that last post, or that I didn’t talk about last time. Have you read any of them?

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Priestdaddy, by Patricia Lockwood – Poet Lockwood and her husband move back in with her parents, including her Catholic priest father, during a rough spell, and it’s sweetly hilarious. This book is really hard to describe, but Lockwood crafted it brilliantly, and I’ve never read anything else quite like it. It’s one of those rare books I could’ve started from the beginning immediately after finishing.

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God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State, by Lawrence Wright – Wright’s nuanced look at his larger-than-life home state was way more entertaining, informative, and readable than I’d imagined. Weaves together politics, culture, personality, memoir, and history masterfully.

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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick – A revealing, gorgeously told narrative look into North Korea, through the lens of the port city of Chongjin and a group of refugees with roots there.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin – I talk about these two way too much, but they became so deeply ingrained in my thinking (and my heart) I can’t help it. Unsurpassable food + life writing.

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The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich – A rare case of the recent trend of blending true crime with memoir that works, brilliantly, alongside an ethical examination of capital punishment.

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Bettyville, by George Hodgman – Hodgman’s memoir of returning to his midwestern hometown to care for his aging mother is in turns hilarious, touching, and illuminates family issues as they’re brought to the surface with time, like his homosexuality, how they both remember certain events, and a peacefulness in having company through twilight years.

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A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova – Gorokhova’s novelistic account of growing up in Soviet Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and her decision to emigrate is not only a moving coming-of-age story, but one of the clearest depictions I’ve read of what everyday Soviet life was like.

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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard – The Pulitzer winner is a master of nature writing for a reason. This book was everything – philosophy, biology, meditations, metaphysics, and poetically written.

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Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny, by Witold Szablowski – Renowned journalist Szablowski draws parallels between the rehabilitated “dancing” bears from Roma culture, now living out their lives peacefully at a special park in Bulgaria, with stories of people struggling to adjust to life post-Communism. Incredibly illuminating work of reportage, travel writing, and cultural examination.

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The Solace of Open Spaces: Essays, by Gretel Ehrlich – Ehrlich’s account of drowning her grief by working on a Wyoming farm helped me through a fog of grief of my own, and put words to feelings I struggled to pin down. It’s not oppressive or bleak, rather peaceful and inspiring, blending exquisite nature and life writing.

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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, by Robert Massie – Probably my favorite biography. An absorbing, sweeping story of Catherine’s life that definitively sets the record straight. Truth may not be stranger than fiction in her case, but it’s infinitely more compelling.

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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson – Stevenson’s incredible work as a lawyer for death row cases underpins the most affecting book I’ve read about capital punishment, mass incarceration, and our broken justice system.

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The Library Book, by Susan Orlean – What libraries mean to us through the lens of the mysterious Los Angeles library fire. I thought this work of reportage, history, biography, and memoir was near-flawless.

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Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening, by Manal al-Sharif – The best account I know of what it’s like to be a woman in Saudi Arabia, with all its contradictions and frustrations. Beautifully written, often infuriating but ultimately triumphant.

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Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, by John Hodgman – Funny, poignant, surprisingly relatable stories about life, the meaning of location, and getting older.

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Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, by Sarah Lohman – Explores the eight seasonings and spices that food historian Lohman identifies as having most shaped American cuisine. Totally fascinating and illuminating look at American foodways.

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The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial, by Maggie Nelson – Nelson writes (breathtakingly) about her aunt’s murder and the trial of her killer, and weaves in her family’s experiences, her own life and demons, and much more.

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Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, by David Sedaris – I fell in love with his writing all over again with these hilarious, weirdly compelling candid diaries, revealing the roughness of his turbulent young adulthood as he struggles with addiction and aimlessness before finding his strength in writing.

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The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature, by Viv Groskop – Surprisingly upbeat lessons that can be drawn from Russian classics, interspersed with memoir of the author’s time in Russia and the Ukraine. A celebration of being alive amazingly drawn from the infamous gloom of Russian literature.

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The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber – Abu-Jaber’s foodoir tells stories of her character of a father, a Jordanian who loved cooking, and her experiences of feeling caught between countries and cultures.

Are any of these among your nonfiction favorites too, or piqued your interest? What are your favorite nonfiction reads?

 

52 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 4: Nonfiction Favorites

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    1. Laurie Colwin’s books feel like a hug to your soul, I cannot recommend them enough, seriously. The Fact of a Body isn’t heartwarming but it’s a really important and compelling read.

      Oh no, I’m sorry you didn’t like The Library Book! Oddly enough, I picked it up expecting not to be crazy about it, just moderately interested, really, and it ended up charming me completely. But nothing can be for everyone! Maybe it’s just her writing style, I’ve heard people complain about that in regards to her older books.

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    1. Wasn’t God Save Texas a gem? I read it just because I like the author, I didn’t expect to be SO enthused by it and it totally surprised me. And if you ever find something comparable to Laurie Colwin and Home Cooking, do please let me know! I’m always on the lookout for more like that. Glad to hear you like them so much too 🙂

      There was some confusion over the link for today’s because her blog is fairly new, I think. The correct address is http://www.theretherereadthis.com

      Or are you having trouble with the linky on that page? I can’t seem to add mine but thought it was just because my work computer’s being wonky today. Let me know!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve have and have wanted to read Lost Girls, The Library, and Nothing to Envy for awhile now. I’ve come across Priestdaddy a number of times and always find myself wondering about it, thanks for the review. There are simply too many good books out there!!

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    1. Those three are all so good, I recommend them so strongly! I loved Priestdaddy but it’s not for everyone (it’s just always that way with sense of humor and whether you connect with someone’s life issues), but I do think it’s one you can tell is for you or not by just reading an excerpt of it, in a store or an Amazon preview or the like.

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  2. I also really liked Nothing to Envy. I think I reviewed it before I found your blog? Here is the link: https://grabthelapels.com/2019/02/15/nothing-to-envy/

    I listened to most of Just Mercy and really was gripped by it, but my digital audiobook was taken back by the library, and I couldn’t check it out again — someone had been on a wait list.

    Some of my favorite memoirs are those that demonstrate how people deal with grief. I think it’s because I want to see what would happen to me if I faced huge amounts of grief, to maybe recognize the pain, suffering, humor, and growth in it. I like Wild by Cheryl Strayed, both of Samatha Irby’s books, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, etc. There are a number of graphic memoirs that are fantastic, too, for the same reason.

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    1. We’ve discussed Nothing to Envy, I remember how much you liked it. And Just Mercy is worth getting back on the library holds list for. It’s exceptional.

      That’s interesting about your response to grief memoirs. I tend to avoid them completely, I think Ehrlich’s just found me at a time I needed it and was more about how she distracted herself from the pain until she could get to a place where she could confront it. It was such an interesting process and felt very applicable, and was beautifully written to boot.

      I think I must be the only person on earth who didn’t like Wild! I couldn’t finish it. I think so much of it can come down to how you respond to an author themselves in memoir. The Alison Bechdel one sounds interesting.

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      1. Ah, okay! I couldn’t remember if we’d talked about Nothing to Envy before. I knew I had chatted wit someone. I remember lots of people didn’t like Wild, but I think I’ve grown attached to Cheryl Strayed because I love the way she approaches things so openly, more openly than most people I’ve ever read about. I would encourage you to read Dear Sugar, even if you didn’t like Wild. You get a better sense of her personality.

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  3. I haven’t read any of your favourites, but many of them sounds interesting. In particular ‘Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea’ appeals. North Korea is such a closed country and it could be fascinating to get some insight in what life is really like there.

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    1. Nothing to Envy is so fascinating, and it completely succeeds in giving you that insight. I’ve read a couple of memoirs from North Korean defectors but this one is more comprehensive and informative than anything else, and so well told. Glad I could introduce you to it!

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    1. That makes me happy to hear!! ❤ This one was just recent favorites for the event, I purposely kept off any favorites from this year so those lists are coming next month 🙂 Can't wait to share thoughts with you when you read some of these!!

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    1. Just Mercy is an amazing book, isn’t it? It opened my eyes to so much even thought I already understood a lot about the topic.

      I hope you like Midnight in the Garden! Really one of my all time favorites 🙂

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    1. Haha I was so curious about that too! Not to spoil it but basically there’s a kind of loophole if you’re transferring from another religion, apparently. It’s very funny how she explains the whole thing though, and it is so worth reading. Really underrated book, in my opinion.

      Glad I could share so many recommendations with you, I always get such great ones from you too!!!

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      1. It was something like if they already had the wife and kids when they converted and decided to become a priest they could keep them. So generous! I mean, I guess I’m glad the Catholic church is cutting any kind of slack somewhere but seriously, they do need to get over those requirements.

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  4. Interesting and various list. I loved “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, but not the film. I also have Massie’s excellent biography of Catherine the Great. Furthermore, I do read some of these self help books from time to time. They are great.

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  5. What a list! There are a good number of titles here I’ve not even heard of, and… I haven’t read any of them? What a shame! A couple I already have on my TBR, and I’m adding The Fact of a Body immediately. I’m so sad that I did end up missing most of Nonfiction November, but I look forward to going through more posts (and hopefully putting something of my own together before the end of the month as well)!

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    1. I feel like I missed out on half of it even though I was participating! I had so much work this month and didn’t get to go through all the linkup lists and look at as many people’s posts as I wanted. I want to try and catch up later when things calm down a bit. But you can definitely still put some posts together, I remember last year people were still linking back in December. I think the linkups close automatically after a week or something but still, you should have fun with it and post anytime 🙂

      And glad I could get you to add The Fact of a Body, it was such an incredible book!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, thanks for the encouragement, perhaps I will still go ahead and post late anyway! I’m sorry to hear you didn’t get to spend as much time as you’d wanted with the posts this month either- I can definitely sympathize with work getting in the way! I am still planning to catch up on the nonfiction posts I’ve missed in my feed as well, so I’m sure I’ll pick up plenty of great recommendations too.

        And I’ve now seen The Fact of a Body come up in two more nonfiction favorites posts just since I commented here, so I’ll definitely need to get my hands on that one!

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      2. I hope you get lots of good recommendations! I’m hosting on Monday in case you want to share what books made it onto your reading list. You can link up a post anytime throughout the week 🙂

        The Fact of a Body is just so good and moving, I’m not surprised it’s popping up in others’ posts. It was one of the first that came to mind when I was writing this up. Excited to hear what you think of it!!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve read so very few of the books on your favorites list; I’d love to get to all of them! Like you, I struggled to come up with a general definition of what makes a book a favorite. Identifying a favorite seems much more intuitive than that 🙂

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    1. When I looked back at my post the last time this topic came around I felt like I’d said all I could about it then! I read so many others’ wonderful expressions of what made a favorite for them this year and was so impressed. I find it so hard to pin down!

      Liked by 1 person

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