I don’t know why I’m continuously surprised when the end of the month is here. You’d think I’d know better by now. But November is now over and I’m still not quite sure how it’s already December!
Anyways, as you might remember, I participated in Nonfiction November last month. How did it go? Well, not quite as well as I had hoped, but I definitely read more nonfiction than usual, so overall I’d say it was a success!
I started the month off by reading one of the books on my TBR, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson. I really enjoyed this! It was definitely funny, and I was so entertained by some parts that I insisted on reading them out loud to my husband, which I don’t do often. It was a really interesting look at Lawson’s life and what it’s like to live with severe depression and other mental illnesses.
I will say, it felt a bit all over the place. To an extent, I think that’s part of her personality, but it threw me off some when I was reading. And I didn’t think there was much of a narrative arc to the book, which I think would have made this memoir stronger. But overall I really enjoyed it, and I can see why it’s such a popular book. I definitely recommend it!
At the same time, I started listening to the audiobook of In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero. Guerrero was one of the main characters in Orange Is the New Black, though I personally never watched the show. Instead, I was drawn to this memoir because it talks about her family’s deportation when she was in high school and how that impacted her life. It was supposed to last me all month, but I wound up being able to listen to a lot of it while doing a project at work, so I got through it unusually quickly.
Unfortunately this was not one of the stronger memoirs I’ve read. I thought it was rather poorly written and often found it simplistic and overly neat. I also thought Guerrero’s narration of the book was rather stilted and that her personality didn’t really come through. While I learned more about her story, I didn’t feel like I really got to know her.
However, don’t let those things stop you from reading this book. It was a really, really powerful read that I highly recommend. It really puts a personal spin on the often impersonal topic that is immigration and makes it more real why and how someone would immigrate to the US illegally (in case it wasn’t real enough already). I really can’t recommend this story enough and think it’s an incredibly important read.
After being disappointed in the writing of In the Country We Love, I decided to pick up Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me by Janet Mock because I really enjoyed her first memoir, Redefining Realness, and know she’s a good writer. As expected, it was well written, but I just didn’t enjoy this one as much as Redefining Realness. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it just wasn’t as interesting to me. Maybe because I just wasn’t as invested in her relationship with her ex-husband and going so in-depth in it? I’m not sure. It was still an interesting read, but it didn’t quite blow me away the way Redefining Realness did.
Those three are actually the only ones I completely finished in November, though I’m also more than three-quarters of the way through Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII by Chester Nez. I wound up making this my audiobook after finishing In the Country We Love, and while I didn’t quite finish it in November, I’m sure I’ll wrap it up here in early December.
This is another memoir that doesn’t have the strongest writing—it really irks me when Nez tells stories in the present tense and gives dialogue to himself and other people. I’d really rather the whole thing be told as a recollection. That said, I think the content of this book is fascinating. It’s so interesting to learn more about Navajo culture and how the Navajo code was developed and what it was like to serve in World War II, especially as a minority who doesn’t even have the right to vote. It’s such an important part of history, and while the writing sometimes distracts me, overall I think this is definitely worth reading if you’re interested.
It’s really cool to read this in the context of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, which is also about the Pacific theater during World War II, but instead focuses on what it was like to be held in a Japanese POW camp (conversely, Nez happens to mention that Japanese POWs were treated really well by the Americans, which is something I wondered about when reading Unbroken and that I hope is true). I also read Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse earlier this year, which is a post-apocolyptic story involving Navajo gods and myth, and it’s been really cool making connections between elements of that story and some of the Navajo culture I’m learning about in Code Talker. So yeah, overall I’m really enjoying this book.
I almost shouldn’t even count this because I read so little, but I did read a few essays of Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay. I mentioned this is my December TBR, but I’m kind of considering DNFing this book, which I actually had no plans to do when I initially put this down to take a bit of a break. I just didn’t like the essays I happened to read when I went back into it and thought they were too abstract and literary, and couldn’t really remember what I had gotten out of the first 100 pages or so. I think I’m going to keep going, though, and try to get through a few more essays before I write this off. I haven’t been disappointed in a single piece of Roxane Gay nonfiction yet, so I have hope that I’ll wind up being blown away by this essay collection she edited. (Thanks to the bookaholic dreamer for encouraging me to keep going!)
And finally, I started The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects by Richard Kurin towards the end of the month. My mother-in-law gifted it to me at Thanksgiving, and it sounded like it was right up my alley, so I started reading it almost right away and got about 50 pages in before the end of the month. Basically, as the title suggests, this book looks at the history of the United States through the lens of 101 objects in the Smithsonian’s collection. It’s got a lot of fun facts and interesting information about the various objects and their context in history, and it’s a really cool read so far. It’s a really long book, but it’s also got tons of pictures of the various objects, so I think this will wind up being a pretty fast read.
So yeah, I had a decent Nonfiction November, though I’m disappointed I didn’t get to City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence or the first half of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles.
However, Nonfiction November has definitely helped remind me how much I enjoy nonfiction, and I’m sure I’ll be circling in more nonfiction that I have in the last few months. I’ll definitely be finishing all of the books I didn’t quite wrap up in November, plus my audiobook loan on We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby just came through, and I’m probably going to use an Audible credit soon to pick up Becoming by Michelle Obama. And I’ve just got some really cool nonfiction books on my TBR that I need to get through already so I can scoop up all of the new nonfiction books I added to my TBR this past month!
How did your Nonfiction November go? Do you have plans to pick up any of the books I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments!