Nonfiction November Week 1: Your Year in Nonfiction

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:

Off the Edge: Flat Earthers, Conspiracy Culture, and Why People Will Believe Anything, by Kelly Weill

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

Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists: The Truth About Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All, by Laura Bates

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?

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

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  1. Well, there isn’t much to tell about an ex-pat in The Netherlands to fill a book…except we have the most number kilometres of bike paths and the world’s largest bike “garage” by the train station in Utrecht. No food heaven here!
    Kidding aside….great post and looking forward to your “end of the year” wrap-up! Curious…just how many NF books do you read/review a year? I’m geopolitics orientated and have read a number of books about China and its “panda claws” ….infiltrating many countries. I’m putting Sergei Medvedev’s book on my week 5 list “new to my TBR”….it sounds fascinating.

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    1. I actually loved the food when I was in The Netherlands! Such good cheese! And I remember way back when I first visited peanut butter wasn’t a big thing in Germany but there was a ton of peanut butter in the Netherlands so I was delighted😂 I would just like to go somewhere besides Amsterdam next time I visit there…it was so expensive and too many people on the bike paths, I was intimidated 😂 I would love to see these bike paths elsewhere! Being able to ride my bike is one of my favorite parts of living in Berlin.

      I don’t review nearly all of what I read, I have so little time or mental energy for blogging anymore, sadly…But since I only read nonfiction it’s my whole reading year. Usually a smidge over 100 books, I think last year was 110 or so and this year looks to be about the same.

      You would love The Return of the Russian Leviathan with your interests, I think! It was so well written but very eerie. Embarrassingly I’ve read next to nothing around China, but what I have is so disturbing (Made in China, about the slave labor used in manufacturing there and the idea that they may be organ harvesting as well). And sorry, but panda claws just sounds too cute, they need a less adorable animal representing them…

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      1. Oh, yes..the food here is good…very basic…menu that gives you enough energy to skate our 200 km 11 city race…if the canals ever freeze again here in the winter! What I forgot to mention there are a lot more electric bikes on the roads and they just whizz by! I have to have eyes behind my head sometimes. I feel the same….I read but spending time writing long blog posts are not worth it. Visitors to the blog probably don’t even read them…just skim book titles. Sometimes I think of closing the blog…we’ll see how I feel next year.

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      2. It’s the same in Berlin! I think I need to put one of the small rearview mirrors on my handlebars because there’s always a Lance Armstrong in spandex on an ebike flying out of nowhere and nearly knocking me off the path.

        And I hear you…I’m in a similar place right now with blogging. It just doesn’t feel worth the time investment anymore and I feel very tired with it in general. I’ve been more seriously considering closing down too. New year seems a good time to reevaluate. We must stay in touch either way!

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  2. I’m going to try and do this prompt for my next post (I usually post once a week, on Sundays.) I’m more of a fiction reader but I’d love to take time to reflect on the nonfiction I’ve read this year. Thanks for always providing good recommendations!

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  3. I’m so excited that this event is back! I don’t think I’ve read any of these books yet, though I did buy The Reading Cure after reading about it on your blog, and I am looking forward to reading the Cloake memoir – I’m planning to save it for January when it’s very cold and dark here, as it sounds just right to brighten up that season!

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    1. Ooh I completely agree, Felicity Cloake’s memoir would be absolutely perfect for the dark days of January! I hope you like The Reading Cure when you get to it – I thought it was so unique and thoughtful.

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  4. Expats in France – that’s quite a niche within nonfiction! 😉

    I vaguely remember, we have been discussing conspiracy theories before. One on my trends in 2022 has been neuroscience and there are quite well-founded theories on why some people are more prone to believe in conspiracy theories (or ghosts for that matter). Fundamentally, our brain is designed to spot patterns and that is what we do, even if such patterns don’t exist. However, some people have mechanisms which are better at counteracting this tendency. I don’t remember the details, but Dean Burnett’s book, The Idiot Brain, is one of the books, which discuss this topic (and I found it a very interesting book, which I would recommend).

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    1. I’m sure we have discussed conspiracy theories – definitely one of my favorite investigative topics (finding out where they’re coming from and why, that is 🙂 I’ve come across that same explanation and it makes so much sense – the same reason why we think seeing Jesus’s face in a piece of toast is a meaningful message. Our brains are incredible, aren’t they? I remember one book that taught me a lot about that was Pleased to Meet Me: Genes, Germs, and the Curious Forces That Make Us Who We Are by Bill Sullivan. It might not be as science-intensive as what you’ve been reading and it’s epigenetics-focused, but it was excellent and the section on the brain has stuck with me in a way that lots of reading doesn’t.

      Thanks for the recommendation for The Idiot Brain – that one goes onto the list immediately!!

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  5. What a fine list of reads! I just picked up They Knew from my library and am ready to delve into it. I did read and enjoyed Amy Bloom’s In Love, Ripple, A Long Strange Search For a Killer by Kim Cosgrove, Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by Kathryn Miles, Broadmoor: A History of the Criminally Insane by David Wilson, The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I by Lindsey Fitzharris, and Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls by Kathleen Hale. All of them were quite good and held my undivided attention.

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  6. Fortunately you’ve not added anything to my list as anything I’ve fancied from your blog I have already seen and put on there! You’re a very good influence on me! I love this month so much: I do read fiction and seem to have read more fiction than nonfic this year, but I love my nonfiction and enjoy being among My People in November.

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    1. It’s such a fun month, isn’t it – book blogging does tend to be very fiction-centric, I’ve noticed, so it’s a wonderful way to celebrate something different for a lot of readers. And I’m glad I didn’t manage to overload your reading list this time! Hope you’ll find a couple of good selections this month though 🙂

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  7. Rennie, we are both “friends” on Goodreads.com…so contact we always be there. If you look on GR…YOU CAN SEE HOW I HAVE KEPT MY REVIEWS…super compact and concise…to-the-point. Perhaps that will help me keep posting. I don’t read reviews that are epistles. I don’t have the time…too many books to read!

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  8. As always, you’ve got a great selection of books here, especially Sergei Medvedev’s book which you’ recommended to me earlier this year. Some of the conspiracy theory books look interesting too, I’m just not sure that’s a rabbit hole I want to tumble into. :-). Thanks!

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  9. I’ve had a good year, too. I often read books about people who move to another place and start their lives over, and I’ve read most of the ones you read this year about people moving to France. I also like to read food memoirs, though I’ve read none of the ones you mention.

    And the exploration of the focus on the self is very interesting…

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  10. Wow, that is quite a list of books with a variety of themes. I hardly read any contemporary nonfiction, but I think I should. I just don’t find it so interesting. Will have to try to go outside my comfort zone. I do have a few more realistic nonfiction on my shelves. Might be able to read one of them this month.

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    1. Oh no, I really hope you can find some contemporary nonfiction that interests you more! I think depending on your interests there’s absolutely something for you. Hopefully Nonfiction November will bring some great recommendations your way!

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  11. I am having serious computer issues so I am behind in peeking through everyone’s posts. I want ALL the counter culture and conspiracy theory books! All of them must be mine! I also want to check out The Reading Cure since I have been struggling with my appetite lately. I want to crave something, you know?

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    1. Ooh, I think The Reading Cure would be perfect for you if you’re struggling with that! She really emphasized the joy in the little things of eating; for her it was warming the butter in the pan to make eggs. Another one you might like is Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up, which is thoughts around eating what you want when you want and listening to your intuition to figure out what that means to you. It helped me put some joy back into cooking, which I’d been struggling with when I read it, even though I *do* enjoy it. We just go through these weird phases!

      And yes, totally on board with you on the conspiracy books – I’m like a magnet to these, I just NEED to understand!!

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