Reading Nonfiction in 2020

My nonfiction reading for 2020 was typical in terms of amount–too many to count. A lot of them were assigned for book reviews so I can’t include any of those in my best-of list. The other chunk was research reading for my (still) book-in-progress about Dale Evans.

(Dale Evans c. 1939)

The books for research reading usually don’t make it to my year-end list because I like to keep my work reading separate from my leisure reading. (The same goes for the book review books.) But I made an exception for a book I picked up because I thought it might provide some helpful background on women in 1940s-1950s Hollywood. It did, to a certain degree, but The Lady From the Black Lagoon turned out to be much more than that. Mallory O’Meara brilliantly writes about Milicent Patrick, an animator at Disney who went on to create one of the most iconic movie monsters. I kept thinking about the book, and about the many women ignored despite their achievements, long after I turned the final page.

Paperback The Lady from the Black Lagoon : Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick Book

O’Meara’s book did well, garnering reviews from The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The Christian Science Monitor. It’s a great example of how the life of an “unknown” woman can be made into a fascinating story.

I also loved Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, a memoir about growing up in New Orleans that’s infused with history and current events.

Hardcover The Yellow House Book

Broom’s debut was a New York Times bestseller, and it won the 2019 National Book Award. The writing is lovely, the story compelling.

My third favorite nonfiction book from 2020 was also a memoir, one first published in 1945 and quickly forgotten. Françoise Frenkel was a Polish Jewish woman who opened a French bookstore in Berlin in the 1920s. Pushed out in the late 1930s, she spent years fleeing the Nazis.

A Bookshop in Berlin

Another “unknown” woman, another important story. There seems to be a theme here with books I like to read–and write.

Dale Evans is the most famous woman I’ve ever written about, though she’s much less well known today than she was in the mid-20th century. Many of my blog posts in 2021 will center on that writing and publication journey. Stay tuned.

The Happy New Year Reading Roundup

2021 has finally arrived. When I woke up this morning, everything looked remarkably like it had the day before–the biggest clue that any changes that might happen won’t happen overnight. Still, fingers crossed for a really, really good new year.

HappyNewYear_2015
(from The Bookwyrm’s Hoard)

My 2020 was unimpressive in terms of numbers of books read. Not counting the books I read for professional reviewing and the ones for research for my own current manuscript, the total was 46. That’s an all-time low for me. (Last year: 64) Of course, 2020 was a pretty strange year, and that strangeness had an impact on my reading, especially because I couldn’t access the library as much as usual. And moving (in-state, but still….) took up a big chunk of my spare time.

I reread several of my favorite books in 2020, mostly because I had them right in the house. I hadn’t read Toni Morrison’s Beloved in a long time, and I was once again knocked sideways by its greatness. I revisited Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, still one of the best books I’ve ever encountered.

Of the new-to-me novels in 2020, here are the stand outs. I found the first four exceptional:

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit

Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom : A novel

The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Up next, reading nonfiction in 2020.

After the Book Launch

Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War launched on June 1. Thanks again to everyone who followed along on the Walker Wednesdays and to all of you who ordered the book or plan to do so.

Dr. Walker has been in the news recently, not a typical thing for someone who died in 1919. (It’s interesting to contemplate that she lived through the 1918 pandemic.) Over the last week or so, her name came up in connection with discussions about renaming military bases. (Some are named for Confederates.) Walker is certainly a long shot, but as the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor, it’s appropriate to consider honoring her this way.

Dr. Walker (photo courtesy of Library of Congress) (Library of Congress)

I’ve been booking virtual events about Mary Walker. I add them to the News and Events section on this blog as the details are firmed up, and I post reminders on Facebook and Twitter. Hopefully, you will find something to watch and/or listen to.

If you’d like to help spread the word about the book (and please, please, please do! this is so very important!), post a review of it on any and all book sites. In terms of real oomph for boosting the book’s profile, the more reviews on Amazon and Good Reads, the better. Otherwise, Mary Walker will end up like this:

MEW freezer

(Fans of Friends will especially get this.)

Stay safe and stay well.

 

 

 

My 2019 Nonfiction Reading

For my final installment of reviewing my 2019 reading, I turn to nonfiction. I don’t keep a tally of how many nonfiction books I read in a given year because there are simply too many of them.

(photo via LitHub)

Between research for my own writing and all the books I’m assigned to review for a national book publishing magazine, I think my study always looks like that photo above. It’s a real treat when I get to read a work of nonfiction just because I want to.

From 2019, three really stand out–so much that I find myself thinking about them from time to time.

Saidiya Hartman’s lovely prose, flawless research, and imaginative approach make this history of the lives of young black women unforgettable.

If you’re inclined to write this off as another rehash of the Jack the Ripper story, don’t. Hallie Rubenhold’s focus on the five murdered women makes for a fascinating look at the lives of English women in the late 19th century and a compelling  examination of the city of London.

Stephanie Jones-Rogers’s revelation of white women’s participation in the institution of slavery is stunning.

If nonfiction is your thing, consider joining the Nonfiction Fans discussion group on Facebook. I’m one of the co-moderators.

Here’s hoping 2020 is a great reading year for everyone!

 

2019 Reading Continued: Mystery Series

When I looked back on my 2019 reading, I was a bit surprised to see how many mystery series I keep up with.

Image result for jessica fletcher

For me, the best of them demonstrate interesting character development over time and have vivid settings. These were my favorites.

I’ve sung the praises of the Maisie Dobbs series before, especially with Winspear’s willingness to throw lots of changes at Maisie and make them all work out.

The American Agent: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by [Winspear, Jacqueline]

Confession: I haven’t read all the Harry Potter books. But I’ve never missed an installment of “Robert Galbraith”‘s Cormoran Strike series.

Lethal White (Cormoran Strike Book 4) by [Galbraith, Robert]

Another confession. I can take or leave Jack Reacher (who has been compared to Petrie’s main character, though I’ll read one of Lee Child’s books if I happen across it at the library and usually enjoy it), but I always make sure to pick up Petrie’s latest about Iraq war veteran Peter Ash.

Oh, how I will miss Bernie Gunther. The late Philip Kerr created a truly memorable character.

Next, I’ll wrap up with a look at nonfiction.