Nonfiction November Week 1: Your Year in Nonfiction

Hello and welcome: Happy first day of Nonfiction November!

I’m your host this week for the kickoff, and I could not be more thrilled.

Here’s our topic:

Week 1: (November 1-5) – Your Year in Nonfiction with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction: 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?  

My favorite of the year has been Elissa Washuta’s White Magic. Still two months to go, but as I mentioned when writing about it, if another book surpasses that one I can’t even conceive of the work of wonderment that would be. This is a genre-bending mix of connected memoir-in-essays exploring the author’s legacies of trauma, survival, and Native heritage through pop culture touchpoints from Stevie Nicks to the Oregon Trail, among loads of other things. It has a lot going on. It’s not for everyone, you definitely have to be able to able to deal with a non-linear narrative and an experimental memoir style, but I think if it clicks or resonates with your particular experience, it’s a treasure, and by far the best writing I’ve read in a long time.

The topic I’ve been most attracted to is the same one I’ve been reading more and more of the last few years: popular science and medicine, especially debunking of pseudoscience and medical myths. This year I read almost all of Paul Offit’s books. Offit is an MD and developer of the rotavirus vaccine, and also someone with zero tolerance for pseudoscience wellness BS. This includes why you should never listen to Gwyneth Paltrow and unfortunately, sadly, must be very careful with Oprah. He’s also an excellent science translator and has an understandable way of breaking down complex concepts for laypeople and really making them stick.

I haven’t gotten around to reviewing any of them because I’ve been completely incompetent at blogging this year, but the ones I’ve read and can enthusiastically recommend are:

Overkill: When Modern Medicine Goes Too Far

Bad Advice: Or Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren’t Your Best Source of Health Information

Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine

Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine

He has a new one just out, You Bet Your Life: From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovation, and I can’t wait until my library hold for it comes in.

In addition to those, I’ve really enjoyed these others on science/medical topics:

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection by Sam Apple

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity and Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive by Carl Zimmer

Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions by Michael Moss

Uncaring: How the Culture of Medicine Kills Doctors and Patients by Robert Pearl

Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Fads, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science by Alan Levonitz

Gory Details: Adventures from the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt

The books I’ve recommended the most have also been ones close to this category: The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss by Jason Fung, which sounds very fad diet book-ish but really isn’t. It has the clearest scientific explanation for how and why we gain weight and I learned so much from it that’s been very helpful for managing health in general, not only weight loss.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk is another that’s come up often in conversation, oddly enough, including so many of its concepts which are more broadly applicable than I would’ve assumed.

The other two that I’ve recommended nonstop since reading them take a completely different direction: Helena Merriman’s Tunnel 29: The True Story of an Extraordinary Escape Beneath the Berlin Wall is the best work of narrative nonfiction I read this year and an incredible, thrilling work of contemporary history.

The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Kati Marton is a well researched, beautifully written, and wholly compelling biography exploring the impact of Germany’s influential chancellor and why her time in power was such a unique achievement.

And now over to you! Click the Mr. Linky below to link up your Week 1 Nonfiction November posts below, and tell me what nonfiction has meant the most to you this year. And I hope you have a wonderful month of nonfiction reading ahead!

116 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 1: Your Year in Nonfiction

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  1. Nonfiction November is how I find all the good nonfiction books. From your post today (and I could have written them all down, honestly) I wrote down The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk and Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive by Carl Zimmer. The only one of your books I’ve read is Being Mortal, but it’s one that has stuck with me over the years. I already had the other Zimmer book on my list. I hope to read it this month.

    Thank you for hosting this great event.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being Mortal really impacted me too, I think of bits of wisdom from it all the time. I’m so glad I could give you those two titles, they are both just fantastic. Thanks for joining in this year!

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  2. The Body Keeps the Score and Being Mortal are top picks from previous years. I need to do some assembling of what I read this year, hope to get to that in the next few days. And I now want to read The Chancellor!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Body Keeps the Score is a therapy ‘classic’ – as you say, it is more widely applicable than people might initially think. Tunnel on my TBR list thanks to your review some time ago. Adding Chancellor and one of the Zimmers that I wasn’t aware of.

    Thanks for hosting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad I could introduce you to those two, and hope you’ll enjoy Tunnel 29! I thought it was just phenomenal. I knew The Body Keeps the Score was pretty much a modern classic but I wasn’t expecting to have that kind of broad application. It feels like a must-read.

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  4. So looking forward to this month – can’t wait to read to everyone’s posts!

    Bad Faith sounds right up my ally. I’ve looked at the blurb and already found out something I didn’t know, which is about it being legal for parents to deny their children care on religious groups in areas of the US. This is illegal in the UK, though wherever possible staff are encouraged to work with families and their faith groups to come to an agreement, rather than going through the courts. I’ll definitely be looking that one up! Probably not right now as I’m writing a module at the moment about medical care, the law, and ethics, and I don’t want to get muddled between countries, but I’ll definitely be reading it once I’ve written all my materials.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. How interesting that you’re working on that! Sounds extremely important. I think you’d love Bad Faith, although it can be quite depressing…turns out a majority of the issues around this application of religious freedoms to medical ethics disproportionately affect children and the decisions their parents are making for them. It was tough to read but also important, I think. I’d rather be aware of what the law permits, and much of it was quite shocking.

      Would be so interested to hear your take on it if you read it, especially considering your work and experience in that area!

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  5. Oh you have absolutely made my 2021 reading for the year! LOVE so many of these. And, as you will see from my post I am so done with pseudo-science – I need some experts on my bookshelves.

    Do You Believe in Magic and Bad Advice are right at the top of my mental pile. But, as someone who has used some alternative medicines (love my acupuncturist) I am drawn to Do You Believe in Magic. Forget it, I need that whole group of books.

    You always have the best stacks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes me so so happy to hear!!! I am just so thrilled I could give you so many great suggestions. And that your post is similar because you know I absolutely love these kind of books, off to check yours!

      If I remember correctly, although I can’t remember if it was from an Offit book or not, acupuncture is the one (like, the one and only) form of alternative medicine that’s been able to produce results according to accepted medical standards in trials. So there does seem to be something to it. But in any case, I think you’d get a lot from these. Do You Believe in Magic was definitely my favorite, it was just so good! Also occasionally quite funny, because he’s just so clearly over it. Glad I could put these wonderful books on your radar!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think Being Mortal should be handed out to every healthcare worker and to everyone who is a caretaker for the elderly or someone with a terminal disease. I worked in healthcare for a very long time, more on the fringes of things than in the trenches, so to speak, but I saw enough to know that just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. Quality of life should trump quantity every time. And there are so many better answers than our institutional nursing homes but so few seniors can afford those options. Why aren’t they the standard? Such an important book. I’m glad to see you mention it here.

    The Offit books sound fascinating. I have some anti-vaxx family members I’d like to hand some of those too but–surprise, surprise–they don’t read anything other than Facebook posts. Sorry, was that too jaded? 😀

    I think most of these will be going on my TBR. Thanks for hosting and for the recommendations!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I was so sad to have read it after my grandmother passed, I would have done and said so much differently in the last years. But I’m glad to have finally read it and understand this phase of life better. It really should be required reading!

      And no, not too jaded, sadly it’s also my experience exactly. The Offit books are great for non-medical and non-sciencey types because they’re really so accessible and well explained, so I don’t doubt that the people who need them most could comprehend the material, but they’re also the ones more likely to just reject reading anything that challenges their views outright. It’s just the worst.

      Anyway, glad I could at least give you some good recommendations!

      Like

  7. I have often participated in the past, but rarely posted my blog posts for others to read. Here is this week’s: https://headfullofbooks.blogspot.com/2021/11/nonfiction-november-week-one.html. Your post is so crammed with titles I think it will take me days to wade my way through them. I’ve read Being Mortal, and loved it. So profound. From your brief descriptions I’m interested in: The Gory Details; The Obesity Code; White Magic; and Natural. But I am going to explore most of the titles further. Thanks for hosting.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. White Magic sounds like quite an interesting book! I don’t know if I can take the non-linear narrative though. ha. Thanks for the heads-up. Maybe if I were prepared for it, I could. I’ll be on the lookout for Paul Offit books at my library. Lots of great recommendations here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely not for everyone, and a very different style than your typical memoir. I really appreciated it though. Maybe try to page through a copy before committing to be sure 🙂 the Paul Offit books I recommend wholeheartedly, they’re just exceptionally good!

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    1. Agreed! She comes up in several of these, and if you already think she’s ridiculous his explanations underscore it even more. Especially considering how people are more likely to take advice from her than actual scientists. It’s insane.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The Body Keeps the Score is such an intense read. I got through half of it but I ran out of time with the library – it’s a book that has a massive waitlist! I’ve actually now bought a copy (my audiobook hold also timed out) and I’m hoping to get to it this month!

    No true crime recommendations for us?! I feel like I haven’t read that much of that this year either…

    I want to be the kind of reader that learns about science and health but you know how I feel about it. Will just take your word for it that all of these are amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was the same at my library, such a long list of holds! And the copy I got had been so read that it was falling apart, the librarian taped the cover back together while I was checking out. We agreed that at least a lot of people who needed it were reading it!

      I’m barely reading true crime anymore, I think 2 or 3 this year? It just hasn’t appealed that much!

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  10. I always think of you as being into those debunking books as well as so much nonfiction in general. I’m so excited to be taking part in Nonfiction November again, and also pleased we can do our posts any time during the week as it was State of the TBR day for me yesterday so couldn’t do my post until today. Great to see my Feedly feed filling up with other participants, and I’ll poke around on the Linky and find some more people to follow, I’m sure!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do so love the debunking books and was especially excited to find an author with such a back catalog of them! And thrilled that you’re joining in again this year, hope you find lots of good reading suggestions!!

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  11. White Magic sounds fascinating! This is the first I’ve heard of it. Tunnel 29 is going on my list as well. I usually read several books each year about health and medicine, but only managed one about psychotherapy (Good Morning, Monster) which was excellent and another about nutrition. Being Mortal is an all-time favorite and should be required reading for all healthcare professionals. Thanks so much for hosting again!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thanks for reminding me of Good Morning, Monster! That one came across my radar awhile ago but hadn’t ended up on my list. It sounds so interesting though and good to hear you enjoyed it so much. I agree that Being Mortal should be a must-read for healthcare professionals, if not for everyone, period. I really wish I’d read it a long time ago.

      Thanks for joining in!

      Like

  12. Wow! You given me so many ideas of books to add to my ever-growing list of Nonfiction. I’m especially interested in Paul Offit’s books, as well as The Obesity Code and The Body Keeps Score. I read Being Mortal several years ago and was so inspired that my husband and I decided (after getting her approval first!) to move in with my widowed mother, who is now 88. We shop, cook and transport her to various doctor appointments, but the most valuable result of our move is that we provide her with companionship. After seeing what Covid did to those in nursing homes, I’m so glad we made the decision to live with her back in 2017.

    Thanks for hosting this week’s topic. Now to read all the comments and add more to my list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so wonderful that it could have that kind of effect and impact for you! I’m sure she appreciates it, as you say especially with the effect Covid had in nursing homes. The book really drove home for me how out of touch our end-of-life care and mentality are. It really is one of those life-changing kind of reads.

      Any luck accessing the Mr. Linky? If you still are unable to, I can at least screenshot and send you the list of entries so you can browse everyone’s, it would be a shame to miss out on it and I’m sorry you’re having issues with it!

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      1. It really is one of those life-changing reads. I’ve shared it with several family members and friends.

        Yes, I was finally able to access Mr. Linky! I rebooted my computer and all seems well now. I’ve enjoyed seeing everyone’s entries and have added a few new-to-me bloggers to my Bloglovin’ feed. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it doesn’t show up if you’re viewing the post through the WordPress reader. Try accessing it directly through whatsnonfiction.com and you should see it at the very end of my post. let me know if you’re still having trouble after that and I can add your link myself 🙂

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      1. I added yours! That’s so strange, I was afraid maybe it had expired but it loads just fine for me and I can see the others’ posts. Bizarre! Maybe just try again later, it’s odd.

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  13. White Magic is on my TBR since I read your first review. I’ll get to it someday!

    Also, I had to chuckle about “completely incompetent” at blogging. That’s how I’ve felt for a while now! Ha ha. My zest for writing posts has just gotten very low. But I still love to read others’ posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

      Ugh, for almost two years now I’ve been struggling with blogging! I still love it, but the time commitment of how and what I want to write versus the time and energy I actually have is very not compatible 😦 I’m sorry your zest for posting is also low! I absolutely love seeing what you’re reading when you do! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I am sooooo happy that Nonfiction November is finally here again!!! Thanks so much for hosting Week 1!!!

    You have a lot of interesting books I’ve never heard of before so I will need to peruse them more thoroughly and see if I want to add any to my list! Gory Details jumped RIGHT out at me and I do not need to know anything about it…it went directly onto my list. lol

    Tunnel 29 is already on my list. Sounds so good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh I’m so glad I could introduce you to Gory Details, it was outstanding!! So funny but also so smart. I think you’ll love it! Tunnel 29 is also just the best. Glad you’re having so much fun with Nonfiction November, thanks for joining in!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks for hosting again. Looks like you have read some good ones this year. I really need to get to Carl Sagan, since I love popular science books. It’s almost embarrassing that I haven’t tried his books yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And you love physics too, so I think you’d be able to comprehend his even better than I can! For the most part this one was really accessible and I’m so glad to have read it, but it does require some concentration.

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  16. If there was ever a year to debunk science/medical myths this has been the year. Honestly!

    As for White Magic, that’s right up my alley. I love the idea of “connected memoir-in-essays”. We have an Australian writer who does this, I’d say without reading White magic. Fiona Wright. I’ve read her first, but have the second on my TBR.

    Anyhow, thanks for hosting Week 1. Here’s my post: https://whisperinggums.com/2021/11/03/nonfiction-november-2021-your-year-in-nonfiction/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh, agreed!! I had already started reading in this area of debunking and trying to better understand the medical myths that influencers and the like get wrong a couple of years ago but this year I really wish everyone had done so 😦

      The name Fiona Wright sounds familiar but I haven’t read her, I must investigate! I think you might like White Magic 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I have never heard of Paul Offit, but here in Canada we have a writer who covers a similar beat, Timothy Caulfield. One of his books is called “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?” 🙂 White Magic sounds amazing, when it’s done well, I love non-linear nonfic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t heard of Caulfield but I love him already! 😂 If you like the sound of White Magic definitely page through a copy and see if the style appeals…it’s one of those that won’t work for everyone but if it resonates for you, it’s just incredible!

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  18. I’m thankful for the summary Rennie. I’d forgotten about Tunnel 29 and had neglected to put it on my TBR after reading your earlier review. Can’t say I have a lot of nonfiction planned for November but I am currently listening to Eddie Glaude’s Begin Again, part reflection and part biography covering the life and works of James Baldwin. Highly recommend.

    I also just finished reading Letters to a German Friend, by Albert Camus. Extremely pertinent for current times, where misinformation and nationalistic cries for civil war are all too prevalent.

    In September, I enjoyed listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Bomber Mafia. This book was originally produced for audio only and that’s the way I’d recommend consuming it. It’s an excellent account of the evolution of bomb warfare during World War II. Woven throughout is the age old question of whether the end justifies the means. Extremely well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Begin Again sounds fantastic. Everything I’ve read about James Baldwin’s life is really interesting so it’s good to know about that one. Letters to a German friend sounds excellent, and relevant, too!

      I’m glad to hear the Gladwell book was good. I haven’t been able to get into audiobooks yet and the only book of his I’ve actually read, Talking to Strangers, was I think going in that direction too, intended more for audio. I’m very wary of him though, as my opinion from reading that book was that it involved a massive amount of cherry picking and occasionally, he didn’t do due diligence in his research and left out important information that contradicted his theories. This was just from information I knew off the top of my head, I can’t imagine what else was ignored that I didn’t just happen to know about. I get the impression no one really bothers to fact check him anymore and that greatly concerns me.

      But the topic of that one is right up my alley, including that idea of whether the ends justify the means, so I might have to give it a try. Thanks for the introduction to it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good to hear you opinion of Gladwell. I’ve only read parts of his other books and nothing from the one you mentioned. As far as I know, Bomber Mafia is the only historical narrative he’s produced. Most of his other books are collections of anecdotal essays that attempt to confirm some hypothesis he is making (or at least that’s my impression). In this book, I don’t feel he’s drawing any conclusions. He leaves that to the reader.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s great to know, that it’s more historical narrative and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. Your impression is exactly right, that’s how his other books go – he makes a good point here and there but it’s so cherry picked and falls apart when you include any opposing information, which frustrates me because people seem to take it as gospel, I don’t get it!

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  19. I tried to vary my nonfiction reading for November this year. Usually, I just go for the history books. I do have a few other books on my shelves, and hope to read some of them. They are about evolution of mankind, various books about our minds and how we live our lives, a book about sleep (I hope it will help me sleep better) and a travel book.
    I don’t enter into such scientific books as you do, although I am sure they are very interesting. It really has to be a subject that I am interested in, in that case.
    Anyway, there seem to be so many participants this year, and I am eager to see what others are reading. I am sure I will be inspired by other topics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh that one sounds really interesting and something I think I don’t know all that much about! I’m reading Edward Parnell’s Ghostland right now and although it’s truly excellent, I realized how much of the country, its layout and topography, and what individuates the regions is just utterly foreign to me. I may have to check that one out 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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