My Year in Nonfiction (2021)

Hello readers!

So I’ve been trying to come up with posts I’d like to write for this week and came up completely dry for ideas. Which is when I (finally) read Rennie’s post on Nonfiction November for this year and saw that she had some really good ideas for posts! So I am posting this prompt like two weeks late, but I thought it was such a good one it was worth posting anyway! I’ve included below only the books I read (or started at least) before November.

Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John Drury Clark

I started this one way back in August – it’s a very entertaining book about the history of liquid rocket propellants until the author’s retirement in the 70s and while it is a bit heavy, it’s not a very long book and it had me actually chuckling – so this was the first book on my November Non-Fiction TBR.

This newly reissued debut book in the Rutgers University Press Classics Imprint is the story of the search for a rocket propellant which could be trusted to take man into space. This search was a hazardous enterprise carried out by rival labs who worked against the known laws of nature, with no guarantee of success or safety. Acclaimed scientist and sci-fi author John Drury Clark writes with irreverent and eyewitness immediacy about the development of the explosive fuels strong enough to negate the relentless restraints of gravity. The resulting volume is as much a memoir as a work of history, sharing a behind-the-scenes view of an enterprise which eventually took men to the moon, missiles to the planets, and satellites to outer space. A classic work in the history of science, and described as “a good book on rocket stuff…that’s a really fun one” by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, readers will want to get their hands on this influential classic, available for the first time in decades.

My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress by Rachel DeLoache Williams

I received an eARC of this one, otherwise I honestly would not have picked it up – but the juiciness was just so entertaining – there is something really fascinating about reading about con artists. It kept me turning pages even though the author herself was not… the most engaging.

Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel DeLoache Williams’s new friend Anna Delvey, a self-proclaimed German heiress, was worldly and ambitious. She was also generous. When Anna proposed an all-expenses-paid trip to Marrakech, Rachel jumped at the chance. But when Anna’s credit cards mysteriously stopped working, the dream vacation quickly took a dark turn. Anna asked Rachel to begin fronting costs—first for flights, then meals and shopping, and, finally, for their $7,500-per-night private villa. Before Rachel knew it, more than $62,000 had been charged to her credit cards. Anna swore she would reimburse Rachel the moment they returned to New York.

Back in Manhattan, the repayment never materialized, and a shocking pattern of deception emerged. Rachel learned that Anna had left a trail of deceit—and unpaid bills—wherever she’d been. Mortified, Rachel contacted the district attorney, and in a stunning turn of events, found herself helping to bring down one of the city’s most notorious con artists.

Narrativas Negras: biografias ilustradas de mulheres pretas brasileiras by Coletivo Narrativas Negras

This was a wonderful collection of short biographies about notable black Brazilian women and it blew me away. Incredible read.

Quem são as mulheres negras brasileiras que nos inspiram na atualidade? Elas tiveram referências negras no passado ou se sentiam representadas? Essas foram as perguntas de partida desta obra, que nasceu da escassez de conteúdos confiáveis sobre a história e a representatividade da mulher negra brasileira. Pensamos que compreender e conhecer nossas ancestralidades é de fundamental importância para mudar e construir um novo futuro, com mais força e identidade.

O livro Narrativas Negras nasceu da vontade de levar a história de mulheres negras brasileiras – que transformaram o rumo histórico do Brasil – até meninas e mulheres negras, que transformarão o amanhã do nosso país. Hoje, reconhecemos os apagamentos históricos sofridos pela comunidade negra feminina, que lutou e ainda luta de maneira ativa para a construção de uma sociedade mais justa.

The Years by Annie Ernaux, Alison L. Strayer

A very interesting and well-written book which encompasses not only Annie Ernaux’ own life from the early 40s to the 2000s, but also the history of France itself as it changed with time. It was not exactly my cup of tea but still a very good book that I’m glad I picked up!

The Years is a personal narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present–even projections into the future–photos, books, songs, radio, television and decades of advertising, headlines, contrasted with intimate conflicts and writing notes from six decades of diaries. Local dialect, words of the times, slogans, brands and names for the ever-proliferating objects, are given voice here. The voice we recognize as the author’s continually dissolves and re-emerges. Ernaux makes the passage of time palpable. Time itself, inexorable, narrates its own course, consigning all other narrators to anonymity. A new kind of autobiography emerges, at once subjective and impersonal, private and collective. On its 2008 publication in France, The Years came as a surprise. Though Ernaux had for years been hailed as a beloved, bestselling and award-winning author, The Years was in many ways a departure: both an intimate memoir “written” by entire generations, and a story of generations telling a very personal story. Like the generation before hers, the narrator eschews the “I” for the “we” (or “they”, or “one”) as if collective life were inextricably intertwined with a private life that in her parents’ generation ceased to exist. She writes of her parents’ generation (and could be writing of her own book): “From a common fund of hunger and fear, everything was told in the “we” and impersonal pronouns.”

O que eu vi, o que nós veremos by Alberto Santos-Dumont

This was a book club pick which was very interesting (and a bit gossip-y) about the Brazilian inventor whose fascinating life is described in this autobiography. It is also translated in to German and English by the way.

Nascido há 127 anos (em 1873), Dumont se suicidaria, aos 59 anos, em 1932, enforcado em um hotel no Guarujá. Não é efeméride, mas sua “autobiografia” — na verdade, um relato de seus feitos — ganha nova edição com imagens escolhidas pelo sobrinho-bisneto, Marcos Villares Filho. Contada pelo próprio, a aventura de Dumont mostra-se fascinante. Filho de rico cafeicultor do interior paulista, é mandado pelo pai a Paris para se dedicar às pesquisas sobre o motor capaz de manter uma máquina em pleno ar.

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy changed the way I started talking about my own depression, and seeing this book come out this year I just had to read it. It was both heartbreaking and hilarious – exactly what I needed this year, when I started experiencing a depressive crisis again. I know her books aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but the way she normalizes mental illness while still making me laugh always hits the spot for me.

As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, Jenny brings readers along on her mental and physical health journey, offering heartbreaking and hilarious anecdotes along the way.

With people experiencing anxiety and depression now more than ever, Jenny humanizes what we all face in an all-too-real way, reassuring us that we’re not alone and making us laugh while doing it. From the business ideas that she wants to pitch to Shark Tank to the reason why Jenny can never go back to the post office, Broken leaves nothing to the imagination in the most satisfying way. And of course, Jenny’s long-suffering husband Victor―the Ricky to Jenny’s Lucille Ball―is present throughout.

A treat for Jenny Lawson’s already existing fans, and destined to convert new ones, Broken is a beacon of hope and a wellspring of laughter when we all need it most.

Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker

Math but funny! Great book.

Our whole world is built on math, from the code running a website to the equations enabling the design of skyscrapers and bridges. Most of the time this math works quietly behind the scenes . . . until it doesn’t. All sorts of seemingly innocuous mathematical mistakes can have significant consequences.

Math is easy to ignore until a misplaced decimal point upends the stock market, a unit conversion error causes a plane to crash, or someone divides by zero and stalls a battleship in the middle of the ocean.

Exploring and explaining a litany of glitches, near misses, and mathematical mishaps involving the internet, big data, elections, street signs, lotteries, the Roman Empire, and an Olympic team, Matt Parker uncovers the bizarre ways math trips us up, and what this reveals about its essential place in our world. Getting it wrong has never been more fun.

Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession by Sarah Weinman

I have a vague recollection of the stories in this book, but I remember them being interesting but not quite as engaging or fascinating as I hoped. Still, it was entertaining if you’re looking for some True Crime which isn’t only about murder.

The appeal of true-crime stories has never been higher. With podcasts like My Favorite Murder and In the Dark, bestsellers like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and Furious Hours, and TV hits like American Crime Story and Wild Wild Country, the cultural appetite for stories of real people doing terrible things is insatiable.

Acclaimed author of The Real Lolita and editor of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s (Library of America) and Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives (Penguin), Sarah Weinman brings together an exemplary collection of recent true crime tales. She culls together some of the most refreshing and exciting contemporary journalists and chroniclers of crime working today. Michelle Dean’s “Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick” went viral when it first published and is the basis for the TV show The Act and Pamela Colloff’s “The Reckoning,” is the gold standard for forensic journalism. There are 13 pieces in all and as a collection, they showcase writing about true crime across the broadest possible spectrum, while also reflecting what makes crime stories so transfixing and irresistible to the modern reader.

Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World by Lesley M.M. Blume

Oh this was an incredible read. I must re-read this at some point! This makes an incredible tale of the cover up about the consequences of the bombing of Hiroshima. It is a heartbreaking story and so, so important.

Just days after the United States decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. But even before the surrender, the US government and military had begun a secret propaganda and information suppression campaign to hide the devastating nature of these experimental weapons. The cover-up intensified as Occupation forces closed the atomic cities to Allied reporters, preventing leaks about the horrific long-term effects of radiation which would kill thousands during the months after the blast. For nearly a year the cover-up worked—until New Yorker journalist John Hersey got into Hiroshima and managed to report the truth to the world.

As Hersey and his editors prepared his article for publication, they kept the story secret—even from most of their New Yorker colleagues. When the magazine published “Hiroshima” in August 1946, it became an instant global sensation, and inspired pervasive horror about the hellish new threat that America had unleashed. Since 1945, no nuclear weapons have ever been deployed in war partly because Hersey alerted the world to their true, devastating impact. This knowledge has remained among the greatest deterrents to using them since the end of World War II.

Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life by Marie Kondō, Scott Sonenshein, translated by Cathy Hirano

Okay this was not a life-changing book but it was pretty inspiring to clean up my office and an entertaining read. I will still pick up Marie Kondo’s more famous The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which sounds a lot more up my alley, at some point.

The workplace is a magnet for clutter and mess. Who hasn’t felt drained by wasteful meetings, disorganized papers, endless emails, and unnecessary tasks? These are the modern-day hazards of working, and they can slowly drain the joy from work, limit our chances of career progress, and undermine our well-being. The authors offer stories, studies, and strategies to help you eliminate clutter and make space for work that really matters. They will help you overcome the challenges of workplace mess and enjoy the productivity, success, and happiness that comes with a tidy desk and mind.

1808: Como uma rainha louca, um príncipe medroso e uma corte corrupta enganaram Napoleão e mudaram a História de Portugal e do Brasil by Laurentino Gomes

My father lent me this book and it was a re-read for me – and I enjoyed it more this time around! The history of how Brazil became independent is absolutely wild.

1808, o maior fenômeno de vendas do mercado editorial brasileiro na categoria não-ficção nos últimos anos, será relançado na Bienal Internacional de São Paulo em versão atualizada e ampliada pela Globo Livros. Entre outras novidades, o livro, que já vendeu mais de 1 milhão de exemplares, trará um capítulo inédito com informações até hoje pouco conhecidas a respeito da criação do Reino Unido de Brasil, Portugal e Algarves, que completa duzentos anos em 2015. Também na Bienal será apresentada pela primeira vez a versão em e-book do livro 1808, que até agora não estava disponível para os leitores brasileiros.

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee

This incredible, heartbreaking and brave tale is probably one of the best books I’ve read all year.

An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.

As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”?

Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.

She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities – involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.

This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo’s escape from the darkness into the light, but also of her coming of age, education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life – not once, but twice – first in China, then in South Korea. Strong, brave and eloquent, this memoir is a triumph of her remarkable spirit.

Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

I read All About Love a while ago and didn’t quite like it as much as I hoped, but this one! This was a wonderful read that got me thinking about it for a long time after I finished it. In clear prose, bell hooks talks about black womanhood and oppression & it is not only incredibly important read, but also very engaging.

A groundbreaking work of feminist history and theory analyzing the complex relations between various forms of oppression. Ain’t I a Woman examines the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the historic devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the recent women’s movement, and black women’s involvement with feminism.

4 thoughts on “My Year in Nonfiction (2021)

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