Let’s look ahead at a few more new nonfiction releases I’m excited for in the second half of 2021. Any of these on your list too?
Beautiful Country: A Memoir, by Qian Julie Wang (September 7) – Named after the translation of the Chinese term for America, this memoir recalls the author’s immigrant childhood in New York’s Chinatown, where her parents, professors in China, worked in sweatshops. It sounds like a grim and scary world for a child, but an important story, and I loved this description: “Inhabiting her childhood perspective with exquisite lyric clarity and unforgettable charm and strength, Qian Julie Wang has penned an essential American story about a family fracturing under the weight of invisibility, and a girl coming of age in the shadows, who never stops seeking the light.”
Return: Why We Go Back to Where We Come From, by Kamal Al-Solaylee (September 7) – This is such a fascinating concept to me on a personal level, since I also emigrated and then returned home. For the author too, who “ran away” from his childhood homes of Yemen and Egypt for Toronto. In addition to making a journey back to the Middle East, he interviews others who have left their homelands and later returned. It sounds like such an interesting cultural study, and since it’s something I’ve intensively questioned myself, I’m intrigued by what he learned in his research.
Eight Days in May: The Final Collapse of the Third Reich, by Volker Ullrich, translated by Chase Jefferson (September 7) – I’m always interested in nonfiction in translation, a too-rare category, even if it is in the WWII history genre, where we have no dearth of scholarship already in English. Still, Ullrich is an award-winning historian and this draws on “sources never seen before by American readers,” so I’m intrigued. There was also just a massive amount going on in this single week-and-a-day — as Lenin once said, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,” and the beginning of May 1945 was certainly the latter.
A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020), by David Sedaris (October 5) — It’s finally here! I loved, with an enthusiasm that even surprised me, David Sedaris’s first volume of his diaries, Theft by Finding. When I finished it I had this massive hangover/letdown feeling because it felt like nothing I read was going to be that good for a very long time. He read some excerpts from this later volume at a reading event I attended in Vienna back in 2017 and the audience was howling with laughter. New David Sedaris is always a delightful joy and I can’t wait!
On Animals, by Susan Orlean (October 12) – I’m not wholly enthusiastic about the topic — nothing against animals, just not sure how interested I am in reading this – but Susan Orlean has proved me wrong before” Her last book, The Library Book, was an instant favorite despite me being so-so about that topic too. “In her own backyard, Orlean discovers the delights of keeping chickens. In a different backyard, in New Jersey, she meets a woman who has twenty-three pet tigers—something none of her neighbors knew about until one of the tigers escapes. In Iceland, the world’s most famous whale resists the efforts to set him free; in Morocco, the world’s hardest-working donkeys find respite at a special clinic.“
From Warsaw with Love: Polish Spies, the CIA, and the Forging of an Unlikely Alliance, by John Pomfret (October 26) — When my husband was at the Polish Consulate in Vienna getting some documents for us to get married, the consular officer excitedly told him, when he said he was marrying an American, that Poland and America are “big friends.” We always laugh about that because the way he said it was so funny and enthusiastic, but he’s not wrong: Poland and the US do have a very special relationship, of sorts. In fact: “the intelligence cooperation between Poland and America” is described by a CIA director as “one of the two foremost intelligence relationships that the United States has ever had.” In detail: “Poland’s ex-communist spies snooped for America from Havana to Moscow, Pyongyang to Tehran. Pomfret also reveals shocking details about the CIA’s “black site” program that held suspected terrorists in Poland after 9/11 as well the role of Polish spies in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.” It’s my impression that the US hasn’t always treated our Polish allies as well as we could, but I’m interested in the comprehensive story here.
Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America, by Mayukh Sen (November 2) – I loved Eight Flavors, which examined American culinary history and development through the lens of immigration, so I’m excited for this group biography that looks at women including “Mexican-born Elena Zelayeta, a blind chef; Marcella Hazan, the deity of Italian cuisine; and Norma Shirley, a champion of Jamaican dishes.” American cuisine is such a melting pot thanks largely to the influence of immigration, and this sounds like a fascinating take on the topic.
How the Other Half Eats: The Untold Story of Food and Inequality in America, by Priya Fielding-Singh (November 16) I’ve been obsessed with this topic of food inequality in the US since a National Geographic series some years ago about the state of food really stuck with me. It’s still incredible to me that in the richest country on earth with an unbelievable amount of food waste so many people experience food insecurity, and I’m curious about whether this addresses changes in our food situation post-Covid.
The Next Supper: The End of Restaurants as We Knew Them, and What Comes After, by Corey Mintz (November 16) -Must be a good month for food-related books. This looks at the restaurant industry and the changes it’s facing in the wake of Covid. Before the pandemic, “Many of the best restaurants in the world employed unpaid cooks. Meal delivery apps were putting many restaurants out of business. And all that dining out meant dramatically less healthy diets. The industry may have been booming, but it also desperately needed to change. And, then, along came COVID-19.”
Sex Cult Nun: Breaking Away from the Children of God, a Wild, Radical Religious Cult, by Faith Jones (November 30) – Title seems like self-explanatory reason enough here. Jones was in the notoriously abusive Children of God cult and grew up in their Macau branch. As I’ve mentioned before, I find leaving-a-cult memoirs really fascinating for the insight and progression they show of the author’s belief system. I’m curious if confused about the “nun” aspect of this one though.
What new nonfiction still to come this year are you most looking forward to?