2020 Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction
Nonfiction November has kicked off once more, beginning with an opportunity to reflect on the year with some questions set by our hosts: Leann @ Shelf Aware. Katie @ Doing Dewey, Julie @ Julz Reads and Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction.
What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year?
It feels odd to describe Dear Life by Rachel Clarke as my “favourite”. But it’s definitely the most powerful, impactful nonfiction book I’ve read in 2020.
Rachel Clarke is a consultant physician in the field of palliative medicine. Dear Life is partly autobiographical, explaining how she came to specialise in a branch of medicine that cares for people whose battle for life is over. As she says, this isn’t the sexy world of heroic life-saving endeavours as performed by the likes of heart surgeons. Hers is a field that deals with a subject so many people shrink away from discussing. In her book she argues that even in the final months, weeks and days of life, there can be moments of joy.
This might sound like a depressing book, the last thing you want to read in the current global crisis. But I’ll encourage you to give it a go. While it’s emotional and honest, it also contains moments that are truly uplifting.
Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?
I haven’t purposefully looked for books on a particular theme or topic I still seem to be drawn towards memoirs. One highlight this year has been In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park, a book I came across thanks to last year’s Non Fiction November. It’s an account of a young girl’s escape from the totalitarian regime of North Korea and her attempts to find a new home in the west.
Questions have been raised about the authenticity of some parts of her account, particularly the time she spent in China as a victim of human trafficking. There are definitely times when you feel we’re not being told the whole truth but it didn’t detract from the overall impact of the book.
What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
I’ve been telling everyone about The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn; a book that has only just been published and in fact I haven’t even read yet. But having heard the author discuss this at a launch event, I am 100% confident it will be a tremendous read.
The Wild Silence is a follow up to The Salt Path which was one of my books of the year in 2019. The earlier book described how she and her husband Moth were turfed out of their farm and became homeless and penniless. Then Moth was diagnosed with a serious brain disorder and advised to “take it easy”.
The crisis was the catalyst for an extraordinary decision to walk a 630 mile coastal path, sleeping in the wild and surviving on meagre food rations. It made a huge impression on me not only because of Winn’s descriptions of nature but of her reflections on attitudes towards homelessness The Wild Silence picks up the story with the couple now living as tenants on an old cider farm.
What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
This is an easy one. I’m looking for book recommendations, particularly memoirs that are as good – if not better – than some of my favourites from recent years. I hope no-one dares to suggest a “misery” or the outpourings of a so-called celebrity whose career rests on one or two films or reality tv appearances. You’ve been warned!
54 thoughts on “2020 Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction”
I don’t shy away from difficult subjects, so I reckon Clarke’s book on palliative care would be a goer for me (particularly given I experienced – for a mercifully short time – this year with my Mum.)
It’s a very thought provoking book as you might imagine. You’d think from the subject matter that it could be depressing but actually her key message is about moments of joy that can be experienced even in the darkest days
Sounds far enough to me actually, though maybe I’m a bit too raw for it yet.
Thanks, I need to look into Wild Silence and the book that came before that
I hope you pick up The Salt Path at least
Haha no pointless celebrity memoir recommendations will come from me. Never fear, Karen. Actually, I am finding it hard to think of the last memoir I read. I think it might have been Undivided by Vicky Beeching, although a celebrity of sorts in Christian circles, this was a powerful memoir about her struggle with her sexuality and her faith. During this difficult year, I found myself reading even more Christian and theology based non-fictions.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the non-fictions I have read this year, here is my Week 1 post: https://thebookwormchronicles.wordpress.com/2020/11/02/%f0%9f%93%9a-nonfiction-november-2020-week-1-my-year-in-non-fiction/ 🙂
I’ve done a lot of volunteering with hospice (playing music at their facilities) and palliative care is such an important field. I need to be sure to read Dear Life. Thanks for recommending it!
This would be an interesting one for you in that case Monika. She talks about how palliative care is the cinderella of medicine, the branch that doctors themselves don’t like to talk about.
The new Conversational French for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases.” This little book has inspired me to learn French! Which I’m doing now and hopefully will know well enough when I can travel to France to get around easily. I am also following French culture with the Stella Lucente French page on Facebook.
I can recommend the Michel Thomas system of learning a language. He gives you confidence to build sentences that go beyond the basics they have in many books.
I really want to read the Raynor Winn books but I’m in a non-book-buying phase at the moment due to secret santas etc so I’m going to stick them on my wishlist and hope they appear! I am about to read “The Good Immigrant” UK and US which are multiple memoirs so you might find a rec there in the fullness of time.
I hear you. I’m thinking I need to hold off new purchases for a while and maybe even into the first part of next year just so I can read more of what I already have.
Yay for NFN! A welcome distraction when the reality seems stranger than fiction… I’ve pulled out my copy of In Order To Live and bumped it up my to-be-read list on your recommendation, really looking forward to it! When it comes to memoir, I think I’ve pushed In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado into the hands of everyone I’ve met this year. It’s an absolutely incredible book, one that totally turned my idea of what a “memoir” was on its head, and it has set the bar very, very high for me with all future memoirs. I’d love to hear what you think of it!
Just read the Guardian review of this and it does sound astounding. So of course I had to add it to my wishlist. Here’s the review in case you’re interested https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jan/05/in-the-dream-house-carmen-maria-machado-review
I’ve read several books on death and dying and it does feel strange to describe them as enjoyable. Powerful is a good description.
One of my favorite books of the year was Here For It. It’s a fantastic memoir that deals with tough topics like discrimination with humor and hope.
The books that leave a lasting impression are not necessarily the entertaining ones for me. I can be entertained by a crime novel, but I won’t remember it unless it has something extra in it …
I’ve read several books on death and dying and it does feel strange to describe them as enjoyable. Powerful is a good descriptor.
One of my favorite books so far this year is Here For It. It’s a fantastic memoir that deals with touch topics like discrimination with humor and hope.
Wow all three of those sound good!!!!
Are you tempted to buy/borrow?
Yes, I put them on my Goodreads TBR.
I’m eager looking for recommendation, too. I am especially interested in The Wild Silence.
The book event she did with a local bookshop was wonderful. Raynor is such a lovely person.
Excellent, I think it deserves attention
I also read Dear Life this year, though before the coronavirus crisis, which im glad of. I’m fairly sure The Salt .path is already on my WTR list, I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for the follow up too.
Thanks for sharing your favourites, I look forward to reading your further posts.
Rachel Clarke has another book – came out before Dear Life – which I’d like to read though now would probably not be a good time.
The Salt Path is one of the books I’m hoping to finish & review during November. I’d love to see a doco of someone doing this walk – the scenery sounds amazing.
I’ve walked small sections and can confirm it is stunning.
This sounds like such a fun month! I think my favourite book this year was Infused – a memoir about life with tea. Made me go out and buy the teas mentioned!!
That’s an unusual topic. I didn’t know the book so just looked it up. Sounds like a fascinating blend of travel and food.
It’s fascinating! Henrietta’s passion for tea is infectious!
Dear Life sounds fantastic, I’ve already seen that on someone else’s list!
A River in Darkness was a fantastic memoir from a man who escaped North Korea. I’ve read a couple of them and that’s been my favorite. I think one of my favorite memoirs in general is Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs, about growing up in and leaving Leningrad. It might sound like it has the makings of a misery memoir but it really doesn’t. It’s beautifully written and so insightful.
I just sampled A River in Darkness and liked what I found so have now ordered this. Thanks for the recommendation.
Welcome! Glad I could share it with you.
NO chance of getting a misery or celebrity memoir from me. It’s a mystery to me why people read them.
They’re definitely not your thing!
I recommend Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao and A Ghost in the Throat, two of the best nonfiction memoirs I’ve read this year.
By Doireann Ní Ghríofa
I’m puzzled by A Ghost in The Throat. The synopsis makes it sound more like fiction?
It’s definitely not fiction, it’s about the author’s journey and struggle to piece together the life of the woman poet, whose words she herself has clinged to through many of her own life experiences, so it’s also a reflection on the disappearance of woman from history, those we search for between the lines of texts by and about men. She describes it as a female text. It is rather unique and perhaps trying to label it somehow reduces it. It’s a wonderful read, definitely one of my favourites of 2020.
Thanks for clarifying that Claire
I noticed In Order To Live at Nonfic Nov last year as well, but I never got around to read it. Thanks for reminding me, it definitely sounds like an interesting one. Earlier today, I read at Nicki’s blog, that she didn’t find The Wild Silence quite as impactful as The Salt Path. I still mean to read it and look forward to hear your opinion as well.
I can imagine that Wild Silence doesn’t have the dramatic tension that Salt Path had – with the first book we never knew whether they would make it or whether Moth’s health would hold out. With the new one, we know they have a more settled existence and hence a “quieter” story
So what you’re saying is you DO want to read Jessica Simpson’s memoir you just haven’t been able to get it to it yet? Joking!
I’m going to recommend From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle for you! Or We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib. They’re Canadian so probably not ones you’ve heard a ton about!
I can’t wait to read the Simpson memoir !
You’re right about those two Canadian titles, I’ve not heard of them but just did a quick look up. From the Ashes would make a good companion to another memoir I read this year of the poet Lemn Sissay who ended up in care homes even though his mother wanted him returned.
Oh that sounds like a heartbreaker!
It’s very cleverly written so you get the official reports about his character and case that were written by the social workers – and then you get Lemm’s own version of the events
I love memoir! 🙌 I hope you don’t consider Mitch Albom a celebrity because I loved Finding Chika. I also think Girl With Seven Names is compelling. Although a celebrity, Noah Trevor’s Born a Crime is thought provoking. I also loved Wait Till Next Year and Hillbilly Elegy (soon to be a Netflix movie). I think Just Mercy is an important memoir and although this is written for him by someone else, I loved Unbroken.
Albom is famous rather than being a celebrity ( I view celebrities as people who have little of substance beyond them being famous) Finding Chika sounds very emotional. Definitely adding that to my list. I shall have a look at your other recommendations too Carol
Yes Chika is emotional but also heartfelt and inspirational 🙌
You say you are looking for recommendations. This book is self-published and has, I believe, from reading other reviews, that it has been re-titled. It came to me via a Goodreads review group. Below is my review which sould help you decide if it is the koind of memoir you might wish to check out.
As Happy as I Can Stand
There were times whilst reading this book when I began to feel I’d need more than 5 stars to adequately rate it. So why only 4 now that I’ve finished? I’ll come to that after I’ve told what was so good about it.
Part memoir, part psychology text book, complete with real-life case studies, part rumination on the meaning of life, this is one of those books that everyone can benefit from reading. Charles McCormack takes us from a difficult childhood, through a directionless adolescence to a successful career as a therapist and on into semi-retirement. Along the way he has a lot to say about psychoanalysis as practised in the USA through the 1980s and ’90s and much, much more about family relationships.
The book is written in compelling language, full of vivid descriptions of places and people; metaphors abound; ideas are illustrated with sometimes delightful, occasionally harrowing anecdotes/case histories, including elements of his own personal relationships.
I said earlier everyone can benefit from reading this book. A word of warning: don’t if you are afraid of re-evaluating your own attitudes and relationships. On the other hand, if you are struggling to relate to a parent, a child, a sibling or a life partner, this could be the book you need to help you identify the source of the problem.
Coming back to that four star rating when mid-way though the book I felt it deserved more than five: there is, for me, a surfeit of final chapters. You read what you assume is the last chapter, only to turn the page and discover there is another. And another. And another. Not that they are not all good ways to end the book, just that Charles seems unable to decide which to use, or how to combine them into a single closing statement.
Thanks Frank. Bought this.
Thanks Frank, I’ve not heard of this book but based on your comment that it warrants even more than 5 stars I’ve added it to my wishlist
Memoirs with a twist – Annie Ernaux’s books. Fascinating and unlike anything else really!
That would make an interesting choice, very different from any other memoir. Good choice!