Once again, it’s that time of year when book bloggers around the globe come together to celebrate the wonderful world of nonfiction. As a life-long nonfiction fan, I always look forward to seeing participants’ posts and learning what outstanding works of nonfiction everyone has been reading. I always come away from this collaboration with yet more books I wanna read, in addition to discovering new blogs and even picking up a new subscriber or two.
Week 1: (November 2-6) – Your Year in Nonfiction (Leann @ Shelf Aware): Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
As for favorites from this year, four books immediately come to mind. Both on my blog and in conversations with others I’ve recommended all of them. Look for each one of them to make my year-end Favorite Nonfiction List.
- Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East by Kim Ghattas – Back in April I went out on a limb and said this would end up being my favorite nonfiction book of the year. Right now I’m going to stand by my prediction. But a lot can happen between now and the end of the year.
- The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen – If there’s a book that might edge out Black Wave as this year’s favorite it’s Gessen’s multiple award-winning account of Russia’s decent into authoritarianism.
- Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer – Kruse and Zelizer start with Trump’s surprising 2016 electoral victory and ask how did it happened. The origins of today’s divided state of America are in its past.
- Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker – An American family with 12 kids makes for interesting reading. When six of them (all boys) suffer from schizophrenia you’ve got the makings of a fascinating story.
In 2020 I read a trio of excellent older books. Two were memoirs by women wrongly imprisoned by Communist leaders, and the other a vivid account of the Battle of Berlin. Reading older books like these reminds me just how important it is to never judge a book by its publication date.
- Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng (1986) – Imagine spending six and half horrible years in solitary confinement as an innocent casualty of a power struggle between two rival government factions.
- Journey into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg (1967 reprinted 2002) – After years of loyal service to USSR and its ruling Communist Party college instructor Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg was condemned to years of suffering in the Gulag.
- The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan (1966) – One of the best books on the Eastern Front I’ve read in years.
Lastly, 2020 is the year I dived into the writing of Russian-American author, New Yorker contributor, LGBTQ advocate and authoritarian critic Masha Gessen. Last year I enjoyed her 2016 book Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region and so I thought this year I’ll explore more of her stuff. I was not disappointed.
- The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia -Again, if any book is going to challenge Black Wave as my favorite book of 2020 this is it.
- The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy – The Boston Marathon bombing was a horrible act of terrorism. Gessen explores what led to the tragedy.
- Surviving Autocracy – Who else could write a blistering exposé of the Trump administration but a crusading journalist who’s spent years doing the same to Vladimir Putin?
Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. But over the next few weeks I hope to share more thoughts about what I’ve read in 2020.