Nonfiction November: Be/Become/Ask the Expert

This week’s Nonfiction November topic is Be / Become / Ask the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

At some point in the mid-1980s, I found A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins in the little closet our church called a library, and reading about his walk across the country in the 1970s captured my imagination in a big way. I studied maps and read about interesting spots in each state as I planned out many variations of cross-country walks. Outside my imagination, I spent a fair amount of time hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was practically in my backyard. During family vacations, I always wanted to walk places because it was such a novelty to be outside my somewhat rural area and in areas where people had sidewalks and things to do and see without driving miles in a car first. Even now, my favorite way to move my body and get outside is to walk with my husband either through our neighborhood or on the greenway near our house.

Be the Expert

It’s probably not a surprise that a book lover who loves walking also loves books about walking, and reading those books has taught me about so many other interesting topics.

Home from Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler and Walkable City by Jeff Speck are just a couple of books that have encouraged an appreciation of city planning. Both of those books talk about people and communities seem happiest when they’re not constantly in traffic going from home to work in an endless loop. Planning for walkability is a big part of creating a sense of community.

Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane, and On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor talk about walking in a historical sense, and I’m always on board for some interesting history. Wanderlust discusses walking’s relationship to culture and politics with a look to how trying to keep women in the home was linked to keeping them out of the musing and wandering that was loved by intellectuals. It was another way to keep women out of the conversation. The Old Ways blends natural history and travel writing as Macfarlane walks ancient paths primarily in England but also some other locations. On Trails begins with Moor’s hike of the Appalachian Trail and thoughts of an American pilgrimage, but then he follows the idea of trails to discussions of animals, shepherding, indigenous trails, and even the trails created on the Internet.

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor was written in the 1970s about the first part of the author’s journey on foot across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in 1933 and 1934. The entire journey is shared across three books, so if you enjoy Fermor’s voice, then you have two more books to walk through with him.

Become the Expert

I’ve shared some of my favorite books related to walking, and now I’d like to mention a couple that are on my radar for future reading. The Last Wilderness: A Journey Into Silence by Neil Ansell is a book about nature and solitude as shared through walks in Scotland and the author’s changing relationship with nature as he loses his hearing. The Salt Path: A Memoir by Raynor Winn describes the journey of a husband and wife who lose their home and decide to walk the South West Coast Path, the longest National Trail in Britain.

Other Experts

I had a whole list of possible subjects for this topic, and food was related to several of those in one way or another, so I’d like to share a couple of other Nonfiction November posts on that topic from Kelly at STACKED and Heather at Based on A True Story. In particular, I heartily second Kelly’s recommendation of The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty and Heather’s suggestion of The Third Plate by Dan Barber. Seeing Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman on Heather’s list made me happy that I’m the next in line for that one on the holds list at my library.

Nonfiction November: Fiction with Nonfiction

How is it already the second week of November? Several library holds came to me sooner than I expected, and they’re all nonfiction, so I’m having a great start to Nonfiction November. I’m currently reading Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals, one of my favorite books.

Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt The fiction in the trio I’m suggesting is Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. June Elbus is a 14-year-old girl in 1980s New York who develops a relationship with her uncle’s boyfriend after her uncle Finn dies from AIDS. I liked the book, but I didn’t love it the way some people in my life have loved it. The conflicts resolved a little too easily for me, and sometimes I felt like the author was checking off a list of references and product placements to make the 1980s setting stronger. June also seemed somehow too old and too young at the same time, but then haven’t we all had that time in our lives at least once where we felt both too old and too young? Maybe that’s actually just a good representation of being 14.

The thing I loved about reading the book was the conversations it created with other readers and the way it highlighted how age matters when thinking about HIV/AIDS. People who were adults in the 1980s have a much different history with HIV than people who were younger or not even born yet. I was born in 1976, and I remember a lot of fear and misunderstanding and ignorance and confusion. At that time, it seemed like being HIV positive was an automatic death sentence, and today, you have people for whom that has never been the case.

Another fiction possibility to go with these books is the more recent The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s about a group of friends, mostly gay men, in Chicago in the mid-to-late 1980s, and I believe it covers more of the long-lasting impact of AIDS on those who were left behind when people died.

The first nonfiction I’d like to suggest is an older title – My Own Country by Abraham Verghese – published in 1994. Dr. Verghese was a rural infectious disease specialist in the 1980s and worked in an area in Tennessee within a hundred miles of my childhood home. He vividly describes the area and talks about how his own views changed as he worked with patients and their families as they dealt with prejudices and fears. I haven’t read this book since first reading it in the 1990s, so it’s possible it might seem a bit dated, but I recall it as a fascinating description of an important slice of time and in a more rural setting than the usual focus of this kind of exploration.

A more recent book about the early days of AIDS in the United States is How to Survive a Plague by David France (2016). It starts in the summer of 1981 as The New York Times reported about a rare cancer observed in homosexuals and ends in 1996 as protease inhibitors were becoming available as a treatment option. David France weaves in some of his personal accounts with the history of the AIDS epidemic in the United States but really focuses on the activists who lobbied for research and better treatment and ultimately saved lives through their efforts.

Here is a quote from How to Survive a Plague that has stuck with me for months:

Nobody left those years uncorrupted by what they’d witnessed, not only the mass deaths — 100,000 lost in New York City alone, snatched from tightly drawn social circles — but also the foul truths that a microscopic virus had revealed about American culture: politicians who welcomed the plague as proof of God’s will, doctors who refused the victims medical care, clergymen and often even parents themselves who withheld all but a shiver of grief. Such betrayal would be impossible to forget in the subsequent years.

Nonfiction November: 2018 So Far

Nonfiction November 2018

I seem to keep coming back to my blog whenever this time of year rolls around because I enjoy Nonfiction November so much. It’s a wide open reading challenge that fits in well with my own desire to read and share more nonfiction. This year’s hosts are Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at Julz Reads, Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves, Katie at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?. Each week, one of the hosts will provide a link-up post with questions. For this first week, the host is Katie at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and we’re looking back at the year so far.

As November starts, I’ve read 26 nonfiction books (20% of my total books read), and most of those have been ebooks I’ve borrowed from my library through Overdrive. At the beginning of the year, I had a loose goal to read at least a couple of nonfiction books each month, and I’m happy to see that I’ve done that. My reading overall dipped quite a bit this summer, but I’ve been back to more typical reading the last couple of months. I’d like to end the year with about 25% of my read books being nonfiction, so that’s probably my main goal for Nonfiction November.


Cover for I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell

I have to say I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell has been my favorite nonfiction so far this year simply because it’s the only one I’ve already read more than once. I don’t normally listen to many audiobooks, but I happened to see this one available at my library right when it was released without a waiting list on Overdrive, so I grabbed it until I could get my hands on either an ebook or physical copy. I listened to all six hours over two days and then read the ebook in one sitting a few weeks later. Some of those stories still pop up in my mind in certain situations, and I go back to my notes to reread passages. I heard of Maggie O’Farrell because of her fiction, but I would definitely recommend this over This Must Be the Place, the only novel of hers I’ve read.

We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall.

Rounding out my top three so far are Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard and The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Both of these books highlight my love of nonfiction that weaves several threads into one story. It’s always fun to see how the different parts will come together as the book progresses.

Most Recommended

The world cannot be understood without numbers, and it cannot be understood with numbers alone.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund is a great book for making you think about how you think about the world and why you think that way. I recommend it not because I think Hans Rosling had all the answers but because I think we’re all better when we think critically about how we take in and use the information thrown at us from every side.

People often call me an optimist, because I show them the enormous progress they didn’t know about. That makes me angry. I’m not an optimist. That makes me sound naive. I’m a very serious “possibilist”. That’s something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview. As a possibilist, I see all this progress, and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic. It is having a clear and reasonable idea about how things are. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful.

Personal Trends

My nonfiction reads this year have been from several topics of interest, but I guess one general trend has been numbers. I’ve read about personal finance, world economics, behavioral economics, and big data statistics though none of those reads have been favorites. The idea of those books seemed to interest me more than the actual content, but I have read and loved books of that type before and will continue to pick up any that sound interesting. I just might need a bit of a break from them right now.


I haven’t read nearly enough nature writing in recent months. I’m craving some memoirs that share personal observations about the natural world and big books about natural history. If it’s about plants and/or animals, then I want it!

Favorite 17 Reads from 2017

From Lab Girl by Hope Jahren on January 1 to Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick on December 31, I read 162 books in 2017. I’ve tried to read more nonfiction in recent years, and I was happy to see that about a quarter (40 books) of what I read this past year was nonfiction. As I looked through my 2017 reads to pick out my favorites, I noticed that about half of them were nonfiction! I intended to go through my initial list of favorites to get a top ten list for the year, but when I saw that I had 17 books, I decided to keep them all for a top 17 in 2017. If I’d shortened the list to 10, I think I probably would have ended up with even a higher percentage of nonfiction.

In no particular order, here are my favorite nonfiction books that I read this year:

  • Blessed are the Misfits – Brant Hansen
    If you’re a Christian who has ever felt too introverted or too analytical or too skeptical for today’s church culture, do yourself a favor and read Brant Hansen’s books. I also recommend his podcast.
  • Hillbilly Elegy – J. D. Vance
    I wouldn’t read this as a way to understand Trump voters, and I’m glad I read this memoir that felt both familiar and foreign to me before I heard that political rationale.
  • Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin
    This was my longest book of the year, and I could have read twice as many pages about Lincoln and his Cabinet. This is one I’ll definitely reread in future years.
  • H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
    I kept hearing this was a book about learning the art of falconry, and I had no interest in it. Then I saw some quotes from the book on social media, and I decided to give it a try. The falconry bits are beautifully shared, and the rest of it being grief memoir mixed with some bits of a T.H. White biography and thoughts about our relationship with nature somehow worked perfectly for me.
  • Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult – Bruce Handy
    This is a nostalgic tumble down the rabbit hole with classic children’s literature. It had my name all over it and lived up to the promise of the subtitle.
  • The Guns of August – Barbara W. Tuchman
    My interest in the world wars came out of nowhere the last few years, and I’m glad I finally read this book about the beginning of WWI. This is one that people always suggested to me when they found out I hadn’t read it.
  • West with the Night – Beryl Markham
    Read this for vivid descriptions of Africa in the early 1900s from a female aviator who was ahead of her time.
  • The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis
    My inner psychology nerd geeked out throughout this study of a friendship that produced research that changed the way we think about how we think.
  • The Vanishing American Adult – Ben Sasse
    I’ve seen this touted as a parenting guide or a way to explain what’s wrong with millennials, but for me, it was more of a reminder to think about why we do what we do and thoughts on how to live intentionally. I enjoyed the entire book, but his section on learning from books and choosing books to revisit throughout life made me think about how I can get more out of my reading.

My favorite fiction reads of 2017:

  • Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson – Lyndsay Faye
    I love Sherlock Holmes, and this book captures him perfectly as far as I’m concerned.
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
    I had no idea I’d enjoy this epic about an Irish gay man’s life so much when I started it.
  • Lure of Oblivion – Suzanne Wright
    I grabbed an advance copy of this before realizing it was the third book in a series. I read it anyway and enjoyed it so much that I then went back and read every book I could find by the author. They were all really good!
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
    I keep reading Taylor Jenkins Reid and never understanding what others love about her books, but this one won me over. I fell in love with Evelyn Hugo and her reflections on the old glamour of Hollywood.
  • Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
    The author describes this as “traveling Shakespearean theatre company in a post-apocalyptic North America”, and that pushed me to finally read it. I loved the way multiple viewpoints were linked together in part through a comic.
  • Radiance – Grace Draven
    This is like someone plucked the perfect fantasy romance template from my brain. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author!
  • Kulti – Mariana Zapata
    This is a romance about professional soccer players, which doesn’t really seem like something I’d like, but it grabbed me with the slow burn romance and grumpy,
    slightly mysterious hero.
  • Making Faces – Amy Harmon
    This romance is sweet and bittersweet with lots to say about appearances, sacrifice, mortality, and friendship.

I spent a good chunk of the year feeling like I wasn’t reading nearly enough books that really spoke to me, but I felt like things got better in the last quarter of the year. My numbers seem to support that feeling because about half of my favorites were read in the last two months of the year. I really need to work at making time for books that sound like ones I’ll love rather than holding off on them and saving them for some other day. Often, the more a book sounds like something I’ll love, the more likely I am to hold it back for years before reading it. It’s like I think I’m prolonging the enjoyment, but I end up irritated because the book doesn’t live up to my long-term anticipation or because I do love it and wish I’d read it sooner.

2017 Reading Goals

Each year, I like to reflect on what did and didn’t work for me the year before, and based on that analysis, I think about some guidelines I want to follow for the upcoming year. At the beginning of 2016, I shared four book-related goals to guide my reading for year. Let’s see how I did.

I set my Goodreads goal at 120 books and thought reducing the number that never really mattered to me anyway would make me focus more on quality over quantity. I wanted to read more of the books I keep saving for a rainy day rather than be distracted by the free books on my Kindle or the latest big thing. This goal was only partially successful because while I read 126 books (less than half what I read in 2015), I’ve managed to finish yet another year without getting to some of the books I still really want to read after years of having them on my shelves. My bad habit of waiting for the perfect time to read and enjoy highly-anticipated books continues to leave me with unread books.

Even though I reduced the overall number of books I wanted to read, I still wanted to read at least one nonfiction book every month, and with the help of Nonfiction November, I can check off that goal. I read 17 nonfiction books in 2016, and two of those (Trace by Lauret Savoy and When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning) were among my favorite books of the year. I’m glad I 100% achieved this goal and enjoyed doing it because my final two goals for 2016 were not successes. I wanted to write more reviews on the blog and thought I’d start by reviewing every book I rated 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads, but I had 22 books in that category and only managed 1 review on the blog. I also wanted to be more active on social media to go along with the increased blog activity (Ha!), and though I now participate in Litsy, Twitter, and Instagram a bit more often, it’s really not enough to call this an achieved goal.

So what will I change in 2017? Not much. I still want to read at least 120 books, read at least one nonfiction book each month, and interact more with other readers. Those basic goals haven’t changed over the past year, but I want to focus more on how I meet those goals. No matter how many books I read, I want to get through more of the books I already own and take the time to read the books I’ve been holding back for some mythical perfect reading time. I’ll also focus on reading more nonfiction that goes a bit deeper into the topics I enjoy. Although I haven’t had great luck writing reviews here on the blog, I will write at least a sentence or two on Goodreads for every book I read, and I’ll post some of those to the blog. I’ll continue to figure out how I want to use social media to talk about books, and I’ll post on Litsy, Twitter, and Instagram when I have something to share.

Looking Back at 2016

You may have noticed that I disappeared about halfway through November. There are lots of reasons for that, but the biggest one was my mom. She spent over twice as many days in the hospital in November than she had been in the hospital in all of her previous 67 years. It was a big shock for all of us, and getting two phone calls from my dad in which he said things like “if she makes it through the night” were the worst moments of the year for me. She is still dealing with lingering issues, but the outlook is definitely more positive now than it was a month ago.

A trip to California took up about half of December, and planning for the trip felt like it took up the other half of the month. It was good to see family we hadn’t seen for a while, but it was a little stressful, and I felt some guilt about not being with my side of the family so soon after Mom’s illness.

We’re now in a new year and in one of my favorite months of the year, so I want to briefly touch base on where I was at in 2016 before I share my plans for 2017. I left off while still participating in Nonfiction November, and I’m happy to say that I did read 4 nonfiction books during the month as I’d planned. As an aside, I’ve decided to discontinue participation in the winter book challenge that I’d been planning to do at that time.

The 4 nonfiction books I read in November were not the same ones I listed in my November challenges post. I read Victoria by Julia Baird for the New category, The Way to the Spring by Ben Ehrenreich for the Controversial category, Trace by Lauret Savoy for the Important category, and Good Prose by Tracy Kidder for the Fascinating Category. Those were all thanks to my local library system’s use of Overdrive as I traveled back and forth between my current town and my hometown multiple times. Trace was a total impulse choice based on the pretty cover and ended up being one of my favorite books of the year.

Even before the last two months of the year, I noticed that most of the books I was reading were perfectly fine and enjoyable but not standing out in my mind once I put them down. Perhaps because of that, I read about half as many books in 2016 as I did in 2015. My Goodreads goal was 120 books, and I went a bit past that by reading 126 books, but as I mentioned, few of the books stuck with me. Two of my top reads of the year were rereads, which is unusual for me, and I’ve starred both of those in the following list of my top 10 reads.

  • * Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
  • When Books Went to War – Molly Guptill Manning (nonfiction)
  • The Sea of Tranquility – Katja Millay
  • * Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery
  • A Curious Beginning – Deanna Raybourn
  • The Obsession – Nora Roberts
  • Rooftoppers – Katherine Rundell
  • Trace – Lauret Savoy (nonfiction)
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

My next post will be a look at how well I did with my 2016 resolutions and what I’m planning for 2017.

Nonfiction November: Book Pairing

This week’s prompt for Nonfiction November comes from Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves.

Pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I’ll start with one of my favorite books, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The World State has create a stable global society by making citizens so happy and superficially fulfilled that they don’t care about personal freedom. Henry Ford has become such an important figure because of the popularization of assembly lines that people use Ford in phrases the way some people in our society use Lord, such as the year of our Ford. Interestingly, Henry Ford tried to create a colony called Fordlandia in Brazil just a few years before Huxley wrote his novel, and you can read about Ford’s attempts in Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin. As a bonus nonfiction pick, Aldous Huxley wrote a collection of essays under the title Brave New World Revisited about 25 years after writing Brave New World in which he took a look at how society had either moved away from or toward the society he imagined in his fiction.

My next pairing is another in which the same author wrote both works. If you only know John Steinbeck’s fiction, I recommend reading his nonfiction. East of Eden is a fictional story about the intertwining lives of the Trasks and the Hamiltons in Salinas Valley in California, and Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters is a collection of daily letters he wrote to a friend as he was writing the novel. Getting a glimpse into Steinbeck’s life and his writing process adds a lot to the experience of reading East of Eden.

Another favorite of mine is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I first read it years ago as a teenager, but I had no idea that part of it may have been based on the life of the author’s own father until I read The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. Alex Dumas, the father of Alexandre Dumas, was born in Haiti, the son of a marquis and a slave, and he was briefly sold into slavery by his own father before eventually being brought to France and enlisting in the army. This biography is a fascinating look at both the man and the country for which he fought.

images of book covers for Nonfiction November Book Pairings

I recently read The Proud Tower by Barbara W. Tuchman, which is a collection of essays about society and government in the early 20th century before World War I, and it reminded me so much of Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. I guess any novel about the start of the 20th century would pair well with The Proud Tower, but Fall of Giants covers a lot of the same ground because it’s an epic story about five families from the United States of America, Germany, Russia, England, and Wales.

Last week I posted about the Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge 2016, and one of the categories for the challenge is a nonfiction/fiction pairing, so I thought I’d also include my selections for that. I’ll be reading The Golden Age of Murder, a history of a network of crime writers known as the Detection Club, by Martin Edwards and The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first book featuring Hercule Poirot, by Agatha Christie, one of the members of the Detection Club.

Winter 2016 Book Challenge: The Preliminary List

Last year, I participated in a winter book challenge to finish out the year and really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d do the same thing this year. The Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge includes 10 categories with assigned point values, and because a couple of categories include 2 books, there’s a total of 12 books to read between November 1, 2016 and January 31, 2017.

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 150 pages long.
My selection: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

10 points: Read a 2016 finalist (longlist or shortlist) for one of the following literary prizes: National Book Award, Man Booker or Man Booker International.
My selection: Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild (National Book Award finalist for nonfiction)

10 points: Read a brand-new release (something published between November 1, 2016, and January 31, 2017).
My selection: Faithful by Alice Hoffman (release date: Nov. 1)

15 points: Read a book by an author of a different race or religion than you.
My selection: Nirzona by Abidah El Khalieqy (Muslim Indonesian) and translated by Annie Tucker

15 points: Read a book featuring a main character who is of a different race or religion than you.
My selection: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (One of the characters is biracial, with Portuguese and Swahili parents.)

20 points: Read a modern retelling of a classic.
My selection: Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid (This has mixed reviews, but I just reread Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen a couple of months ago and enjoyed it so much that a retelling of that story appeals to me. I quite like Val McDermid’s mysteries/thrillers, so I’m hoping this will work for me even though it sounds like it didn’t work for a lot of readers.)

25 points: Read a book with an alcoholic beverage (neat or cocktail) in the title.
My selection: The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward

30 points: Read a book with a character that shares your first or last name.
My selection: Lady Brandy by Claudette Williams (This was a hard one! I was saved by my mom who happened to find this book at a thrift shop and picked it up as a surprise for me because of the title. Otherwise, I probably would have gone with the first book in the Brandy Alexander mystery series by Shelly Fredman because that seemed like the only option.)

30 points: Read two books: a nonfiction book and a fiction book with which it connects.
My selections: The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (This is a book about the Detection Club, the world’s most famous social network of crime writers, that included Agatha Christie as a member.) and The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (This is her first published novel and introduces Hercule Poirot.)

40 points: Read two books: one by an author whose first name is the same as the last name of the author of the other book.
My selections: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas and Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

November Book Challenges

One of my reading resolutions last year and this year was to read at least one nonfiction book every month, and I’m always looking for more nonfiction to read, so a book challenge that only deals with nonfiction gets my attention. I follow Olive from abookolive on YouTube, and that’s where I first heard about Nonfiction November, a reading challenge she hosts with Gemma from Non Fic Books. This is the second year for the challenge, and while they’re emphasizing that it’s really about encouraging people to read more nonfiction than they normally would in a month, they have shared four broad categories to guide book selections: New, Fascinating, Controversial, and Important.


The New category can be interpreted in many ways such as a new release, a book you’ve recently acquired, or a topic that is new to you. My selection is Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. It was released in June 2016, so it’s a fairly new release, and I just got my hands on it a couple of days ago from my local library, so it’s definitely new to me. Anything described as part memoir and part analysis of the Appalachian region is going to get my attention, and after just reading the introduction earlier today, I think I picked well.


The Fascinating category is probably the easiest one because any book, author, or topic you find fascinating is eligible. This is the pick that’s the most subject to change according to my mood as the month progresses, but right now, I think I’ll be reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards. I became aware of this book when it won an Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America in the best critical/biographical category earlier this year. The subject is detective fiction between World War I and World War II and the writing group known as the Detection Club that included Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and many other well-known writers.


Anything that might spark a debate or result in differing opinions can fit this category, and it can range from a biography of a person who people either love or hate to a book that has a title or cover that might raise some eyebrows. I’m choosing Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell. Thomas Sowell is an American economist and social commentator, and I think anyone outspoken on those topics is going to be a little controversial, and this book’s topic of how public opinion is shaped and the consequences of that shaping can also result in a heated debate. I’m looking forward to finally reading the hardcover edition that’s been on my shelf for years.


Like the other categories, this one leaves a lot of room for making a selection. People may read something to improve their lives at work or at home, to foster a new habit they want to establish, or to become a more educated and informed person. I’ll be reading What Have We Done by David Wood about the emotional trauma military veterans bring home with them after multiple deployments in long wars. I think it’s important to have an understanding of the human cost of war and to listen to those people who have served our country to the detriment of their own lives and families. We can’t be blind to their sacrifices even if we can’t see the wounds with our eyes.

Nonfiction November 2016

While browsing the hashtag #NonfictionNovember2016 on Twitter, I came across a blog-centered event with the same name using the hashtag #NonficNov, and it looked so interesting that I thought I’d participate a bit in that as well. It’s probably a better fit for me as I have a blog but no YouTube channel. I don’t think I’ll ever be much more than an interested BookTube lurker, but I’d definitely like to revive my blog. The hosts who will be providing weekly discussion posts are:

The first week’s discussion post asks us to reflect on the following questions.

  • What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?
  • What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
  • What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?
  • What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Favorite Nonfiction Read

While I normally struggle to name my favorite anything unless we’re discussing colors (purple!), I can easily state that my favorite nonfiction of 2016 has been When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning. It’s a quick read about the history of the Armed Services Edition (ASE), a line of books specifically designed for members of the American military during World War II. The mix of social history, book design, publishing, and World War II worked so well for me. I can understand the criticism I’ve heard about it being a better topic for an article rather than an entire book, but I was never bored by the extra material that some people consider extraneous like the early book drives and donations from the public.

Another reason that this has to be called my favorite is that it reignited my interest in the works that were republished as ASEs like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and drove me to other nonfiction about World War II. The bulk of my nonfiction reading has been related to World War II in some way this year, and that’s largely due to this book. Also, it was one of those books where I was constantly stopping to read some fact out loud to my husband, and we had some great conversations about the topic even though he has yet to read the book.

Most Recommended Nonfiction

Whenever I hear someone talking about the website FiveThirtyEight and election predictions, I find myself suggesting Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise because his book has some great discussion of the statistical principles behind the analysis.

Nonfiction to Explore

I have physical and virtual shelves filled with books that cover a variety of topics that could be lumped under the general label of natural history, and I would love to make those a priority in the coming months.

Hopes for Nonfiction November

I don’t think my hopes for Nonfiction November are different from the majority of responses I’ve read so far. I hope to find several more books to add to my TBR stacks, discover new blogs to follow, and make connections with other readers through their blogs and social media. I’ve already made progress on those first two items.

Beyond Nonfiction

My next post will probably contain a list of the books I plan to read for the Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge. I missed the summer challenge, but I’m definitely returning for my second winter challenge.

Audiobook Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

I’ve been listening to a variety of audiobooks as I try to figure out what does and doesn’t work for me. So far, I’m much more likely to be able to pay attention to nonfiction in that format, but every once in a while, I hit upon a fiction winner. A recent one was Rooftoppers, a middle grade novel written by Katherine Rundell and read by Nicola Barber.

As soon as I heard Nicola Barber read the first sentence, I was hooked on the story.

“On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.”

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

That baby is picked up by the scholar Charles Maxim, fellow passenger from the wrecked ship Queen Mary, and he names her Sophie. He becomes her guardian despite the disapproval of the National Childcare Agency (NCA) and surrounds Sophie with music and books while saying “you should never ignore a possible”. Twelve years later, the NCA say they must find a new placement because it’s time for Sophie to learn to be a young lady, and Sophie decides she needs to find her long-lost mother. That decision moves the action from London to Paris and introduces us to the rooftoppers from the book’s title.

Charles and Sophie have such a lovely relationship that I wish I could have heard even more of their conversations. Nicola Barber’s voices and accents for all the characters were so engaging that I was shocked by how quickly the time passed as I listened. Sophie reminded me of Pippi Longstocking with her spunky nature and way of interacting with the world, and Charles came across as a delightfully dotty British bachelor. They were a whimsical pair, and I loved spending time with them.


“I know these sorts of people. They’re not men. They’re mustaches with idiots attached.”

“You have been the great green adventure of my life. Without you my days would be unlit.”

“She hated official letters. They made her feel nervous. The people who wrote them sounded like they had filing cabinets where their hearts should be.”

“Perhaps, she thought, that’s what love does. It’s not there to make you feel special. It’s to make you brave. It was like a ration pack in the desert, she thought, like a box of matches in a dark wood. Love and courage, thought Sophie — two words for the same thing.”