Happy Halloween, and happy first day of Nonfiction November!
The wonderful Katie @Doing Dewey is our host this week:
Week 1: (Oct 31-Nov 4) – Your Year in 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?
As always, I try to explore my reading trends for the year rather than getting too deep into favorites. Since I only read nonfiction, this would make for a repetitive year-end recap next month!
Like I mentioned in this review last week, I inadvertently ended up with a mini-reading trend this year of concepts around the self, with Will Storr’s Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What it’s Doing to Us, Rachel Aviv’s Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us, and Anil Ananthaswamy’s The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self (that one was my favorite).
I returned to a topic that I have a love/hate relationship with: memoirs about expat living in France. They’re either so good or else so very bad. This started with a copy of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence in my neighborhood Little Free Library. I enjoyed this founding father of the Anglos-moving-to-France genre so much that I immediately read its follow-up, Toujours Provence, which I liked even more. I finally got to the next one, published quite a few years after the first two, Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France.
This one was interesting in how it diverged from its predecessors: it’s almost more of a light travel/dining guide to the region, enhanced by Mayle’s special brand of sweet but snarky commentary. It’s also warmly humorous: he has a bone to pick with Ruth Reichl, who apparently during her time as a food critic wrote negatively about her trip to Provence and claimed that the Provence of her imagination didn’t exist. He has some thoughts on that!
I also read Felicity Cloake’s delightful foodie memoir/travelogue One More Croissant for the Road, and after I wrote about these, I got the suggestion for a Mayle-similar collection of short essays called One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence by Keith Van Sickle from Emma @ Words and Peace. It was a fun, light read about the author’s experiences living part of the year in France with his wife; a modern version of the Mayles.
In other foodoir reads (one of my favorite genres — here’s my post on foodoirs from Expert Week last year), I read Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want (hoping to get to her newest, Cook As You Are: Recipes for Real Life, Hungry Cooks and Messy Kitchens this month!) and I loved Laura Freeman’s The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite, a very unique and well done account of how reading helped the author regain an appreciation for food after anorexia.
I’ve also enjoyed Naben Ruthnum’s Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race, the cookbook crossed with Siberian stories and folklore (and stunning photography) Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore, and The World Eats Here: Amazing Food and the Inspiring People Who Make It at New York’s Queens Night Market by John Wang and Storm Garner.
In my ongoing effort to better understand what’s going on socio-politically right now, I’ve continued reading about the current culture of conspiracy theories, fringey beliefs, and extremist groups, especially Internet-based ones. These were excellent:
Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists, by Julia Ebner
They Knew: How a Culture of Conspiracy Keeps America Complacent, by Sarah Kendzior
The Believer: Encounters With the Beginning, The End, And Our Place in the Middle, by Sarah Krasnostein
The book I’ve recommended the most without a doubt, over and over and over, is Russian professor Sergei Medvedev’s The Return of the Russian Leviathan. If you’ve spent any amount of time around this blog you already know about my love of reading about Russia. Any affection for the place is hard to reconcile with their current behavior, although as this book will show you, that behavior is not at all surprising: the writing has been on the wall regarding Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine for a very long time. It was written several years ago and gave me chills.
It’s basically a playbook explaining exactly what he was going to do. Medvedev breaks down cultural, political, historical, and socioeconomic happenings in the country to explain a lot about the national mentality and how Putin has influenced it, including shaping Russians’ ideas about their perception in the west. It’s very readable, if terrifying, and I still notice little details from Medvedev’s predictions continuing to come true. Well, that’s a good Halloween-horror note to end on, I suppose.
How’s your year in nonfiction been so far?