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!

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

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  1. I’ve definitely enjoyed your focus on science and medicine this year and will have to try to get to more of the books you’ve recommended. Although I knew you enjoyed White Magic, I was a little surprised to hear that it’s been your favorite read so far this year, perhaps in part because of having recently read a more negative review. It seems like a really polarizing book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve loved being able to swap sciencey recommendations with you! I need to be better about reviewing more of the ones I read, these were all so good.

      I think some readers really need that typical narrative arc with a changed narrator and solved conflict by the end even in memoir and White Magic isn’t that kind of traditional narrative. I’m actually surprised at how unnecessarily critical and kind of mean-spirited some of the reviews I’ve read are, because it’s clearly an exploration of and working through trauma. She lived for years with a misdiagnosed mental illness and different kinds of compounding trauma, and it felt like such a realistic example of how messy life can feel under those circumstances.

      I hate to be one of those who says someone missed the point, but I do think that happened a bit in some of the negative ones I read. It’s not a neatly told and wrapped up Educated-style memoir that delivers a clear message, journey, etc. – rather a messy, experimental, kind of artsy one! I loved it for the writing especially, there were hauntingly gorgeous lines on every page, and I loved that it was unflinching in her experience. I think I wrote when I reviewed it that it might require some connection to the same subject matter or experience to really resonate, so that might be the case too. It’s one that I hope finds the readers who really need to see these thoughts put into words 🙂

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