The Gift of Reading Non-Fiction

If you have non-fiction readers on your gift giving list, you have many books to choose from this year.

In the biography category, artists will undoubted appreciate Ninth Street Women: Five Painters and The Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel. Young sports aficionados will be inspired by Open Heart, Open Mind by Canadian Olympian and advocate for mental health Clara Hughes. And memoir lovers with an interest in politics will enjoy Michelle Obama’s Becoming Michelle which details her journey from working class Chicago to the White House.

For the coffee drinker who loves to travel, consider The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. A gripping account of a 24-year-old Yemeni American man, raised in San Francisco, who dreams of resurrecting the ancient art of Yemeni coffee and travels to his ancestral home to source the beans only to face militia roadblocks, kidnappings and threats against his life. Another option for foodies: Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by award-winning journalist Jonathan Kauffman. An outstanding food and cultural history that traces the colorful origins of once unconventional foods and shows how the concept of health food evolved in the kitchens of young baby boomers before becoming mainstream.

If your reader is focused on social justice and immigration The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu is a shocking insider look at US immigration from the perspective of a border patrol agent. Another powerful read is The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq by Iraqui-American poet and journalist Dunya Mikhail.

An Amazon best book of 2018 that reads like a thriller and will appeal to crime aficionados as well as business geeks is Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. Bad Blood is the story of Theranos, a Silicon Valley start-up whose charismatic founder, Elizabeth Holmes, raised nearly one billion dollars over 15 years for a company founded on lies, falsehoods, bullying and fraud.

In a year when laughs were hard to come by, at least as far as current events were concerned, John Cleese, Professor At Large is a sharp and clever collection of Cleese’s lectures at Cornell University while he was a visiting professor. For some mother-daughter humor, I See Life Through Rose`-Colored Glasses by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella is a hilarious collection of essays about the pitfalls of daily life.

And finally, for inspiration and motivation an ideal pick is Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan.  Named a best book of the year by Real Simple and Bustle, this is a story-driven collection of essays on twelve powerful phrases we use in our relationships including I don’t know; tell me more; no; I was wrong; and I love you. Both funny and touching, Corrigan’s book is a fabulous read heading into a new year.

 

Reflecting: Top Picks for Memoirs & Biographies

memoirI have eclectic reading taste. I love everything from literary to genre fiction . . . from serious, intense reads to frothy escapism. I read quite a bit of non-fiction too and I particularly love memoirs and biographies. When I’m in the middle of writing a novel, they offer a change of pace and a welcome break from thinking about character and conflict and resolution. Right now, I’m waiting to get my hands on a copy of My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichel. I’m told it’s a cross between a memoir and a cookbook (my current favorite hybrid!) and well worth the read. Meanwhile, here’s a roundup of some of the other memoirs and biographies I’ve enjoyed over the years, some dark and others much lighter.

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. A classic, what more is there to say? Anyone who has read Frank’s account of hiding during World War 11 never forgets it.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. A memoir about growing up in extreme poverty with a shockingly dysfunctional family and not only surviving but thriving. Walls believes everything that happens in life is both a blessing and a curse. It’s up to each person to decide what to focus on. Riveting.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Angelou’s coming-of-age story shows how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome low self-esteem, racism and trauma. Graphic and gripping.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Not an easy read, this book details the grief Didion worked through following the death of her husband, John Dunne. At the same time as she’s trying to grapple with her loss, she must deal with the hospitalization of her daughter, Quintana.

Brain on Fire; My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. Cahalan is a New York Post reporter who crossed the line between sanity and insanity when an unknown pathogen invaded her body and caused an autoimmune reaction that jump-started brain inflammation, paranoia and seizures. Hospitalized, she was lucky enough to have a doctor determined to get to the bottom of her illness (and lucky to be insured too; her treatment cost $1 million). Haunting and intense.

Delancey – A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg. Funny, frank and uplifting, this memoir details the trials and tribulations of opening a restaurant soon after being married. I discovered Molly Wizenberg through her blog, Orangette (which I also recommend) and have subsequently read Delancey and her first memoir, A Homemade Life. I enjoyed both.

Home Cooking – A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking – A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. Colwin was a novelist and food writer for Gourmet Magazine before her untimely death in 1992 at the age of 48. Less memoir and more a series of essays, I turn to these books again and again for Colwin’s wit, warmth and love of food. How can you not adore a chapter called Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir or one called Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant? These slim little volumes are two of my most treasured books.

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson. I’m a sucker for a well done celebrity biography, especially if they’re funny, honest and contain more grit than fluff. Ferguson’s biography delivers all three. It’s also well-written, full of insights and heavy on the theme of second chances. Highly recommended.