Reading Nonfiction in 2017

I read fiction for pleasure and relaxation. Even if the stories are dark and twisty, I can sink into them and remove myself from life’s realities for awhile. Case in point, one of my all-time favorite novels that I still can’t resist recommending:

Whenever I pick up a work of nonfiction, though, I feel caught in a kind of hyper-reality, always aware of the time and place of its narrative. I read a lot of history for work: research, course prep, book reviewing. I can’t set aside my training as a historian even when I pick up a nonfiction book for leisure reading. My critical senses are always tingling.

Of the many nonfiction books that crossed my desk and/or found their way into my book bag in 2017, there are a couple–one old, one new–that stand out.

Malcolm’s book is a modern classic, a fascinating analysis of the life of Sylvia Plath told through an examination of the various biographies written about Plath. It’s a near perfect meditation on the struggle to control the meaning of a life.

I rarely read memoirs or true crime stories, but I was intrigued that Marzano-Lesnevich chose to combine both in this inventive hybrid. She is such a talented writer that both parts of the story are almost equally strong, with the whole book a compulsive page-turner.

On Facebook and Twitter, I co-moderate Nonfiction Fans, a discussion group that launched in early 2017. (Join up and/or follow to get some of the best nonfiction recommendations, especially ones by and/or about women.) Because of that group, I’ve read some wonderful books, including:

Hindley has written a terrific story and a stellar work of history.

Though I rarely read true crime stories, if they are set in the past, I can’t resist. Cox’s book is especially valuable for its emphasis on race.

Finally, a few other works of history I liked in 2017:

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

I have memories of this event, and Toobin recounts it with compelling precision.

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War

Most of my World War II reading (and writing) focuses on the Pacific theater, so I enjoyed expanding my knowledge of the European theater with Olson’s book.

Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves

An absolutely fascinating slice of early American history.

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World's Fair

Anyone who loved The Devil in the White City should definitely read Creighton’s tale of the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom

Renaissance rivalry among French queens. A great examination of the monarchy through the experiences of women.

And that’s a wrap of my 2017 reading.