Thursday, October 24, 2019

Discussion: Nonfiction November Recommendations

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It’s almost Nonfiction November, which means that book lovers all over the world are putting together their reading lists. Are you ready to spend a whole month reading true stories? Nonfiction often gets a bad reputation because it’s associated with tedious crap, like work, school, and buying insurance. However, nonfiction can be just as weird and wonderful as fiction. Here are ten narrative nonfiction books that I enjoyed. You’ll learn something while you’re reading them, but you’ll never feel like you’re being educated.

Nonfiction November Recommendations

1. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

Memoir / Humor

In Furiously Happy, a humor memoir tinged with just enough tragedy and pathos to make it worthwhile, Jenny Lawson examines her own experience with severe depression and a host of other conditions, and explains how it has led her to live life to the fullest.

Why I love it: It's hilarious! I also found it relatable because I have depression, just like the author. We both cope with it by laughing at the absurdity of the world. This is a must-read if you have a mental illness or just want to understand depression better.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

True Crime

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. At the center of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human.

Why I love it: It's a classic for a reason: It reads like fiction. The story of the crime is intense, riveting, and completely chilling. Capote has done so much research that the reader really gets to know the "characters." This is a book you'll never forget.

3. Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg And The Secret History Of The Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

History / Biography

In 1964, Daniel Ellsberg was one of the Pentagon insiders helping to plan a war in Vietnam. The mountainous Asian country had long been a clandestine front in America's Cold War with the Soviet Union. The U.S. Government would do anything to stop the spread of communism—with or without the consent of the American people.

But as the fighting in Vietnam escalated, Ellsberg turned against the war. He had access to a top-secret government report known as the Pentagon Papers and knew it could blow the lid off of years of government lies. But did he have the right to expose decades of presidential secrets? And could one man, alone, face the wrath of the government?

This is the story of the seven bloody years that transformed Daniel Ellsberg from a government insider into "the most dangerous man in America," and of the storm that would follow when the secrets of the Vietnam War were finally known.

Why I love it: Don't let the boring suit man fool you, this book is wild. The pace moves like a pulse-pounding thriller, and the author doesn't leave out the scandalous (and slightly gory) details. This is definitely not a dry history textbook. It'll keep you up past bedtime and make you lose faith in politicians. (If you haven't lost faith in those already.)

4. Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt

Science / History

For centuries scientists have written off cannibalism as a bizarre phenomenon with little biological significance. Its presence in nature was dismissed as a desperate response to starvation or other life-threatening circumstances, and few spent time studying it. A taboo subject in our culture, the behavior was portrayed mostly through horror movies or tabloids sensationalizing the crimes of real-life flesh-eaters. But the true nature of cannibalism—the role it plays in evolution as well as human history—is even more intriguing (and more normal) than the misconceptions we've come to accept as fact.

In Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, zoologist Bill Schutt sets the record straight, debunking common myths and investigating our new understanding of cannibalism's role in biology, anthropology, and history in the most fascinating account yet written on this complex topic. Schutt takes readers from Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains, where he wades through ponds full of tadpoles devouring their siblings, to the Sierra Nevadas, where he joins researchers who are shedding new light on what happened to the Donner Party—the most infamous episode of cannibalism in American history. He even meets with an expert on the preparation and consumption of human placenta (and, yes, it goes well with Chianti).

Why I love it: I learned a ton about animals and our human ancestors. It gave me nightmares about dying from mad cow disease, which was unpleasant, but if I'm thinking about a book in my sleep, it must be doing something right. The author has a humorous, lively writing style and examines cannibalism from a scientific point-of-view instead of a sensational one. This is one of the best educational books I've ever read.

5. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Psychology / Sociology

For the past three years, Jon Ronson has traveled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us. People who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they're being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.

A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people's faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.

Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You've Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws and the very scary part we all play in it.

Why I love it: If you use social media, this is required reading. Twitter would be a kinder place if everybody got a copy of this book when they signed up. It will make you rethink how you interact with strangers online. This book was life changing for me.

6. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

Biography / Adventure

In August of 1914, the British ship Endurance set sail for the South Atlantic. In October 1915, still half a continent away from its intended base, the ship was trapped, then crushed in the ice. For five months, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men, drifting on ice packs, were castaways in one of the most savage regions of the world.

Lansing describes how the men survived a 1,000-mile voyage in an open boat across the stormiest ocean on the globe and an overland trek through forbidding glaciers and mountains. The book recounts a harrowing adventure, but ultimately it is the nobility of these men and their indefatigable will that shines through.

Why I love it: It's a testament to human courage and human stupidity. Also, it's a highly entertaining adventure. There's tension and many moments of near-disaster. You'll constantly find yourself saying, "How did they survive that?"

7. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin


In the Deep South of the 1950s, journalist John Howard Griffin decided to cross the color line. Using medication that darkened his skin to deep brown, he exchanged his privileged life as a Southern white man for the disenfranchised world of an unemployed black man. His audacious, still chillingly relevant eyewitness history is a work about race and humanity that in this new millennium still has something important to say to every American.

Why I love it: If you're interested in US history, you need to read this book. It's an eye-opening peek into the day-to-day challenges that Black Americans faced in the 1950s. You'll realize that we still have a long way to go when it comes to equality and racism.

8. Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Children's Memoir

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.

At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls—all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school.

In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.

Why I love it: This is a children's book, so you can finish it quickly if you're behind on your Nonfiction November goal. You will fall in love with Margaret. She's tenacious, imaginative, and won't let anyone bring her down. As someone who was bullied in school, I could relate to her experiences. I'll be passing this book on to my niece when she's old enough to appreciate it.

9. The Stranger In the Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

Biography / Psychology

In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food. Living in a tent even through brutal winters, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store edibles and water, and to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions, taking only what he needed but terrifying a community never able to solve the mysterious burglaries. Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life—why did he leave? What did he learn?—as well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.

Why I love it: Have you ever wanted to leave your entire life behind, walk into the woods, and live alone forever? Then, this book is for you! It chronicles the lives of real hermits, modern and historical. It's a fascinating look at the psychology of extreme introverts.

10. The Sound Of Gravel: A Memoir by Ruth Wariner 


Ruth Wariner was the thirty-ninth of her father’s forty-two children. Growing up on a farm in rural Mexico, where authorities turned a blind eye to the practices of her community, Ruth lives in a ramshackle house without indoor plumbing or electricity. At church, preachers teach that God will punish the wicked by destroying the world and that women can only ascend to Heaven by entering into polygamous marriages and giving birth to as many children as possible. After Ruth's father—the man who had been the founding prophet of the colony—is brutally murdered by his brother in a bid for church power, her mother remarries, becoming the second wife of another faithful congregant.

In need of government assistance and supplemental income, Ruth and her siblings are carted back and forth between Mexico and the United States, where her mother collects welfare and her stepfather works a variety of odd jobs. Ruth comes to love the time she spends in the States, realizing that perhaps the community into which she was born is not the right one for her. As Ruth begins to doubt her family’s beliefs and question her mother’s choices, she struggles to balance her fierce love for her siblings with her determination to forge a better life for herself.

Why I love it: You won't believe this story is true. Parts of it are so wild that you'll have to keep reminding yourself that you're reading a memoir. It'll break your heart, but you'll admire the author's optimism. Even though she lived through horrible abuse, she doesn't wallow in self-pity.

What are your favorite nonfiction books?


  1. I’ve read a few of those, I loved Furiously Happy too.
    I’d recommend The Soul of an Octopus by Sky Montgomery, Five Days at Memorial by Sherri Fink and Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

  2. I've read the picture book version of Fatty Legs (it's titled When I Was Eight) but really need to get around to reading the original.

  3. Ooo I don't read a lot of nonfiction so this is a great list! I'll have to check these out :D

  4. Great list. I've read "In Cold Blood" and "Endurance," both great books. I will have to add that shaming book to my tbr pile!.

  5. I have seen other people write very nice things about Fatty Legs. I think it was Wendy, who first put that book on my radar. The only non-fiction I usually read are science books. I like them.

  6. I've heard of a couple of these. I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but the one I did read, A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir by Ian Buruma was interesting.

  7. I read a lot of nonfiction, but I've never read In Cold Blood! Endurance looks really good, too!

  8. I've been meaning to read Furiously Happy for years now. Thanks for the reminder - I just downloaded the audio from my library.

    Karen @ For What It's worth

  9. Fatty Legs, and The Sound of Gravel both sound interesting! I was not aware of these titles, so thanks for the heads up! 📚✨

  10. I think I've seen you talk about almost all of these before. I'm not normally a non-fiction readers, but every once in a while I like to dive into it, so I always appreciate these sorts of lists!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  11. I read and enjoyed Endurance, and Furiously Happy is still lurking on my TBR at the moment. I will get round to it at some point. For great non fiction over the years I've enjoyed a lot of stuff-Wild Swans, Into Thin Air, No Way Down: Life and Death on K2, Look Who It Is (Alan Carr), The Killing of a President, Dark Summit, Harry Potter Page to Screen, lots of political and disaster books too.

  12. I have Furiously Happy to hopefully read soon, and I loved So You've Been Publicly Shamed. I really do like nonfiction, and I was thinking of trying to read a few in November.


  13. Wow 42 children. It's a blessing they were all born but wow!!!!!!!!!!

  14. I haven't read a lot of nonfiction, but this list is making me want to! My favorite nonfiction book is Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

  15. One of these days I will get around to reading Furiously Happy! I've been wanting to pick it up ever since your review. The Stranger in the Woods is another one I'm curious about. Thanks for the recommendations!

  16. I enjoyed Cannibalism and have Most Dangerous on my tbr list. I think that out of all the non-fiction that I have read The Cowboy and His Elephant might be my favorite.

  17. These all sound fascinating. I've read a couple, and there are several more I would like to read. Thanks for sharing your favorites with us.

  18. I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but I've heard so many great things about Furiously Happy, I'll have to give it a try :D

  19. Ok... why would you need non-fiction to buy insurance though...? Slightly confused! Lol.

  20. I own the first two and I'm looking forward to read them!

  21. A lot of these are new to me and a few of them look interesting, especially Black Like Me. I will have to go check it out on Goodreads. I have wanted to read Furiously Happy for some time now. I should see about getting a copy somewhere D:

    Olivia-S @ Olivia's Catastrophe

  22. My favorite by far is "Rocket Boys" by Homer Hickham