top 10 tuesday: Favorite Nonfiction

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish which is now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week’s topic:

August 28: Back to School/Learning Freebie (in honor of school starting back up soon, come up with your own topic that fits the theme of school or learning! Books that take place at school/boarding school/during study abroad, books you read in school, textbooks you liked/didn’t like, non-fiction books you loved or want to read, etc.)

I’ve seen a lot of people interpret this as ‘favorite nonfiction’ which seemed fun, so I’m going to do that!  I’ve also been talking to What’s Nonfiction? recently who is a lovely person and has been getting me excited to add more nonfiction to my life, so let’s start with ones I’ve enjoyed in the past.

Women & Power by Mary Beard: The two feminist essays combined into this collection aren’t exactly groundbreaking for anyone remotely familiar with feminist theory, but I loved this anyway.  The first essay concerns itself with the role of women in the public sphere and the precedent of silencing women’s voices, using both historical and literary examples, and the second essay shifts to our societal conception of power as a male-dominated domain.  Being a classics lover myself, I loved Beard’s unique perspective on these subjects and all the parallels she draws to antiquity.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: This was my first Nelson; I’ve since read Bluets but I much preferred The Argonauts, though I’m looking forward to reading The Red Parts soon.  The Argonauts is her memoir about her relationship with the genderfluid artist Harry Dodge, and her writing is piercing and insanely intelligent.  This was just a pleasure to read and I’m looking forward to reading Nelson’s complete works at some point.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: Well, it’s popular for a reason.  This book was great.  The Devil in the White City is Larson’s parallel account of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and the life of the serial killer H.H. Holmes.  Though these two threads never quite dovetail in the way I was hoping for (to me it kind of felt like 2 books packaged into 1), I still loved reading this highly informative and well-researched account of 1890s Chicago.

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala: Wave is just about the most heartbreaking memoir imaginable: when Sonali Deraniyagala is on vacation with her parents, her husband, and her two sons in Sri Lanka, all of them are killed in the 2004 tsunami.  This is her account of surviving that devastating tragedy, and though it’s incredibly bleak and unsparing, it’s also filled with such love and gratitude toward her family.

Poetics by Aristotle: Probably my favorite of the Ancient Greek rhetorical texts, Poetics is an essential companion text for anyone interested in reading Greek tragedies.  Aristotle’s insights into humanity’s relationship to theatre are some of the most important foundations of contemporary literary criticism – and it’s under 150 pages.  Read this!

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: Probably the most famous true crime classic, In Cold Blood tells the story of the murders of 4 members of the Clutter family in 1959 Kansas, then details the capture and killing of the murderers.  This book is fascinating, compelling, and oddly haunting.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt: This is McCourt’s devastating memoir about growing up in the slums of Limerick, and it’s quite unlike any other memoir I’ve read.  It’s an immersive survival story that can be quite difficult to read at times, but it’s also told with such forthrightness and an undeniable love for his flawed country, it’s hard not to get swept away by it.  I think this was my first introduction to Irish lit when I was 16 and I haven’t looked back since.

Black Boy by Richard Wright: I still haven’t read Wright’s more famous novel Native Son, but his autobiography Black Boy was brilliant.  It’s primarily a coming of age story about being black in the U.S. south under Jim Crow.  It’s a harrowing read at times, but it’s also quite a page turner.

Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King: I had to read this in my Latin class in high school, so I could probably go for a re-read, but it’s a really fascinating text.  It’s about the construction of il Duomo di Firenze, completed in the 1400s, which was actually a ridiculously complicated process.  So if you’re at all interested in architecture, I’d highly recommend this.  Or if you like The Pillars of the Earth.

Jo Cox: More in Common by Brendan Cox: And finally: Jo Cox was a British Labour MP who was murdered in June 2016.  This biography of her life written by her husband is just as powerful and beautiful as you’d expect, and it probably hit me harder than any other memoir or bio I’ve read.  (Obviously my feelings toward the book have become a bit more complicated with Brendan Cox’s recent sexual harassment scandal, but as he’s resigned from the Jo Cox Foundation where all the proceeds from the book go, I still feel like I can recommend it in good faith, since it’s ultimately about what a brilliant woman Jo was.  Though I obviously don’t blame anyone for choosing not to read it because of this.)

Also, I just started listening to The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien on audio, inspired by this post, and I can already tell it’s going to be an incredibly hard-hitting read.

What’s your favorite nonfiction book?  Comment and let me know!


29 thoughts on “top 10 tuesday: Favorite Nonfiction

  1. Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross is one of my favourite and most memorable books from uni too! I actually did an essay on Florence Cathedral, with most of my focus on the famous dome. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, how cool! I thought that would be the one book on the list I wouldn’t get any comments on. I’m not even the biggest fan of Florence as a city, but the duomo is just stunning and the history is so fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post!!! I can’t wait to hear what you think of the Red Parts, I might need a re-read of that one soon. I also found In Cold Blood oddly haunting…I read it years ago and every once and awhile some detail of it will pop into my head and creep me out, even having read a lot of other true crime. Something very affecting about that one.

    Brunelleschi’s Dome sounds fascinating, I’d never heard of it or that there was so much of a story there. Also interested in the one about Jo Cox, although it sounds pretty wrenching.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Only Girl in the World too…maybe even better to read that one on audio, it’s like you’re not experiencing it alone somehow! It’s another that haunts me.

    Wonderful list here, great to see your thoughts on so many good books!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Re: In Cold Blood, yes! I think what haunts me the most is how Capote imbued the killers with more humanity than I’d been expecting, Perry in particular. I’m opposed to the death penalty in general, but I still thought I’d feel extremely apathetic or contemptuous toward these two awful people, so the fact that he was able to show a glimpse of humanity in them was just so unsettling.

      I’d highly recommend checking out Brunelleschi’s Dome! I think an interest in architecture helps, but even if you don’t have that it’s a really fascinating and oft-overlooked story from history that I think most people would find fascinating. And I cried so much read Jo Cox’s biography, I didn’t expect it to be so brutally hard-hitting, so I’d definitely recommend that one if you’re up for it.

      I’m only about an hour into The Only Girl in the World but I’m loving it so far. This is kind of what I’d been expecting to get out of Educated, but I’m already so much more emotionally invested than I ever was with that book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed about In Cold Blood! His storytelling style is just so impacting and able to make you think so much about what otherwise could be a relatively straightforward narrative, I think it’s what so many other true crime authors try and fail to do. I wish he’d written more in the genre!

        As an American I’m not as familiar with UK politicians but her story was so shocking and horrifying and she seemed like such an incredible person, I was really curious about what work she’d done. That’s awful to hear her husband has done what he’s done since, but I’d be more interested in hearing about what her contribution was so may have to pick it up when I’m feeling emotionally up to it. Thanks for putting such great-sounding titles on my radar!

        I’m so glad you’re liking The Only Girl in the World! I’d read it not long before Educated and had it in mind while reading that book and wondering what the hype was! It’s a much better told story in my opinion. As you said you get emotionally invested in it, I felt so much and so deeply for her. I think that might’ve come from the distance she had in the telling the story, which I still think is a big problem with Educated, it’s all too fresh and unprocessed and that came across to me uncomfortably in the storytelling. Only Girl ends a bit quickly before getting to her later adult life (I hope so much that she’ll write another book!) so I googled her after reading it and to learn about her amazing life’s work is the icing on the cake. I’m just in awe of her! Can’t wait to read your review of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The only other Capote I’ve read is Breakfast at Tiffany’s which sadly didn’t do much for me, so yes, I really wish he’d done more true crime!

        I’m also American and I remember hearing online about Jo Cox’s murder at the time and thinking it was sad that someone so young with a family had been killed, but I really didn’t know anything about her politics or her as a person, so it was an incredibly informative biography, but heartbreaking. Ugh, I find Brendan’s behavior so appalling and disappointing, and it’s so tricky when your only source of information about a brilliant person is from someone like this, but I guess I’m able to separate the art from the artist, so to speak, especially in cases like this where he’s not profiting off this book’s sales.

        And I had the same problem about Educated feeling a bit too raw and like Westover was still in the middle of processing a lot of what she was telling the reader she’d already worked through, so that was a bit uncomfortable… very interested to see how this differs!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh my gosh I’m so sorry, why was I thinking you were British?! That sounds so arrogant of me, I don’t know why I had that in my head! But I agree, in certain cases I think it’s possible to separate the art from the artist, or the storyteller from their reprehensible behavior (doesn’t have as nice a ring to it). I’ve been feeling like I need some kind of break from heavy stories lately as some have been hitting me too hard so I’m not going to seek the book about her out right away, but eventually. If someone was so brilliant it’s great to know what they’ve contributed and how it lives on. That’s also a great point that he doesn’t profit off of the sales!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah that’s too funny!! I might’ve mentioned living abroad, maybe that’s why. I live in Austria for the time being but I’m from New York. I want to visit Vermont so badly, it looks like it has so many gorgeous places!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Likewise it’s probably the Italy thing that made me seem British, that’s so funny that we’re both American. Austria! That’s amazing! I’ve always wanted to go there. And Vermont is gorgeous, tragically I hate winter and cold weather, but six months of the year I am very happy here.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes maybe it was the Italy thing, I’m so used to Europeans having all this experience traveling and living in other countries but for Americans it’s not always the norm.

        And same for me, I hate the severe cold but there’s also something special about the east coast, brutal winters and all! Austria’s lovely in many ways but I can’t wait to not live here anymore 😂it’s very old-fashioned, unfriendly, I have a laundry list of gripes! But to visit it’s really sublime, if you ever have the opportunity to travel here I definitely recommend it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ugh that’s a bummer! How much longer do you have there? I do know what you mean though – Americans especially tend to idealize Europe to the extreme and forget it’s just as flawed as anywhere. I love Italy with all my heart and I’m dying to go back to visit, but I don’t think I’d ever live there again, I have a laundry list of gripes as well. Where in Austria are you living? I’ll make a note not to spend too much time there, lol! But I’ve always wanted to visit Vienna so at the very least I’d love to visit for a few days at some point!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think around a year more, give or take…my husband is doing his master’s and it’s looking like it’ll be finished around then (I hope, at least) so we can finally move on. I actually live in Vienna! I really don’t mean to discourage at all – it’s beautiful and fun and fascinating in many ways and I hope you get the chance to visit and you absolutely should! It’s a dream of a city for a tourist. But as you know from living abroad, the cracks start to show when you’re in a place longer, and some of it is just cultural differences and my own preferences, really.

        I’ve heard Italy can be tough though…I’ve had a few friends who lived there over the years and there are definitely some issues! I’ve only been once and would love to spend more time visiting there though. Where in Italy did you live?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I absolutely know what you mean! There is a huge difference between visiting a place and living there. That’s so nice of you to relocate abroad for your husband! Hoping for your sake he finishes next year!

        I lived in Bologna and I absolutely adored it. It’s probably my favorite city on earth so if you get a chance to visit I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s such a gorgeous and historic city and it’s not overrun with tourists like Rome or Venice so you get more of the authentic Italian experience. But since it’s a university city it’s a really young demographic and it feels a lot more progressive than a lot of other cities in Italy. But yeah, it can be such an infuriating place to live. The cultural sexism in that country is just unbelievable. And anything involving bureaucracy is just a joke – one time I got a fine for not having a bus ticket, even though I’d stepped on the bus with my money in my hand to purchase a ticket from the machine which is 100% legal. The guard just decided to block my way to the machine and then fine me. Anyway, I could go on and on, but the point is I COMPLETELY understand the nuances of loving and hating a different culture simultaneously when you’re immersed in it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I actually met him here, I was living here willingly but I thought temporarily back then! I just ended up staying because of him and plan on taking him with me when we can finally go!

        That’s so ridiculous and scary about the bus ticket! But the same kind of thing I’ve heard from others who’ve lived there…Italy seems to me like the Wild West of Europe, it’s bizarrely lawless or at least arbitrarily so sometimes! Really odd. The sexism sounds beyond awful and I know Italy is something special but honestly, the Austrians are pretty bad too. Just as one small example I’ve heard so many women complaining about MeToo and “where does it end, a man can’t even tell you you’re beautiful anymore!” Ugh. Or this, in our news today:

        And don’t get me started on their weird health beliefs – ice and cold water are bad for you, air conditioning makes you sick, cancer can be caused by bad attitudes/behavior, cigarettes = fine. They’re more backwards here than I think a lot of people realize.

        Bologna sounds gorgeous and fascinating despite the difficulties, I’d love to visit one day! That’s great that there was still so much positive and you can appreciate it despite the drawbacks. It sounds like it was an incredible experience you had!

        Liked by 1 person

      • How romantic! Is he Austrian then? Your German must be fantastic.

        Honestly such a good comparison with the Wild West. Italy is frighteningly lawless. It manifests it the strangest ways, too, like there’s this cultural stereotype that Italians don’t know how to line up, which sounds bizarre but they genuinely do not know how to form an orderly line?! If you’re in the supermarket or the bank it’s like, every man for himself, it’s probably one of the things that annoyed me the most about the country by the end of my year there. What exactly is so difficult about waiting your turn in line?!

        And the sexism, my god. One of the things my Italian adviser at my college told all the girls before leaving for Italy was that if a man is harassing you, you should just keep your head down and keep walking because even saying ‘no’ is an invitation for them to continue, and that ended up being depressingly helpful. From the time I’ve spent in other countries in Europe I do get the impression that Italy is one of the worst in this regard, but on the whole Europe has a more deeply ingrained misogynistic culture than the US, weirdly enough, because the US is bad enough. But as you say, I think a lot of European countries are more backward than we realize, because of that weird way that Americans tend to romanticize and idealize Europe. That article you linked to, UGH. That’s definitely the kind of thing I’d expect from Italy as well. And that is SO bizarre about the health superstitions in Austria?? I don’t doubt that I would also be driven crazy slowly but surely living somewhere like that.

        But yes, for all my complaining, it was a really fantastic experience. Definitely hit me up if you’re ever in need of Italy recommendations!

        Liked by 1 person

      • He’s not Austrian actually, he’s Polish/Serbian but grew up mostly in Austria. But the different background explains why he has such a different perspective and way of acting compared to my experience with the natives here!

        That’s so funny about them refusing to form lines, one of those stereotypes that exists for a reason, sounds like. Austrians are obsessed with sizing up whatever you’re buying in a line and asking to get in front of you if they have fewer things (no express lanes and they’re wary of self-checkouts in the few places they exist.) But the every man for himself queuing would drive me nuts, I can completely understand why it annoyed you!

        I was editing something the other day and had to laugh thinking of this conversation, it referred to Italy as “the European problem child”…I really did lol and it seems so true. The sexism and misogyny just sound completely awful, I can’t imagine living with that. How do the Italian women even deal with it?? I wonder if it’s like here where they brush off things like MeToo as just being unable to take a compliment, maybe an attitude like that?

        My German isn’t fantastic, sadly…my financial/legal/business German is pretty good from the work I do but my casual, spoken, everyday German is on such a basic level…an odd contrast, I know! Are you fluent in Italian? And same, if you make it to Austria I can recommend lots of lovely places/things to do!

        Liked by 1 person

      • (Sorry this is super late, I’ve been on a business trip and haven’t checked WordPress all week!) But I love how multicultural your marriage is!

        That’s SO funny re: Italy being the European problem child, that’s the most apt description I’ve ever seen. I feel like most of the Italian women I’ve talked to about this don’t fully realize just how awful the cultural sexism is? I guess it would be difficult to realize that isn’t normal if it’s the only place you’ve ever lived. I have no idea how they deal with it on the regular. By the end of my year there I’d had enough for a lifetime. My most quintessential ‘Italian men are trash’ story is one time I was walking down the street with my friend, and this guy drives up to us and gets out of his car and introduces himself to her, and says that she’s eaten at the restaurant below his apartment and that he’s taken pictures of her from his window because she’s so beautiful, and will she please have dinner with him. He was probably 30 years her elder so she kept saying ‘no, I’m a student’ and his reply was ‘that’s ok!’ The level of entitlement is genuinely horrifying.

        My Italian is definitely slipping since I haven’t regularly spoken it in a couple of years! I wouldn’t say I was fluent-fluent by the end of my year there, but since it was a really immersive program (I took classes at the university and lived with an Italian girl) it was pretty decent. One of my reading goals this year was to start reading books in Italian to brush up but I’m so lazy! I was also trying to teach myself German on Duolingo for a couple of years but I eventually got lazy about that too. But I really need to start again, I love German!


  3. I’ve always wanted to read In Cold Blood, but I’ve never ever read anything true crime so it’s a little intimidating. I’ve also heard good things about I’ll Be Gone in the Dark which is quite hyped lately. Would you recommend starting true crime with In Cold Blood?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m with you 100 percent regarding The Devil In the White City. There is something compellingly energetic about the way the author describes the setting and the people who made the fair possible. He conveys their optimism about the modern era, an optimism that has faded away in our own time. At the same time he illustrates how the modern urban world created great opportunities for psycho killers. I’ve never read anything quite this book.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Rachel! Thank you for shining a light on nonfiction! We ( are currently running a nonfiction short story contest to motivate people to share their stories and create an inspirational environment. It is not a literary contest, but it is a nice exercise to get comfortable with sharing stories. And hopefully we can all inspire others and make an impact!

    Liked by 1 person

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