It’s almost time for Nonfiction November! In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a monthlong readathon hosted by Olive at abookolive and Gemma at Non Fic Books. You can check out their announcement videos here and here and join the Goodreads group here.
The primary goal of Nonfiction November is to get you to read more nonfiction than you normally do! I believe the hosts are planning to read exclusively nonfiction, and they have four topics prepared for those who are interested in challenging themselves: home, substance, love, and scholarship. If you never read nonfiction, you can totally participate by just picking up one nonfiction book! I personally tend to read two or three nonfiction books per month, but I’m hoping to bump that up to four or five in November.
Below is Part 1 of some of my favorite nonfiction books that are currently on my shelves; I was only planning to do one post, but it got pretty long, so I’m splitting it into two! So keep an eye out next week for more recommendations for Nonfiction November
If You’re Dipping Your Toes Into Nonfiction
These are a few books that I think are really easy to read if you’re not used to reading much nonfiction, though I think even more experienced nonfiction readers might enjoy checking these out if they haven’t already. They’re some of my favorites.
Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Notorious RBG is a great place to start with nonfiction. It’s a look at the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg inspired by the Tumblr that gave her the nickname Notorious RBG. Drawing on reporting, annotated opinions, and photos, the book puts together a unique look at the famous Supreme Court justice. It even includes a copy of the octogenarian’s workout routine!
I didn’t expect this book to have much content when I picked it up, I just love RBG and thought this book sounded fun. Honestly though, I’m not sure I would have bought it if the authors hadn’t been doing a book signing right across the street from my office. I’m so glad I went, though. Yes, this book is a ton of fun, but you also learn a lot about RBG and what she’s accomplished. As a millennial, I actually didn’t realize how recently women didn’t have a number of the rights we have today, and RBG is a key part of the reason that we do. This book does a great job mixing RBG’s status as a pop culture icon with her personal history and the opinions she’s written on the Supreme Court. I’m officially super obsessed with this book!
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Another good place to start with nonfiction is Outliers. Really any Gladwell book is great, but this is the first one I read and I still think it’s one of my favorites. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Outliers tells the story of success and how there’s a lot more to it than simply hard work, as American culture might have you believe. Gladwell looks closely at a number of people, including Bill Gates and the Beatles, to show how oft-overlooked factors contributed to their success.
I really enjoyed how Outliers challenged you to reexamine the world around you and question what you think you know. Gladwell takes something you thought you already knew and then turns it completely on its head. And he does it over and over again to really drive it home and show you that there’s more to the world around you than what you might think. Plus he does all of this in such an engaging way. He really is a masterful storyteller and I enjoy his storytelling, in addition to learning a lot from reading his books.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
This is another book that’s popular for a reason: it’s just a fun read! Freakonomics is a blend of pop culture and economics, putting a fun spin on the so-called dismal science. “What’s more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? How much do parents really matter?” are only a few of the questions the book addresses.
Freakonomics is a wild ride and a lot of fun to read. It’s also really interesting as, in the vein of Outliers, it challenges you to reevaluate the world around you and what you think you know. It also gets you questioning more how things work. This book is incredibly entertaining in addition to being really informative, and if you like it, be sure to check out the sequel, Superfreakonomics!
If You Like Memoirs
It’s only recently that I’ve realized that I enjoy a good memoir, which is interesting because I read some of these several years ago. Memoirs are such a great way to learn about lives and experiences that are different from your own, and in some cases, to get a firsthand perspective on world events. I’m excited to start reading more in the future, but if you haven’t read any or are looking for more recommendations, I think these three are good ones.
Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi
Iran Awakening is the really powerful memoir of Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. Raised before the Revolution of 1979, Ebadi went to law school and became the first female judge in Iran before religious authorities declared women unfit to serve as judges. She then fought her way back into the courtroom as a human rights lawyer defending women and children, taking on politically charged cases that most lawyers refused to touch. As a result, Ebadi has been the target of assassination attempts and today lives in exile from her homeland.
This is definitely a must read for those interested in human rights, feminist issues, and Iran. I actually haven’t read it in several years and would really like to reread it. I also want to pick up Ebadi’s second memoir, Until We Are Free.
An Imperfect Offering by James Orbinski
I actually bought An Imperfect Offering in college when the author visited, and then proceeded to leave it on my shelf for years. When I finally picked up a year or so ago, I couldn’t put it down. An Imperfect Offering is a memoir written by James Orbinski, who was the head of Doctors Without Borders when it accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.
Anyone who is interested in humanitarian work should absolutely read this book, but what I was so drawn to was Orbinski’s personal account of what he saw during the Rwandan genocide. It’s horrifying and I can’t believe that people can do to one another what they did during the Rwandan genocide, though the reality is that it’s nothing new and has happened again since then. But it’s important to see some of the worst of humanity and remember that we’re all people. And An Imperfect Offering helps bring light to a war that I knew very little about before picking it up. It was such an impactful read for me, and I highly recommend it.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
I actually didn’t know much about Amy Poehler before reading this book other than that I loved her depiction of Hilary Clinton in her infamous 2008 skit with Tina Fey. I’d heard that the book dealt with a lot of feminist themes, which is what ultimately persuaded me to pick it up. I thought Yes Please was a really interesting read about Poehler’s career and how women have been making strides in comedy, and it was a really fun read. She had a lot of great insight that added a layer of depth to her story that made it an even more interesting read. I actually listened to this on audiobook, which I highly recommend, and enjoyed it so much that I went out and bought a physical copy of it.
If You Like History
I enjoy history books even though they can be slower reads, but I think these three stand out to me for being both very informative and really engaging to read. I highly recommend checking out all three!
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen
This book is a classic for a reason: Larsen does an amazing job of weaving together the stories of the Chicago World’s Fair and murderer H.H. Holmes. “Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both,” promises the blurb for The Devil in the White City, and I think that’s exactly right.
The premise of this book might not sound the most interesting, but Larsen does an incredible job weaving together Holmes’ and architect Daniel H. Burnham’s stories and making you invested in what happens. The amount of research put into this book is mind-boggling, but it never felt like a chore to read. Years later, I’m still amazed at how often I’ve encountered references to Burnham and Holmes while reading about other things. It’s definitely a book I would recommend.
If you’ve already read this book, I highly encourage you to check out Larsen’s other works. I’m a particularly big fan of In the Garden of Beasts, which recounts the story of the American ambassador to Germany’s daughter in the years leading up to World War II. It’s a really unique take on a time period that many people already know much about, and I can’t recommend it enough.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
The Boys in the Boat is the story of the University of Washington’s eight-oar rowing team and their path to the 1936 Olympics. From the depth of the Great Depression, this team of working-class boys overcame impossible odds to beat the elite rowing teams of the east and secure a berth in the Olympics, where they competed against the Germans under the watchful eye of Adolf Hitler.
This book came into my possession because my mother-in-law gave a copy to my husband since he rowed in college. He has zero interest in reading about rowing, though, so I picked it up because I’m always interested in reading more about World War II, plus I love a good sports story. This book didn’t disappoint. It sucked me in really quickly, and I became very invested in learning more about the University of Washington rowing team and their path to the Olympics. Brown did an incredible job of bringing this little-known story to light, and I highly recommend it.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
Seabiscuit is another great underdog sports story, recounting the tale of the racehorse Seabiscuit — as well as his owner, trainer, and jockey — and how he became the greatest racehorse in history.
Don’t let the subject of horseracing put you off of picking up this incredible book. I avoided it for a long time because I just didn’t care about horses, but once I finally started this book, I raced right through it (pun intended). You do learn a lot about horseracing, but Hillenbrand does a good job of keeping it interesting, and she does an amazing job of recounting the individual races and making them incredibly suspenseful. I was on the edge of my seat for half of this book! I was also impressed by how much personality Seabiscuit had and how well Hillenbrand conveyed that. I thought this was an excellent read and definitely recommend picking it up if you’re interested in a great nonfiction book, an inspiring story, and a unique piece of history. I recently started reading Hillenbrand’s other book, Unbroken, and am excited to see how she handles a much different topic.
Alright, I think this is a good place to take a breather before I hit you with a bunch more recommendations in Part II! As you might have gathered, I really enjoy nonfiction and don’t think it gets enough love, so I’m very excited to take part in Nonfiction November.
Are you planning to participate in Nonfiction November? Have any of these books caught your eye, or have you read them already? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to keep an eye out for Part II next week!