Saturday, July 16, 2011

BAND - Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees. July Discussion - What’s Your Favorite Type of Nonfiction?

I was very excited to see that BAND - Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees has formed! For more info, see here.

I remember when I first started blogging, I had a very difficult time in finding other blogs that reviewed non-fiction. A few years back, I was reading about 75% Non-Fiction (roughly 100 books a year). Since I'd started blogging 1.5 years ago, I had read more fiction than non-fiction... mainly because I read all the fiction reviews from your blogs and ultimately added them to my TBR list!

Each month, BAND will ask a Non-Fiction related question. Then at the end of the month, the moderator will sum it up. I can't wait to hear what everyone else said!

Here's the July question: What’s Your Favorite Type of Nonfiction?

Good question! I haven't given it much thought before. Looking back, I read a lot of memoir (travel, medical, psychological/social, food etc). I also read a lot of real crime like Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury & Aly Sujo or Columbine by Dave Cullen. I enjoy some scientific books like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by by Mary Roach, or business books such as Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath, Dan Heath, Losing My Virginity: How I've Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson and Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag by Michael Tonello (though the latter two were really memoir).

I think, ultimately, my favorite type of non-fiction are memoirs that inspire me. Now, of course, what inspires us are very subjective. I'll briefly explain each of my example:

  • Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi - set in WWII in Japan. You see how innocent the children were (even if they were the "enemy"). But most inspiring of all was the headmaster and the way he educated the children
  • Not by Chance Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist by Elliot Aronson - I was a psych major, so it was interesting to read how this prominent psychologist stumbled into psychology. Also a great professor
  • The Emergency Teacher: The Inspirational Story of a New Teacher in an Inner City School by Christina Asquith - I had wanted to be a teacher, but didn't think I know enough to teach. The author left her well paying job to become an inner city school teacher. Enough said.
  • The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls - I kept asking myself "really?" and shaking my head when I read this book. I just couldn't believe the way her parents brought her up. Yet she strives. 
  • Running with Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs - even more unbelievable. I guess because of my psych background, I liked reading about dysfunctional families... 
  • Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood by Donovan Campbell. I don't read a lot about war, and this is a memoir from a military perspective (as opposed to the more prevalent civilian's perspective, e.g. the books from Jewish survivor in WWII). I guess when I grew up in Hong Kong and Australia, the military didn't have much of a presence, compared to the US. So this memoir gave me a better understand of what the military had to endured. When we visited Guam last year, I came across more military personnel than I had anywhere else. They were appreciative when I mouthed Thank You to them silently. So I am glad I read this before my Guam trip.
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah - one of the most heartbreaking memoir I'd read. No children should have to go through what he did and be a child soldier.
  • Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon's First Years by Michael Collins. Since I work in the health care field now, it was beneficial for me to read about what the doctors had to do to get to where they are. I thought of going into medicine when I was younger. Let's just say I am glad my grade wasn't good enough to get into med school :)
  • Josie's Story - A Mother's Inspiring Crusade to Make Medical Care Safe by Sorrel King. Because of my job, I really resonate with this book. Any story about losing a child is sad, but Sorrel King really used her tragedy to make a difference.
  • Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan - we read many stories about volunteers working in other third world countries. But I think what set this story apart is that the author really took the imitative to make a difference. This book reminded me of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson. I would have listed Three Cups of Tea separately, but due to the controversy, I haven't made up my mind yet about which side I am on...


  1. I love real crime nonfiction too -- sometimes is scares me, but mostly I'm fascinated. Thanks for the list of great memoirs, that all look like excellent reads.

  2. As you know, memoirs are new to me so I don't have a favourite but my interest is in dysfunctional families.

    So many I want to get through, you are definitely one of my non-fictional bloggers I take my recommendations from.

    I love Psychology also, didn't study like you but it fascinates me.

  3. @Kim - real crime can be scary - I mean, how could a person do that to another human being? I guess that's why sometimes horror books don't scare me as much, since real crime can be scarier...

    @Marce - I can only read so many memoir in a row, then I need a break. Though nowadays, it seems everyone is writing a memoir, even though their life isn't that interesting or unusual... not saying their life isn't worthwhile and what they go through isn't bad... but do everybody really have to write one?

  4. After reading some really good non-fiction last year, I'm making an effort to read more of it this year. I love that BAND is going to help bring more of it to my attention.

    I am most drawn towards scientific books, books about human behavior, and memoirs.

  5. @blog - yes I am very excited about BAND! It seems like we have similar interests!

  6. Great list of books! I'm going to add some of those to my TBR.

  7. @Joy - would love to hear your thoughts if you read any of them!

  8. I would have to say memoirs are my favorite kind of nonfiction. I also really enjoy biographies. I really enjoy reading about people's lives.


  9. I'd say for nonfiction, I'm mostly into memoirs... about cool journeys like Little Princes or dysfunction/psychology like The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses.

  10. @quirky/jehara - I like reading about other people's life too. Mine is too boring lol.

    @Bailey - I think we have similar tastes!

  11. Like you I used to read a lot more nonfiction before I started blogging. I miss that and it is making me try to stick more to my own books this year. Not working well though ;) You read a great variety, nice that you can pick a favorite type so easily though. Sounds like some great books.

  12. I feel like I used to read more memoirs than I do now. I've become a little disenchanted with them, because the sheer number being published means the odds are greater for running into mediocre ones. Or at least it seems that way to me. But, The Glass Castle, that one is special.

    I had been meaning to read Three Cups of Tea for a while, but even before the controversy about Mortenson, I kept seeing reviews that the writing was just so-so. Now with the controversy, I'm pretty sure I'll never read it.

    - Christy

  13. @Amy - I know what you mean about having a hard time to stick to my own books while blogging / visiting other bloggers! Too many temptations out there lol. There are definitely memoirs I don't enjoy as much, so I just try to find a common theme among those I do like. I do enjoy some narrative non-fiction, but it has to be a topic I am interested in, which can be all over the place!

    @agoodstoppingpoint - I know, it seems like everyone is writing a memoir! And a lot of blogger-turned-author happening... not that it's a bad thing, but some stories just don't interest me as much... If Three Cups of Tea is something you have wanted to read but are now uncertain, let me recommend you to read Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan! In terms of writing, Little Prince is actually easier to read as Three Cups can get a bit tedious. Little Prince's story is very inspiring also! This will be one of my fav in 2011.

  14. I'm always thrilled when I come across a great memoir. Thanks for such a diverse list!

  15. @Cass - you are welcome! I hope some of them work for you too!