Nonfiction November 2019 recommendations

One of the most joyous things to have come out of my book blogging journey is discovering how much I actually do love nonfiction; so much so that I’m excited for Nonfiction November even though I’m not sure I’ll be able to participate.  My reading has been a bit slow lately, and hasn’t exactly been thriving when I set myself a strict TBR, so I’m not committing myself to anything, but I did at least want to make a recommendation post for others who are planning on participating.  Affiliate links to Book Depository on each of these titles.

Nonfiction November is hosted by Olive on booktube, and for the blogging version you can read Ren’s announcement post here.  In Olive’s announcement she laid out 4 prompts, and I’m going to recommend two books for each one; one that I’ve read, and one that’s on my TBR (again, not necessarily to be read this November… but maybe!).  The prompts are as follows: design, sport, true, and voice.

DESIGN

Read: Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović
TBR: Old In Art School by Nell Irvin Painter

All of these prompts were created to be as flexible as possible, so you are welcome to take any of them in a radically different direction than I am – but when I hear ‘design’ my first thought is ‘art’ and ‘art history.’  Hence my two recommendations: Walk Through Walls is a stunning and provocative memoir by performance artist Marina Abramović, that challenged my own perceptions about how much of a line there is (or should be) between life and art.  I would absolutely recommend this if you’re already a fan of Marina or familiar with her work, but I don’t think that’s a prerequisite if you’re at all curious about picking this up.

Old in Art School is, from what I gather, a memoir about the author’s experience attending art school at RISD (Rhode Island School of DESIGN, just saying) in her 60s, and the ageism, sexism, and racism she encounters during that experience.

SPORT

Read: Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer
TBR: Beautiful on the Outside by Adam Rippon

Rough Magic is Lara Prior-Palmer’s memoir in which she recalls entering the Mongolian Derby on a whim, which she went on to win at the age of 19, becoming the first woman to win and the youngest person to ever finish.  If it’s slightly uneven at times, this is only a testament to how passionately Lara Prior-Palmer tells her stranger-than-fiction story.  She’s an unforgettable narrator and this book is a breath of fresh air.  I gave this 4 stars after finishing, but a few months later I’d say it’s one of my favorite things I’ve read this year.

One thing that I’ve learned in 2019 is that I actually don’t hate celebrity memoirs as much as I always assumed I would.  One of the most enjoyable memoirs I’ve read all year is Busy Philipps’ This Will Only Hurt a Little; I think I’m expecting something similar in tone from Adam Rippon’s memoir about figure skating.  I don’t really watch figure skating – I don’t watch any sports aside from tennis – but I enjoy Adam Rippon on social media so I’ll probably pick this up on audio at some point in the next few months.

TRUE

Read: The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander
TBR: Homesick by Jennifer Croft

I’m cheating a little here as I haven’t read The War that Killed Achilles in its entirety; I read half of it a couple of years ago, and I’m planning on starting it over from the beginning when I have more time because it’s excellent.  The subtitle is The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War, so I decided to go for something a little less obvious for this prompt than true crime, in choosing a book that excavates the true story behind one of the world’s oldest classics.  I also met Caroline Alexander a few years ago after listening to her give a talk about translating the Iliad, and she’s brilliant.

For Homesick, I’m employing a bit of irony with my use of ‘true’; though this is a memoir, it is written in the third person, with Croft blending the line between fact and fiction.  Apparently this memoir about sisterhood reads like a novel at times, and I’m so curious to see how Croft pulls this off.  I’ve heard so many fantastic things about it.

VOICE

Read: Know My Name by Chanel Miller
TBR: Voices from the Grave by Ed Moloney

I’m currently reading Know My Name and it’s exceptional; the memoir’s conceit is that Chanel Miller is giving herself the voice that the media storm denied to her throughout the Brock Turner case.  It’s candid and heartfelt and bold and beautifully written.

Voices from the Grave is a book that’s heavily referenced by Patrick Radden Keefe in his book about the Troubles, Say Nothing (my favorite book of the year so far).  The research in this book was gathered through extensive interviews with Brendan Hughes and David Ervine, two members of paramilitary organizations involved in the Troubles.  This is the longest TBR book on this list – over 500 pages – but I think it’s also the one that I’m most likely to pick up for Nonfiction November, as I’d love to read it before the details from Say Nothing start to fade in my mind.

Are you guys participating in Nonfiction November?  What books would you recommend for these prompts?

Read More Women

“Well, I’d read more female authors if only I knew of any.” – ancient bro proverb

So, I got the idea for this post from the wonderful Hannah while we were brainstorming what I should do for International Women’s Day.  The idea behind this post is essentially ‘if you liked x book by this male author, try y book by this female author.’  I tend to find that with people who don’t read female authors the excuses are either ‘I don’t know any’ or ‘they don’t write about the kinds of things I’m interested in,’ so we are here to remedy both of those misconceptions.

If you liked The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, read Tin Man by Sarah Winman.

Tin Man is essentially a more compact (and more British) version of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but they each offer the same kind of heart and heartbreak.  Set in the 20th century in Ireland and England respectively, these are both coming of age novels that feature a protagonist coming to terms with his sexuality while living in a deeply conservative society.  I didn’t think Winman would be able to break my heart with her short little novel in the same way Boyne did with his 500 page epic, but she rose to the challenge.

If you liked All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan, read Tender by Belinda McKeon.

Featuring two of my favorite contemporary Irish writers, All We Shall Know and Tender are striking, beautifully written novels about passion and obsession and different kinds of love.  If you like the feeling of near-claustrophobic tension that you get from Donal Ryan’s novels, you need to pick up Tender immediately.

If you liked East of Eden by John Steinbeck, read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

… I know, it’s a weird comparison on the surface, but hear me out.  Both novels are multi-generational family sagas that span the 20th century, though one takes place in the US and the other takes place in Korea and Japan.  But despite the differences, the thematic conceits of these two books are surprisingly similar, focusing on religion, family ties, and whether children are irrevocably shaped by the sins of their parents.

If you liked Bright Air Black by David Vann, read Medea by Christa Wolf.

This one’s a bit obvious: both are retellings of Euripides’ Medea.  But, the interesting thing about these two books is that their approach to this character couldn’t be any more different if they tried.  Vann’s Medea is savage, unhinged; Wolf’s Medea is composed, calculating.  Both interpretations remain fiercely loyal to the original story, in their own way, and even if you loved Vann’s approach to this character you’ll probably still be deeply moved by Wolf’s politically-driven retelling.

If you liked The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman, read The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose.

These two novels look at contemporary art through very disparate lenses, but if you’re an art lover, both are valuable reads.  The Italian Teacher is mostly set in the 20th century and focuses on the career of a fictional artist, while The Museum of Modern Love features a fictionalization of the real-life performance artist Marina Abramovic, but both novels are written by authors with clear love and passion for the subject matter, rather than using art as an underdeveloped backdrop for their stories.  If you were drawn into Rachman’s fictional melodrama, you’ll undoubtedly be riveted by Rose’s stranger-than-fiction novel.

If you liked The Overstory by Richard Powers, read Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

I read both of these books very close to one another and I had the same problem with each of them: I don’t care about trees.  But!  The good news is that if you are into tree books, these are about as good as it gets.  The Overstory is a novel which centers on a group of environmental activists, and Lab Girl is a memoir by a research scientist, and both are written with a searing love and passion for nature that I can’t help but to admire, even if it isn’t to my own personal taste.  If The Overstory whet your appetite for this kind of story, Jahren’s memoir is a fantastic nonfiction counterpart.

If you liked On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, read When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy.

Both of these books are about the failure of a marriage; in one because the two parties are unable to communicate with one another, in the other because of a severe case of domestic abuse.  But the similar thread lies in the way the female protagonist of each novel has deeply internalized and given into certain social pressures that she was raised to adhere to.  Both are quiet, perceptive, hard-hitting novels about all the ways in which a society can fail women when it comes to marriage.

If you liked Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter, read The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway.

Both authors provide alarmingly incisive commentary on the grieving process – Grief is the Thing With Feathers is more abstract while The Trick is to Keep Breathing is much more literal, but both are deeply introspective novels that are quietly affecting.

If you liked Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, read The Pisces by Melissa Broder.

If you like your romance novels to be all at once crude, sensual, obsessive, literary, and unorthodox, chances are you’ll enjoy both of these books.  They don’t have a whole lot in common on the surface (Call Me By Your Name is a gay romance set in the Italian Riviera; The Pisces is a strange love affair between a woman and a merman in contemporary Los Angeles), but both chronicle the destructive nature of love with razor sharp precision.  And both have lush beach settings, if you’re into that kind of thing.

If you liked The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, read The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker.

Both are sort of dreamy, hypnotic books about something going desperately wrong in small-town America, chronicling both the phenomenon (in one, suicide, in the other, illness), and tying in social commentary that contextualizes the characters’ realities.  (I’d also add that The Dreamers is good and The Virgin Suicides is not good, if you want my personal opinion.)


Happy International Women’s Day!  Which pairs of books by a male and female author would you add to this post?  Let me know!  Suggestions absolutely welcome.  Let’s chat.

Autumn Book Recommendations and TBR

Despite living in the autumn capital of the universe, I’m one of the few people who actually does not enjoy this season very much.  Between annoying fall allergies and a deep hatred for cold weather, I’d gladly exchange the foliage and pumpkin spice aesthetic for three more months of summer.  Alas.  But that said, fall is ironically the only time of the year when I let the season influence my reading.  I’m generally not a seasonal reader at all, but I do love using autumn as an excuse to prioritize some creepy and atmospheric books.  So, here are just a few recommendations if you’re also in the mood for some good autumn reads:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.  When you think of autumnal books one of the words that probably pops into your head is ‘gothic,’ and Rebecca is pretty hard to beat.  It follows an unnamed narrator who becomes the second wife to the charming widower Maxim de Winter, who soon finds herself living in the shadow of his previous wife, Rebecca.  It’s tense, immersive, creepy, and gorgeously written.

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson.  Probably inspired by Rebecca, The Book Collector is a novella which follows a young woman obsessed with fairy tales, who marries a book collector who won’t let her read or touch the prized books he collects.  It’s a deeply sinister story that deftly explores gender roles in fairy tales, while immersing the reader in a delightfully gothic setting.

This House is Haunted by John Boyne.  Essentially a love letter to Victorian and gothic literature, This House is Haunted follows a young woman who takes up the post of governess at a creepy hall where she’s greeted by two children, with no sign of their parents anywhere.  If you’re in the market for a good ghost story, I’d highly recommend this one.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  Really, anything by Agatha Christie, but And Then There Were None remains my favorite of her books that I’ve read, and is decidedly the spookiest.  Ten strangers are invited to a dinner party on a remote island, but when they arrive their host is nowhere to be found, and one by one they start to be killed off.  This book is just genius.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.  Set at a fictional university, If We Were Villains follows a group of students studying Shakespeare, who are all close-knit friends until one of them ends up dead.  Campus novels in general make me think of fall with the whole back to school time of year, but this is also a perfect fall read because of one spectacular scene in particular where they put on a Halloween inspired production of Macbeth outdoors.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman.  This list wouldn’t be complete without some proper creepy horror.  Bird Box is probably the scariest book I’ve ever read.  Set in a vaguely apocalyptic near-future, there’s something outside that drives people to madness and suicide when they see it, so in order to stay safe in this world, you can’t open your eyes.  The way Malerman plays up the primal fear of the darkness and unknown is just brilliant.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  This is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read in my life; if at all possible, I implore you to read this one in November when it’s set.  It follows two characters on a fictional, fantastical Irish island, who are about to participate in a yearly event called the Scorpio Races, where riders race on the backs of feral water horses.  It’s beautifully written and so wonderfully immersive.

As for my TBR… I’m finding myself in the middle of a hundred different reading obligations so I won’t be able to devote my entire month to creepy and gothic books, unfortunately, but I’m hoping to read at least one of these, all of which are on my shelves or on my Kindle:

Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

What are some of your favorite books to read in autumn, and what’s on your TBR this season?  And have you read any of these?  Comment and let me know!

Play Recommendations

As the end of the year draws nearer and people are scrambling to finish their 2017 Goodreads challenges, I thought I’d offer my biggest tip for boosting my reading count when I’m behind: reading plays.  I love theatre, and while the experience of seeing shows live can be incomparable, not everyone has the resources and opportunities to do it regularly.  I find that reading play scripts is actually a pretty underrated way to engage with the material – it can be just as stimulating to watch these scenes unfold in your head just like you’re reading a novel.  And, a huge bonus – they’re short!  I usually read play scripts in one sitting.  So if you’re behind in your reading challenge and you need some ideas, look no further!

51-fmbtiw9l-_sx327_bo1204203200_If you’re interesting in the classics and Greek tragedies, I’d recommend: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, which is one of my all-time favorites – even if you think you know this story, the tension and heightened tragedy in Sophocles’ play will catch you off guard – or Antigone by Sophocles, The Bacchae by Euripides, Medea by Euripides, or The Oresteia by Aeschylus.  Full list of Greek theatre that I’ve read can be found here.  I’m particularly fond of the translations by Anne Carson (especially if you’re looking for something a bit more modern and experimental) and Robert Fagles, but there are plenty of phenomenal translators out there.

847168If you’re interested in early modern to modern classics, I’d recommend: King Lear, Macbeth, and/or Hamlet by Shakespeare – I’m not a huge Shakespeare aficionado, but these are some of my favorites that I’ve read.  Fast forward a couple of centuries –  A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a fascinating proto-feminist reflection on a woman’s role in society and in her own home.  The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is an absolute riot about mistaken identities in British high society.  Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose is a fascinating meditation on the U.S. judicial system.  Vieux Carré and The Eccentricities of a Nightingale are brilliant plays by Tennessee Williams that bring the Deep South to life.  A View from the Bridge and The Crucible by Arthur Miller deal with themes of identity and power – one takes place in 20th century Brooklyn and the other around the Salem Witch Trials.  Translations by Brian Friel is an extremely underrated Irish play about language, classics, and English colonization.

12903397If you’re interested in contemporary plays, I’d recommend: Anything by Martin McDonagh (playwright/director responsible for the films In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) if you like really twisted black humor, namely, The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.  For a reflection on gender and sexuality, try: Angels in America by Tony Kushner, Venus in Fur by David Ives, or Body Awareness by Annie Baker.  For a thrilling one-man show about the Trojan war, try An Iliad by Lisa Peterson & Denis O’Hare.  For a riveting romance-drama with a significant age gap between the protagonists, try Skylight by David Hare.

peter_and_aliceOr, if you don’t trust my opinions, try some of these that I haven’t read yet but which have come highly recommended to me: Peter and Alice or Red by John Logan, Posh by Laura Wade (which was the basis of the film adaptation The Riot Club), Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, The Good Person of Szechwan by Bertolt Brecht, Faith Healer by Brian Friel, Faust: First Part by Goethe, In the Red and Brown Water by Tarell Alvin McCraney (who cowrote the screenplay for Moonlight), The Last Wife by Kate Hennig, Anatomy of a Suicide by Alice Birch, Trifles by Susan Glaspell, Sweat by Lynn Nottage, The Flick by Annie Baker, Indecent by Paula Vogel, Equus by Peter Scaffer, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.

Good luck with your reading challenges, friends!  Also – what’s everyone’s favorite play?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 tuesday: Books for Non-Readers

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm.  This week’s topic:

SEPTEMBER 12TH – Top 5 recommendations for non readers

If you’re not a reader, I’m not sure what you’re doing on my book blog, but hello!  I have some recommendations for you!  What kind of non-reader are you?

“I don’t read because books are boring.”  Try:

32796253Final Girls by Riley Sager: This novel is essentially a love letter to the horror genre, and while it may not be the most terrifying thing you’ve ever read, I guarantee that it’s going to be one of the most addicting.  I find that a lot of the time people who don’t read get bored with books easily and put them down after a few chapters, so my remedy for that is to suggest a book that’s going to be impossible to put down.  Look no further than Final Girls!


“I don’t read because I don’t have enough time.”  Try:

518f2bgo8wyl-_sx312_bo1204203200_The Grownup by Gillian Flynn: For any non-readers who are find high page counts daunting for whatever reason – try a short story!  This is the only Gillian Flynn that I’ve read so far, but I loved it.  It grabs you from the very first unforgettable sentence, and takes you on a crazy ride.  It’s part mystery, part thriller, part horror – a sort of modern, contemporary spin on the haunted house premise – and it ends up being nothing like you expect when you start it.


“I don’t read because I don’t like fiction.”  Try:

5096865In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  Capote tells the true story of the murder of the Clutter family in 1959 Kansas, focusing on the capture and the execution of the killers.  While there’s a bit of fictionalization in the way Capote spins this story (notably including bits of dialogue that he couldn’t possibly have been privy to), it’s a mostly faithful and thought-provoking account.  If you’re someone who doesn’t like a lot of fiction, try a true crime book like this one, or a biography or memoir.


“I don’t read because I just want to relax at the end of a long day.”  Try:

259912The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice.  I had to wrack my brains to come up with something outside my usual tragic and depressing tastes, but we got there in the end.  This is actually one of my favorite books ever – I read it several times as a teenager and it is just so damn delightful.  It’s a sort of coming of age, romance, vaguely chick lit-y thing set in 1950s London.  If you’re looking for something that makes you feel happy and isn’t terribly intellectually rigorous, look no further!


“I don’t read because I’m more of a visual person.”  Try:

220px-funhomecoverFun Home by Alison Bechdel: And finally, I feel like it would be remiss to not mention a graphic novel.  Admittedly it’s the only one I’m familiar with, but I still love it a lot.  In Fun Home Alison Bechdel recounts what it was like to grow up in a funeral home, though it’s mostly a story about her relationship with her father, and coming to terms with her sexuality.  The illustrations here are gorgeous, so if you’re a visual person, you’ll love it, though the prose is strong on its own.

What books would you recommend to non-readers?  And have you read any of my choices?  Comment and let me know!

seeking play recommendations!

Yesterday I was reading Interesting Literature’s 10 of the Best Plays by Women Dramatists (a fantastic list!) and I came to the really depressing realization that I’ve only ever read one play written by a woman (An Iliad by Lisa Peterson).  At first I’m thinking ‘that’s not possible, is it?’ because I read quite a lot of plays, but after combing through my list a few times, I realized that it’s sadly the truth.  39/58 of the books I’ve read so far this year have been by women – that’s a trend I’d like to keep up.

So, I’m here to ask for recommendations of your favorite plays written by women!  The only two on my list so far are Posh by Laura Wade and The Last Wife by Kate Hennig.  I’m open to all genres, time periods, etc.  Thanks!