Nonfiction November Week 4: Should Nonfiction Read like Fiction?

I am running behind but determined to continue with NonFiction November! This week’s assignment is:

Week 4: (Nov. 19 to 23) – Reads Like Fiction (Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction): Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?

The short answer: YES. But, not necessarily. Allow me to elaborate.

The Short Answer

First, what does “reads like a novel” mean to me? For me to enjoy a novel I like the story to build before me. I need character development, growth, change, internal or external conflict (preferably both) and momentum. And, for nonfiction I don’t think my criteria is all that different except I put a lot more emphasis on momentum in nonfiction than I do when I read a novel. Some of my favorite nonfiction books read like novels to me because they capture my imagination and send me on a journey. In my opinion, this is the escapism quality of fiction.

My favorite Nonfiction that reads like Fiction.

poisonhandbookThe Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum has separate chapters for each of the poisons. But, in each she introduces you to a problem, a murder, or a group of individuals that grab your attention. She gives you characters. And, as the science identifies the poisons we are off on a journey, a race against time, to stop the people from being exposed to the newly identified substance. I always say that this book reads like a procedural crime drama. Which is why I recommend it every single time.

Meanwhile, there are a number of other fine books about poisons that I have read and not one of the them pulled me in or stuck with me the way The Poisoner’s Handbook has for all of these years. I try at all costs to avoid negative reviews here at SilverButtonBooks so I won’t mention them but just know, you have seen them in bookstores and non of them read as well as this gem.

messyMessy by Tim Harford is another fantastic book that uses character driven or news worthy anecdotes to draw you into a problem. Then, the solution is delivered via information, statistics and science in a way that solves said problem. Messy was a fast paced read that used jumping off points like, plane crashes, man made eradication of nature and terrible situations to show how disorder can positively transform our lives.

Messy reads less like a novel and more like a podcast. But each chapter blends seamlessly into the next and the sum total of the book ends up feeling like a fantastic television show.

askanastronautAsk an Astronaut by Tim Peake reads like an epistolary novel. Much like Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments or Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, Tim responds to written questions. But it is how he answers the questions that takes this NonFiction book from Dear Abby format to a back and forth between the famous astronaut and the general public. He organized the book like a memoire but gives you the action, adventure, terrifying facts and love of space in his answers. I will NEVER go to space but Tim convinced me why he did.


Speaking of Celebrity Memoirs…

Most of the celebrity memoirs that I have enjoyed through the years also read like well written fiction. They certainly have a character-driven feel, they often show us personal growth despite internal and external conflict and they are (if well written) fast paced. I think that is why they are easily accessible to the novel loving readers out there. Some of my favorites include:

Homey Don’t Play That, The Story of In Living Color and the Black Comedy Revolution by David Peisner. Peisner sets the stage for the enormous success of In Living Color with the history of Black Comedy but keeps the momentum up through the interweaving stories of the cast members and all those involved with the rise and fall of this hilarious show.

Bossypants by Tina Fey might be the celebrity memoire that everyone has read but there is a reason for this. Fey’s ability to tell her childhood stories (including how she got that scar) and weave her personal and professional stories together is just simply fun to read. But, at a closer look, it is a fantastic look at the rise of female driven comedies.

So…That Happened by Jon Cryer is my new favorite celebrity memoire. I just listened to it as an audiobook and it was like driving around with a friend for nine hours. He hits all of the gossipy checkmarks without becoming mean or spiteful and I loved him for it. It was also a great story about how a broadway kid experienced movie making and television for the last three decades.

Canada by Mike Myers is another favorite of mine. My giant crush on all things Canadian lead me to this book which is part celebrity memoire and part history of Canada. I would not only recommend the book but also the audiobook for the wonderful accents and explanations by Mr. Myers himself.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell will always be highly recommended by me. The comedian (who was unknown to me before this book) delivers his own celebrity memoirs but with the added relevance of the ongoing issues for Black people in America.

To further elaborate…

Does good nonfiction need to read like a novel? No. But, it makes it more fun, easier to consume and far easier to recommend. I have read many other NonFiction books that are so far from a novel they may as well be a textbook but loved them all the same. So, while I will still read a nonfiction book that is clearly not novel-like authors who write nonfiction as though it is to be enjoyed will always be appreciated for their efforts.

Tell me, please!

Do you think good Nonfiction reads like a novel?


Nonfiction November: Week 3. Be The Expert

I am still running behind on my Non Fiction November postings but I refuse to give up! This week is hosted by Julz at JulzReads. The directions are as follows:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I am fairly new to reading non fiction but the majority of my choices are lead by sheer interest at the moment. I enjoy medical, social, personal improvement, and celebrity memoirs equally. The one section of non fiction I can never resist is those books which help me become a more enthusiastic or well rounded reader. So, for my expert non fiction books I give you the following selection of books about books!

1000booksThis book, 1000 Books to Read Before You Die, A Life-Changing List by James Mustich is reminiscent of a grown up Rory Gilmore’s to-be-read list. Paging through this book I never fail to be impressed by the number of wonderful books that are there to be read. I keep this one handy for when I want to feel challenged and I’m looking for a book that I “should” read.





Book Lust, by Nancy Pearl is one that I have just recently picked up. Who could resist having a book on hand with recommendations “for every mood, moment, and reason?”






And speaking of books for every mood, this one is a veritable bible for me. 1001 Books for every Mood, by Hallie Ephron, Ph.D. was out of print when I stumbled across it at the library. I felt so lucky to find my own copy and I use it constantly to find books for when I am sad, happy, or in the mood to be scared. I cannot recommend this book enough and my only wish is that they put out a new version every year.




myidealbookshelfMy Ideal Bookshelf is one that many of my book loving friends has oogled over. This book takes individuals perfect bookshelves and turns them into art. I have spend many an hour trying to figure out my Ideal Bookshelf in the off chance I ever become famous enough to have someone want to paint it. This book does make you re-think certain celebrities as well when you realize that someone you admire reads books you hate and vice versa.



And finally we have the newest of the new books on books – The Book of Books. This is supposed to be America’s 100 best-loved novels but I will tell you honestly, the way in which they gathered the data for this publication gives me great pause. Some of these books are, quite simply, just very popular books (you all know these books, the one book your friend read on vacation and talks about constantly because it is the only book they read last year! Sorry for the mini rant.)


Nonfiction November: Fiction and Nonfiction Book Pairs

The second post for nonfiction November gives you a choice. I have selected to pair a fiction book with a nonfiction book as in, “If you liked that, you might like this.” You can see many other pairings on this weeks hosting site Sarah’s Book Shelves.

My pairing takes the fiction story Me Before you by Jojo Moyes and pairs it with the nonfiction collection of stories In Sickness and in Health, Love, Disability, and a Quest to Understand the Perils and Pleasures of Interabled Romance by Ben Mattlin.

In the off chance you haven’t read Me Before You, watched the movie or read the sequel, the story features Louisa and Will. Louisa takes a job caring for Will who has been in an accident. Prior to his accident, Will was an adventurous individual and full of life.  Since his injury has made him a quadriplegic he is questioning whether he can continue to live when he feels so limited. Louisa learns that he has some drastic plans and sets to change his mind.

Initially, I didn’t want to read about the story of an able-bodied, typically developed individual “rescuing” a person with disabilities. Still, people praised the book and, in the end, I did enjoy it. You can read my full review here.

In Sickness and in Health is written by Ben Mattlin. Ben is a self described crip who has experienced life from a wheelchair since the age of 4. He is married to ML who does not have a disability. He wrote about their marriage in his first book Miracle Boy Grows Up and the overwhelming response resulted in his second book. Ben interviews many different interabled couples in order to gain insight into how and why their relationships work.  Throughout, he interjects his thoughts, feelings and reflections about his relationship to ML.

If you enjoyed Me Before You I encourage you to pick up In Sickness and in Health. Ben Mattlin writes not just from experience but with the lens of understanding that is key to gaining insight into interabled marriages. And, he is funny.

Tell me, please!

Do either of these books interest you? Would you rather read a fictional or nonfictional account of an interabled relationship?


Nonfiction November: My Year in NonFiction

I am woefully behind in participating in nonfiction November but today I turn it all around! Actually, I have been reading non-fiction all month, I have just been terrible about sharing my books and blogging my thoughts.

The first assignment is hosted by Sophisticated Dorkiness and is to look back over your year in nonfiction. I made nonfiction a priority for the first time this year and featured a number of wonderful books on my Non-Fiction Fridays. Below, you can see the covers of nearly all the books I read.

What was your favorite non-fiction read this year?

I would have to say Canada by Mike Myers was my favorite. I listened to the audiobook, which was read by the author, and was fascinated. If you follow me you will know that I have an enormous crush on Canada. I read this when I returned from my first trip through Canada and it both fed my crush and deepened my interest.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more than others this year?

This year has absolutely been full of autobiographical memoirs and humorous books. I think everyone needed more things to laugh about in 2018.  I have also, as you can see above, been deep into some weird science books.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?


Above all others I recommend The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. It reads like a procedural crime novel and is the gateway drug to nonfiction.




What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Truthfully, I want the opportunity to prioritize nonfiction in my book selection and read about other people’s love of nonfiction!

Tell me, please!

How do you feel about nonfiction?

FrighteninglyGoodRead · nonfiction

FGR #5: Black Cats & Evil Eyes, A Book of Old-Fashioned Superstitions by Chloe Rhodes

I love to be obnoxiously in the know regarding little tidbits of information. I’ll never be smart enough to win a game of Jeopardy and I frequently miss major news headlines but I delight in sprinkling conversations with little know facts. And, since I also adore Halloween, a book that focuses on old-fashioned superstitions is perfect for me!

A large black cat sits in the middle of a red and white book with other silhouettes of a ram and a crow.

Black Cats & Evil Eyes, A Book of Old-Fashioned Superstitions by Chloe Rhodes is a slender book stuffed full of superstitions and the history and basis for the belief. Each superstition is covered quickly – perhaps two or three pages – but so completely as to allow me to sound knowledgable about the subject. Perfection!

I immediately gravitated to superstitions that I actually practice. For example, picking up pennies. I have heard a lot of reasons to pick up or leave a fallen penny by now but the most prevalent one is certainly, “Find a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.” However, the saying was originally, “See a pin and pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck. See a pin and let it lie, you’ll feel want before you die.” Whether this saying originates with the encouragement to take pride in small tasks or the idea that pins are used in witchcraft remains a debate. But just think how much fun I will have throwing this little bit of information into everyday conversation!

Black Cats & Evil Eyes is the perfect book to read if you have always wondered why we believe things like; covering your mouth when you yawn is polite, putting shoes on the table is rude, burning cheeks means someone is talking about you, and (my favorite) the gift of a purse or a wallet should always include money. There are some really fascinating superstitions in this book and only a handful were unfamiliar to me.

Chloe Rhodes has written a book that makes me truly happy when I flip through it page by page. It is the perfect delightful mix of fascinating non-fiction information with a healthy heaping of Halloween feeling. An ideal Non-Fiction Friday Frightening Good Read!

Tell me, please!

What is a superstition that you hear frequently?


Homey Don’t Play That

homeydon'tplaythatHomey Don’t Play That!: The Story of In Living Color and the Black Comedy Revolution by David Peisner tells the tale of the formation, rise and dissolution of In Living Color. Peisner masterfully lays the groundwork for the success of In Living Color with the history of Black Comedy. This was a time when a lack of representation combined with the newness of stand up comedy to create a kinship among rising Black comedians. As they set their sights on fame like that experienced by Richard Prior, they honed their skills on stages in New York and Los Angeles. Some, Damon Wayans, were able to take his stand up one step farther.

Peisner also highlights the childhood and tight familial connectivity of the Wayans’ family. Keenan, Damon, Kim, Marlon, Shawn and their other five siblings all grew up in a small apartment in the boroughs of New York. Understanding how close they were as children and how they utilized that familial bond to deal with their economic and social struggles brings to light some of the many reasons that Wayans siblings work so well together.

The book further does justice to the lasting importance of In Living Color. The list of stars that started on In Living Color continues to weave through television, movies and music today. Not only did stars like the Wayans siblings come into the light on In Living Color but also Jim Carey and Jamie Foxx. Rosie Perez and Jennifer Lopez were Fly Girls. And, In Living Color highlighted hip-hop artists like Heavy D who wrote the theme song, Queen Latifah and Flavor Flav, Public Enemy and Ice Cube, and L.L. Cool J.

I remember when In Living Color debuted on television in 1990. This was when the Fox network was new and I was growing up in Springfield, Illinois. So, of course, I watched The Simpsons because every kid in every Springfield everywhere was out to prove that the Simpson family lived in their Springfield. In Living Color came on and I was hooked. My friends and I still say catch phrases we learned from David Allen Grier’s Men on Film, Jim Carey’s fire Marshall Bill and, of course, Jamie Foxx’s Wanda. In fact, every time I see a lone pickle in a jar I think of Damon Wayan’s Anton Jackson.

If you have never seen In Living Color, the comedy holds up better than the Fly Girl’s outfits. Of course there are a great many things that would never be acceptable to say on television today but the timing and deliver is still hilarious to witness. This book covers many of the controversies that were experienced through the years as well as the in-fighting and eventual departure and dissolution of the show.  I appreciated the depth of coverage the author offers as well as his neutral point of view. In fact, he often gives one dramatic or pivotal argument four or five different people’s recollections.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the history of comedy, the importance of representation in entertainment or if you were a fan of the show. I listened to it as an audiobook and found that it was difficult to keep all of the players straight. Also, the narrator had some unnatural pausing in his delivery that upset the flow of information. Still, these small issue should not stop anyone from enjoying this fantastic book.

Tell me, please!

Have you seen In Living Color? Any favorite memories?

Audio Book · nonfiction

Non-Fiction Friday! Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

I have a great love of unusual facts. Like most people who enjoy trivia I also live to bring it up randomly in conversation. So, Mark Miodownik’s book Stuff Matters, about the origin, history, and possible future use of everyday things is an ideal book for me to gather tidbits to later regurgitate.

stuffmattersAs a materials profession Miodownik is well versed in the subject and understands how to communicate the information in a consumable manner. His writing style is beautiful but easy to comprehend. And, I appreciated that the explanations of the chemical makeup was understandable even when it veered into the anatomical explanation of materials. More importantly, Miodownik clearly loves materials and enthusiastically shares their uniqueness.

In each of the eleven chapters, Miodownik covers eleven different materials that make up ordinary items. Some chapters have an anectode or a personal pondering that introduces the material. All the chapters give the history, original uses, modern application and possible future form of the material. Whether he was talking about china, concrete, titanium, or paper I was riveted.

The only chapter I struggled with was the one on plastic. Here, Miodownik tells the story of a plastic candy wrapper at the movie showing of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He found himself in an argument regarding the appropriateness of plastic at the movie theatre. The information and delivery of the information would have been superb but he used Butch Cassidy’s storyline to deliver it. This meant that the delicious clipped British accent of narrator Michael Page took on the drawl of a movie cowboy. Also, I have never seen Butch Cassidy so many parrellels made to the story were meaningless for me. Still, I learned much about plastics and this chapter was not bad, at all, just the only less than perfect one of the eleven.

Mark Miodownik has been fascinated by materials his whole life. He ponders them in a way I would never have before listening to his book. But now, when I hold my china teacup, you can be sure I will be telling anyone around me about its origins in China and the humble lifecycle of its cousin, the mug. Oh thank you Stuff Matters for the wealth of ridiculous information I now have at my fingertips.

Tell me, please!

Do you wonder about the materials in everyday objects?

Audio Book · funny · nonfiction

Canada by Mike Myers


It was this picture from Justin Trudeau’s first cabinet that caught my eye. Much like spotting an extremely attractive person, I scrolled past it at first and then did I double take. Look at this magnificence! There are fifty percent women, minorities and a person with a visible disability all right there representing a whole country. Wait. Maybe that isn’t how legislation works in Canada. I had to look it up. My Canadian crush had begun.

Recently I returned from my Canadian adventure.  I spent ten wonderful days traveling by car through the province Quebec starting in Quebec City then up to Tadoussac and around again to Montreal before heading home. By the time I arrived back at my own house I was making promises to myself to never go outside again. But, after one good night of sleep in my own bed my crush roared to life again. Luckily, Mike Myers has a 2016 book entitled Canada and my library even lent me to audiobook. Good on ya library!

Mike Myers only lived in Canada until he was 20. Now, at age 53 his comprehension and eloquence on the subject of his native land is akin to hero worshipping. Or, as he says, “There is no one more Canadian than a Canadian who no longer lives in Canada.” With a straight delivery that I didn’t really expect from Mike Myers he tells the tale of growing up in Canada with two British immigrants for parents and how his family and his country made him who he is today. He added loads of delicious Canadian inside information that I ate up like it was covered in maple syrup.

I delighted in hearing about the morbid sense of humor most Canadians enjoy. Myers fascinated me with the different accents across Canada and the words and phrases unique to Canadians. When he started immitating the rising linguistics employed by most Canadians I was rolling with laughter. You see, I lived in Minnesota for three years before my Canadian crush. Minnesotans are similar to Canadians in only a few ways (to my untrained eye) but they absolute use rising linguistics. On top of all of this, Myers gave me plenty of little Canadian tidbits that I can use to be extra annoying when talking about Canada.

If you don’t have a crush on Canada but you are interested in Mike Myers he spends quite some time talking about how he found fame. His story is intertwined with Canada but he shares a number of personal anecdotes. The most interesting was how he created and popularized Wayne Campbell.

I was initially drawn to the notion of Canada and the ideals put forth by Trudeau before our tumultuous election and subsequent further division in America. It is difficult to explain how upset you become watching your country lose its morality and ideology. Listening to Myers talk about Canada, especially in the final chapter, gives me hope.

Tell me, please!

Have you ever been fascinated by another country?


Grit by Angela Duckworth

gritAngela Duckworth is fascinated by the unique quality in human beings that separate the successful from the unsuccessful. Her theory? It is “Grit.” In fact, she attributes her own grit for carrying her through life and changing her from the child her own father described as “…no genius.” to a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award.

Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance is the culmination of years of her studies and collaborations. If you want a small taste of her theory you can see her six minute Ted Talk here. She spent significant time studying children and adults in high stress situations and attempted to predict which person would be successful and why. In the end, she has determined that talent and intelligence matter less than grit.

Dr. Duckworth defines grit as passion and perseverance focused on one thing over a long period of time. Her whole first section is entitled, “What Grit is and Why it Matters.” This first section had numerous anecdotal stories that all boil down to two things: try harder and don’t quit. My parents would call this “winners never quit, quitters never win.” Additionally, there is a proverb, “fall down seven, get up eight.” Or, my own personal mantra taken from the fantastic Galaxy Quest movie, “Never give up, Never surrender.” Perhaps you can tell, this was not new information for me. So, the first section, while enjoyable to read, was unsurprising.

The second section, “Growing Grit from the Inside Out,” was far more interesting. Similarly, the third section, “Growing Grit from the Outside In.” In the two sections of the book Dr. Duckworth goes into the idea of how to grow grit should you not be blessed with an abundance of natural go-get-em attitude. She addresses both the internal methods of enhancing and building grit in yourself and how to encourage grit in others (or find someone to aid you in your quest for grit.)

I simply do not know enough about statistics to tell you whether her studies are reliable or not, but I do know that there have been complaints about her misrepresenting her numbers. I also know that her response to this criticism has been to accept the critics point of view and clarify her own. This style makes her more reliable in my opinion because, as she states repeatedly, this is an ongoing research topic.

There were a few things I disagreed with in the book. First, many of her individual examples are paragons of passion and perseverance in one area of their life. Olympic swimmers, spelling bee champions, and professional potters are all attempting to master one goal. Several times the point is made – pick something and stick to it.  Being a renaissance learner is frowned upon – grit means sticking to limited goals. I will admit, I completely disagree.

I do agree with her that quitting gets you no closer to a goal. But quitting one thing to focus on a new goal isn’t always a personality flaw. Take Dr. Duckworth as an example – she quit her high-stress consulting job to become a seventh grade teacher. Then, she quit her teaching job to pursue her Ph.D in psychology and research grit. What if she had not had the personal strength to quit her consulting job?

Disagreeing with a the author did not make me enjoy the book any less. Grit got me thinking and that is what non-fiction books, especially those that are self-help, are made to do. If you don’t have the support system I have enjoyed in my life, Grit would be even more informative and encouraging because the first section would be eye-opening.

Grit is an informative and easy to read book on the power of passion and perseverance. I would love the opportunity to question the author on some of her points but overall her positive belief that anyone, with the right attitude and support system, can do anything won me over.

Tell me, please!

Have you read Grit? Do you think attitude is more important than IQ?



The Book of Joy by his Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams

thebookofjouyThis book has taken me quite some time to consume. It has been described as a three layer cake with the personal stories and teachings of joy from these two remarkable religious leaders, current studies on joy and the daily practices to root yourself in joy. But I found it to be more like a deliciously well rounded meal. There were parts I struggled to read – healthy bites I knew I needed but didn’t completely enjoy. Then there was the bulk of the book – the lovely meat and potatoes if you will. The background information about these two fascinating leaders and how they have continued to find peace and joy despite their personal difficulties and challenges is nothing short of remarkable. Finally, there was the decadant dessert. These two men may be some of the most well respected religious leaders in our world but they are naughty and hilariously engaging!

At times, I didn’t enjoy the application the author, Douglas Abrams, made of the teaching to his own life. However, there were moments when his astute explanations bolstered and clarified the messages. I also appreciated that, as a Jewish person, Abrams brought a fresh and neutral perspective to the discussions. At times, he made several comments which indicated that he was better acquainted with the Dalai Lama than the Archbishop and that may be why there was more information about Buddhism than Christianity woven into the book. Or, perhaps it was because the Archbishop had travelled to Dharamsala and therefore the meeting took place surrounded by Monks.

Regardless of the reasons, I was deeply humbled by the teachings of the Dalai Lama. While my religious background alines me more naturally with Archbishop Tutu, my fascination with other religions created a greater interest in the Buddhist teachings of this magnificently humble leader. The history of the Dalai Lama and his exile were vaguely in my brain but hearing of his isolation from family and country brought me greater understanding of the trials and tribulations of the Dalai Lama and his people.

Similarly, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a well known figure. However, his experiences in Africa during a tumultuous time coupled with his fascinating personal history made for such an interesting read.

Both men seem to almost casually mention death, fear, anxiety, depression and struggle only to use that experience to show the impact of choosing joy. Next to their experiences I felt unworthy of any unhappiness. Yet, just when I started to believe that perhaps this was a spiritual quest outside of my own abilities, the authors acknowledged that they have not always felt this deep sense of control over their joy. This allowed me to feel that I am still on my path.

I am a spiritual and religious person. There were parts of this book that seemed to be religious dogma and that did not bother me because religion is woven into my life. However, if you are searching for a message of hope without religious entanglement this book may not be for you. I believe that these amazing men are using their religion to explain how they choose joy. But, by comparing and contrasting their religious applications to life to support choosing joy they open the discussion to a more secular approach.

This book is full of solid advice, anecdotal stories and current scientific information about how joy can be found and held onto. The last section of the book includes options for daily practice to find joy in your own life should you want some specific direction. If you are struggling with finding joy I encourage you to read this book. It is far and beyond the best of all the books I have read regarding happiness, gratitude and finding joy.

Tell me, please!

Do you read self-help books? If so, what are you searching for in them?