True Story

Maritime Disasters and Under-the-Radar Nonfiction Awards

Today, November 10, marks the anniversary of the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a freighter that sank on Lake Superior in 1975. All 29 members of the crew died, and the ship remains the largest to have sunk on America’s Great Lakes.

I don’t normally make a practice of remembering the anniversary of shipwrecks, but a friend of mine, Erin, absolutely loves to read nonfiction about maritime disasters. She sends me pretty regular recommendations, so I thought I would open this week’s newsletter with two of her suggestions for genre classics, and throw in recommendation of my own.

Sponsored by Unbound Worlds

Build your library with a collection of classic science fiction and fantasy novels from Unbound Worlds! Fall is in full swing, and it’s the perfect time to cozy up with some classics. Unbound Worlds is giving away thirty-two books from timeless sci-fi and fantasy authors like Philip K. Dick, T.H. White, Anne McCaffrey, and Samuel R. Delaney, plus some bookish swag from Out of Print! Enter for a chance to win.

Her first suggestion is Deadliest Sea by Kalee Thompson, an account of “the greatest rescue in Coast Guard history.” In 2008, the fishing trawler Alaska Ranger sank in the Bering Sea. The distress signal set off a massive rescue operation to try and save the 47 crew members on the ship when it went down. Many didn’t even make it into a life raft, and those who did remained in peril due to frigid waters and stormy seas.

Her second suggestion is Wreck of the Carl D. by Michael Schumacher. This book covers the wreck of a 623-foot limestone carrier caught in one of the most violent storms in the history of Lake Michigan. Four members of the 35-member crew escaped to a raft, which they clung to until a rescue mission could be launched from the small town many of the crew members called home.

And finally, a book that I am reading right now, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall. This book was originally published in the 1970s, but is being reissued ahead of a movie adaptation titled The Mercy. The book is an investigation into the disappearance of entrepreneur Donald Crowhurst, who entered a solo, around-the-world sailing competition using an untested boat of his own design. His race started out well, but eight months later his boat was discovered abandoned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The book reconstructs what happened to Crowhurst, and explores themes of self-delusion, public deception, and madness.

A Couple of Book Awards

Awards season rolls on, including a lot of smaller awards that seem to recognize some interesting under-the-radar nonfiction. Here’s two that came out this week:

Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso by Kali Nicole Gross received the nonfiction prize in the juried awards for books by Black authors published in 2016 from the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation. According to the judges,

This book is a marvel. It accomplishes the very difficult task of weaving together a brutal story of murder while simultaneously creating empathy for the circumstances of the killer – a black woman trying to negotiate her own position in a society that has in turn, brutalized her.

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein was awarded the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award. FT reported Goldstein is the first solo female winner of the award… which seems kind of bonkers. But, nevertheless, good for her!

That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week with a November nonfiction new books megalist. And don’t forget, we’re giving away $500 to spend at the bookstore of your choice! Entries are open worldwide and will be accepted until 11:45 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26. Click here to enter. Happy reading!

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True Story Halloween Costumes and TBR–Busting Book Lists

Belated happy Halloween, nonfiction nerds! My two favorite costumes this year were both based on true stories. First, there are these three amazing sisters as the women of Hidden Figures. Mad props!

Sponsored by Chicago Review Press

Pinball Wizards: Jackpots, Drains, and the Cult of the Silver Ball  by Adam Ruben tells the dynamic story about America’s quintessential arcade game. By visiting pinball museums, gaming conventions, pinball machine designers and even pinball factories, Adam attempts to discover what makes the world’s best players so good. The book also explores the history of the game, as well as its invention, defeat and recent resurgence in American culture today.

And then there’s this little girl as “that funny astronaut” (Leland Melvin, author of Chasing Space). So good! 

I also saw someone dressed as Ruth Vader Ginsberg, which I found totally delightful but neglected to bookmark. C’est la vie.

Nonfiction Listicles

We’ve had a bunch of really good nonfiction lists up at Book Riot this week (and I’m not just saying that because I wrote a couple of them):

A Bunch of People Are Writing Books

It feels like it’s also been a busy few weeks of new book announcements:

Rhetta, who I love from Parks and Recreation, is publishing a book of essaysSo Close to Being the Sh*T, Y’all Don’t Even Know will be released in June 2018. I am EXCITED about this one.

John McCain will be publishing a memoir in April titled The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations. According to the Los Angeles Times, the book deal was finalized about five months before McCain was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. McCain is co-writing the book with Mark Salter, a speechwriter and friend.

Football player Colin Kapernick landed a $1 million book deal, but so far there’s not much information on what it will actually be about. Kapernick, a free agent NFL quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, made headlines as the first player to stage a protest during the playing of the national anthem. He’s still looking to play in the NFL, but no teams have shown interest this year.

Goodreads ‘Best Books of 2017’ Voting Opens

And finally, voting is open for the opening round of Goodreads Best Books of 2017 project. I’m glad they divide out nonfiction into a few different categories — Humor, Nonfiction, Memoir & Autobiography, History & Biography, Science & Technology, and Food & Cookbooks — but I also sometimes wonder about what ends up where. The Food & Cookbooks category is especially weird — how do you judge memoirs and food reporting against cookbooks? Anyway, pop over there and vote for your favorites — it’ll be interesting to see what shakes out over the next month.

We’re giving away $500 to spend at the bookstore of your choice! Click here, or on the image below to enter:

And that’s it for this week. Check in with me on Twitter and Instagram as @kimthedork, or via e-mail at Happy reading!

True Story

“Thank You For Your Service” and Other Adaptations of True Stories

This week is the opening of one of my most anticipated movie adaptations this year, Thank You for Your Service. The film is based on David Finkel’s truly excellent 2013 book of the same name, and stars Miles Teller as Sgt. Adam Schumann and Haley Bennett as his wife, Saskia.

Sponsored by Workman Publishing, publisher of Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything

Looking back with fascination, horror, and a dash of dark humor, Quackery recounts the lively, at times unbelievable, history of medical misfires and malpractices. Ranging from the merely weird to the outright dangerous, here are 67 outlandish, morbidly hilarious “treatments”, exploring their various uses and why they thankfully fell out of favor. With vintage illustrations, photographs, and advertisements throughout, Quackery seamlessly combines macabre humor with science and storytelling to reveal an important and disturbing side of the ever-evolving field of medicine.

If you haven’t read Thank You for Your Service, I highly recommend it. The book chronicles the lives of soldiers in the 2-16 Infantry Battalion during the 2007 and 2008 “surge” in Iraq. Finkel embedded with the battalion during their deployment, and followed many of the men afterwards to show what it is like for many traumatized soldiers and their families after they come home. It’s a remarkable piece of reporting that offers a compelling portrait of the sacrifices we ask from soldiers and the less obvious sacrifices that a deployment can ask from others. It’s a remarkable piece of work.

Thinking about that movie reminded me that I have some nonfiction adaptation news saved up that I haven’t had a chance to include in a newsletter for awhile:

Production has begun on a movie adaptation of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba, a story about a young boy who builds a windmill that saves his African village from a famine. The movie stars newcomer Maxwell Simba as 13-year-old Kamkwamba and Chiwetel Ejiofor as his father. Ejiofor is also directing and writing the adaptation.

Universal Pictures

Felicity Jones is starring as Ruth Bader Ginsberg in an upcoming biopic titled On the Basis of Sex. The film will follow “a young Ginsburg as she fights for equal rights, from her time at Harvard University and Columbia Law School, to Washington, D.C.” The movie is set to be released in 2018.

A production company has acquired the rights to A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, a memoir by Elaine Brown about her time as the first and only woman to lead the Black Panther Party. The company that acquired the rights is currently negotiating to find a writer.

And finally, Variety reported that “Fox has ordered a script for a drama series based on the book Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class.” The book by Lawrence Otis Graham includes interviews with members of some of America’s most prominent black families. The series will be a “a multi-generational family drama uncovering the lives of America’s black upper class by chronicling a dazzling Chicago dynasty with a dark secret threatening to rip it apart.”

New Releases on My Radar

An American Family by Khizir Khan – It seems a little fitting that a memoir by Khizir Khan, a member of the first Gold Star family that President Trump decided to attack, is coming out amidst criticism of his treatment of another Gold Star family. In the book, Khan recounts his childhood in Pakistan, his efforts to attend Harvard Law School, and the loss of his son in Iraq.


Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan – In this memoir, novelist Amy Tan writes about her traumatic and complicated childhood, her life as a writer, and “the symbiotic relationship between fiction and emotional memory.” I’ve never read any of Tan’s books, but memoirs by writers always fascinate me.


American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee – In the 1920s, wolves were hunted almost to extinction in the United States. Bringing back that population has sparked conflict between conservationists, hunters, ranchers, and others in the West. American Wolf explores that conflict through the story of O-Six, an alpha female beloved by naturalists and other wolf watchers.

Kindle Deals in Biography and Memoir

This week in ebook deals, I want to highlight four great memoirs by interesting women:

And don’t forget, we’re giving away $500 to the bookstore of your choice! Click here to enter. Hit me up on Twitter or Instagram (@kimthedork) or via e-mail at with questions, comments, or reading suggestions!

True Story

Living With Transient Seniors in an RV: Behind the Writing of NOMADLAND

This week’s newsletter is something a little different, a longer piece exploring the ins and outs of writing the kind of narrative, investigative nonfiction that I love to read.

Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century is a look into the growing number of transient older Americans that are helping boost large sectors of the seasonal economy. To tell their story, Bruder spent weeks at a time in an RV (an adapted 1995 GMC Vandura with a jaunty teal stripe) following these “workcampers” from months working in Amazon warehouses, at National Forest campgrounds, and in sugar beet harvests.

Sponsored by The 57 Bus, a true story by Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt.

One teenager with a lighter.

One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

A single reckless act during an 8-minute bus ride leaves one teen severely burned and the other charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The 57 Bus is Dashka Slater’s true account of the case that garnered international attention and thrust both high school students into the spotlight.

After I finished the book, I really wanted to know more…Where did this idea come from? What were the challenges in reporting? How did Bruder’s relationships with her subjects form and change? Luckily for me, Bruder was able to take a few minutes to answer my questions, which you can read below.

The Initial Idea

Bruder pointed to two articles that helped steer her towards the ideas that would become Nomadland – a 2011 piece in the Allentown Morning Call on the dangerous conditions inside an Amazon warehouse, and a 2012 Mother Jones article that briefly mentioned a program to hire retirees, CamperForce.

Photo by Todd Gray, via

In both cases, Bruder noticed something in the article that intrigued or alarmed her, then used that spark to dig deeper.

“Nobody ever wants to talk about the fact that the sausage is made that way, because the idea is like, somehow, we magically come up with everything in a hermetically sealed, pure, vacuum,” she said. “This stuff is in reach, you just have to pay attention.”

Although there are some retirees who still use RVs recreationally, Bruder said she slowly became aware of “a totally different strata of folks who were permanently on the road,” moving from seasonal employer to seasonal employer to make ends meet.

“That seemed kind of wild too because we’re in a workplace where ageism is so rampant, and then you’ve got this underground senior network of employers,” said Bruder. “A lot of the jobs are low-paid and pretty tough. (The story) hooked my subculture brain, it hooked my social justice brain, and I really wanted to learn more.”

Beginning the Story

Bruder was so intrigued by the idea that she used her hotel stipend from a conference to instead rent a car and drive out to Nevada to begin talking to seniors living in RV parks near an Amazon warehouse. After her initial reporting, Bruder pitched the story to Harper’s Magazine, who agreed to send her back out to Nevada to do a few more days of reporting.

“I got it in my mind that I wanted to go to this place called Quartzite, Arizona, which is where a lot of nomads kind of go financially dormant through the winter. You’ve got tens of thousands of people on the public lands, using solar panels, living super cheap. I borrowed a tent and went out there for a few weeks and wrote the story based on that,” she explained.

Photo Credit:

From Magazine to Book

Bruder’s story – “The End of Retirement” – was published in the August 2014 edition of the magazine. But Bruder said she felt like there was more to the story.

“I had so much B-roll, just buckets and buckets of things that didn’t fit,” she said. “And I still wanted to know what was going to happen to these people! I got to spend a little bit of time with them, and I really couldn’t stop thinking about them.”

Bruder used the advance from her book deal with W.W. Norton to purchase a van on Craigslist.

“A lot of people, when you’re doing your passion project, you have to do it on spec, and I don’t know if I could have done all of this like that,” Bruder said. “Getting a camper van, that’s an audacious thing to do!”

The van gave Bruder some additional flexibility for her reporting. Instead of just stopping by for a few days at a time, Bruder was able to spend weeks or months following the people she planned to write about, becoming a part of the community rather than just a journalist writing about their lives.

“I wish I were better at writing on the road and in the van, but all I could make myself do (on the road) was keep a daily reporter’s journal where I’m going through the notes I’ve written down and rehydrating them so they make sense,” said Bruder. “I did a lot of jump in, jump out reporting.”

Navigating Relationships

One of the challenges of spending so much time in a community is building relationships while also reporting on what you learn.

“In a normal situation, when I’m there everybody knows what I’m doing. Everyone knows I’m there as a reporter. If I worry somebody’s forgetting, sometimes I remind them,” Bruder said.

The book includes a couple of exceptions to this practice – Bruder went undercover in an Amazon warehouse and a sugar beet harvest – but Bruder said in those cases she made sure to focus on her experiences, rather than things she learned about other workers.

In one challenging instance, the subject she originally planned to make the main character of the Harper’s piece had to back out of the project. The man was hired to work full time at Amazon – something Bruder said she had never seen happen – and worried that his comments made as a seasonal employee would threaten his livelihood. After some discussion, Bruder had to find a new character for her magazine piece, but ended up using parts of his story in the book using a pseudonym.

“I’ve covered politics and I’ve covered policing, but these people are civilians,” Bruder said. “You want people to talk to you, but you want to make sure that they understand what you’re doing and why you’re there and how it all works. Narrative is messy because you come to like people – I know I did – and you’re all very human out there.”

On Narrative Nonfiction and Immersion Journalism

One of the challenges Bruder notes in the book was figuring out a satisfying ending for a story about people who have lives that extend beyond the confines of the book.

“When you’re doing nonfiction we’re really at the mercy of the world and what happens in it,” Bruder said. “As much as you shape elements of your story, you’re also sort of dragging off the back of the wagon the whole time and just hanging on.”

Bruder got to follow up on one thread from the book already, in an article for WIRED. The piece is billed as an adaptation of Nomadland, but it includes “a whole lot of new reporting,” Bruder said. She also hopes to do more writing on the criminalization of homelessness.

Bruder also noted that a big part of writing a book like this one, immersing in a subculture to understand it better, is just spending time with people.

“In the era of the accelerated news cycle and social media and so much quick hit reporting, if you want to do something like this you really have to be willing to marinate and spend a lot of time that’s not directed interview time with people,” she said. “In my mind, when you’re getting it right with subculture journalism, you’re going in and you’re learning about a group of people who may seem pretty different from the outside, but when you get close they have more in common with all of us than you may initially realize. My favorite journalism is the kind that helps promote that kind of empathy.”

And that’s the end for this week! Thanks for indulging me in something a little different for this newsletter. I’ll be back to a more regular format for next week, when I’m hoping to gather up some links on upcoming nonfiction adaptations to keep on your radar. Happy reading!

True Story

Buzzy Nonfiction Out in Early October

True confession: ever since I started writing about books online like eight years ago, I knew that fall is publishing’s big season, but I never really thought much about why. It just is, you know? This week I stumbled across a Vox article that points out some big reasons – the holiday shopping season, and book awards season. Well, duh!

Sponsored by TarcherPerigee, publisher of Rescue Road by Peter Zheutlin

In the follow-up to his New York Times bestseller Rescue Road, acclaimed journalist Peter Zheutlin offers a heartwarming and often humorous new look into the world of rescue dogs. Sharing lessons from his own experiences adopting Labs with large personalities as well as stories and advice from dozens of families and rescue advocates, Zheutlin reveals the surprising and inspiring life lessons rescue dogs can teach us. For anyone who loves, lives with, or has ever wanted a dog, this charming book shows how the dogs whose lives we save can change ours for the better too.

Point is, October is another month chock full of new books to add to your TBR (and perhaps to your holiday shopping plans?). Although it seems like the buzziest titles this month have been fiction, I’ve still got several nonfiction books I’m excited about from the first half of this month:

The Future is History by Masha Gessen – This book is a chunkster (528 pages!) about how Russia’s promise for democracy less than a generation ago have been crushed by emerging Russian totalitarianism.

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty – America’s funniest mortician is back with a book exploring the different global rituals we have for caring for our dead. I’m a couple chapters into this one and really like it.

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates – This might be the buzziest nonfiction book of October. The book collects new and previously published essays reflect on the election of America’s first black president and the subsequent backlash that led to our current administration.

A Crime in the Family by Sacha Batthyany – A journalist confronts his family’s past as Nazi supporters and investigates what happened at a party, hosted by his great aunt in March 1945, where 180 enslaved Jewish laborers were shot and killed.

A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo – A work of literary journalism exploring how ordinary Africans are resisting the wave of fundamentalism currently sweeping across Africa.

Code Girls by Liza Mundy – I think I’ve written about this one in the newsletter before, but oh well, it’s great. Mundy gets on the bandwagon of books on the contributions of women to science by looking at the female codebreakers of World War II.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga – A journalist sets out to document the lives and investigate the deaths of seven indigenous high school students found dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario between 2000 and 2011.

Grant by Ron Chernow – I’m not usually into giant biographies of old white dudes, but Ron Chernow’s next big project is always worth a mention. In this book he looks into the lesser-known facets of the life of Ulysses S. Grant, “whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.”

Nasty Women, edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding – There’s been a lot of excitement about this on one among the Book Riot community. The book features essays from an amazing array of women – Cheryl Strayed! Samantha Irby! Sarah Hepola! – looking at how we got to President Trump, and what we can do to move forward.

Periods Gone Public by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf – I didn’t know that I wanted to read a book on “menstruation in the current cultural and political landscape” that will “investigate the new wave of period activism taking the world by storm” until I saw it on a friend’s Instagram account. I’m so curious!

Nonfiction Over at the Riot

Looking to get into audiobooks? Or looking for some short books to fill a little bit of time? Emma Nichols recommends six short nonfiction audiobooks to expand your mind.

Love cooking and memoirs? Pierce Alquist has a roundup of 10 memoirs by women in the culinary world. Related, Dana Staves asks why there aren’t more LGBTQ food memoirs.

Into journaling? Hannah Engler writes about her experiment in keeping a journal inspired by David Sedaris’ newest book, Theft by Finding.

Want to learn more about athletes and protest? Shaun Manning has five suggested reads for you.

Love Bill Bryson? Emily Polson reflects on her discovery of Bryson’s work, and his status as “Iowa’s central claim to bookish fame.”

And that’s a wrap for this week’s newsletter. Catch up with me on Instagram and Twitter @kimthedork, or send an email to Happy reading!

True Story

Spooky Reads, Serial Killers, and Kindle Deals in Politics

Now that it’s finally October, I’ve found myself turning towards nonfiction of the creepy variety. I’m kind of a chicken, but give me some good true crime or spooky history, and I’ll happily sleep with the light on so I can enjoy it. Two of my favorite seasonally-appropriate nonfiction books are The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

Sponsored by Because I Was a Girl, edited by Melissa de la Cruz.

Whether they’re young or old, household names or behind-the-scenes players, so many women have incredible stories to tell. And now is their chance.

Because I Was a Girl showcases true stories from an inspiring roster of talented, diverse women ages 10 to 88 about the obstacles they’ve faced because of their gender — and the dreams they’ve made come true. This beautifully designed book is the perfect gift for young women to show them that they can do and be anything.

The Poisoner’s Handbook, a tale of “murder and the birth of forensic science in Jazz Age New York,” follows chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler as they try to figure out the science behind murder by poison. This one will have you looking twice at the next cup of coffee your significant other serves you.


There’s a lot of spooky true crime out there, but In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s original “nonfiction novel” on the murder of a family in Holcomb, Kansas is one that I distinctly remember kept me awake at night. His reconstruction of the crime from the point of view of the killers is chilling, and it’s clear why this book, in particular, has become a classic of the genre.


This year, I’ve got two new creepy books on my radar. The first is The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke (Oct. 10 from Del Ray). Mahnke, creator of the Lore podcast, is publishing his first book on the history of terrifying creatures like werewolves, poltergeists, vampires, and vengeful spirits. If you’re a fan of Lore, Rioter Katie McClain rounded up a few of her favorite creepy books, including three nonfiction titles.

And in true crime, I am looking forward to Black Dahlia, Red Rose by Piu Eatwell (Oct. 10 from Liveright). Eatwell uses new evidence and historical records to revisit the unsolved 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, “an aspiring starlet from Massachusetts who had been lured west by the siren call of Hollywood.” Her body was found, mutilated, in a public park, but despite the sensation of the case, her killer was never found.

I’m curious, dear readers – do you have any favorite creepy, crawly, or spooky topics you turn to during the fall season? Hit me up with your suggestions and recommendations. And with that, on to the news of the week.

Follow Up: H.H. Holmes Really is Dead

Earlier this year, experts planned to exhume the body of H.H. Holmes, the Chicago serial killer at the center of Erik Larson’s 2003 book The Devil in the White City. Descendants made the request as part of a History Channel show, looking into whether Holmes may have escaped death. Turns out, he didn’t. Dental records show that the body buried in a pine box that was filled with cement is actually Holmes. Whew.

Chicago Tribune photo

Already, Books Coming in 2018?

A couple of releases set for 2018 caught my attention recently. Journalists Michael Isikoff (chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News) and David Corn (Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones) will release a book on “the controversies surrounding Donald J. Trump, Vladimir Putin and Russia’s influence.” The book is tentatively called The Russian Connection. I’m intrigued, since the long history of Trump’s connections to Russia doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it may deserve.

The other book I had no idea was coming, but now I’m super curious about, is a true crime book written by Patton Oswalt’s late wife, Michelle McNamara. At the time of her unexpected death in 2016, McNarama was working to investigate the Golden State Killer, “an unknown assailant who police believe was responsible for 50 rapes and 10 murders in California in the 1970s and ’80s.” I’ll Be Gone in the Dark will include an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by Oswalt.

Kindle Deals in Politics and Social Science

This week, I’ve got some political and social science ebooks for you to check out:

Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea Ritchie for $1.99

The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future by Gretchen Bakke for $1.99

Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward for $1.99

And that’s all for this week. I’ll be back next week with an early October new books list – there are A LOT of titles coming out this month that I’m excited to highlight.

As always, you can catch me on Twitter and Instagram @kimthedork and via email at Happy October!

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36 New Nonfiction Favorites Now Out in Paperback

Fall is finally here, which means it’s finally time to cuddle up with some tea, a fuzzy blanket, and great books. Winter is probably my favorite reading season — I live in Minnesota, so there are many days of the year when it’s best to just never leave the house — but autumn is a close second. What’s your favorite season to read? You can share in this poll over at Book Riot.

Sponsored by TarcherPerigee, publisher of Things Are What You Make of Them by Adam J. Kurtz

From the mind and heart of designer Adam J. Kurtz comes an upbeat rallying cry for creatives of all stripes: Things Are What You Make of Them.

Expanding on a series of popular essays he wrote for Design*Sponge, this empathetic and empowering guide—packed withhandwritten and heartfelt insights—is The Artist’s Way for a new generation and will be a touchstone for writers, artists, entrepreneurs, or anyone else seeking a more aesthetic life.

With perforated tear-and-share pages, this vibrant, full-color book will serve as kindling for stoking and sustaining creative fires.

I thought I’d kick off fall with one of my favorite things: a giant, TBR-busting list of nonfiction favorites that are finally out in paperback. This list features some heavy-hitters, as well as some books that I missed when they first came out last year. As always, I hope you can find something awesome to read.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande — A look at medicine, aging and death.

The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams — A literary celebration of national parks and what they mean to us.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer — Essays from a comic actress on growing up making people laugh.

Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips — The history of Forsyth County, Georgia, and the violent means by which locals kept Forsyth ‘all white’ well into the 1990s.”

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi — A history of “how racist ideas were developed, disseminated, and enshrined in American society.”

Code Warriors by Stephen Budiansky — An inside look at the roots of the National Security Agendy.

Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre — The inside history of Britain’s elite Special Air Service.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance — Memoir by a Yale Law School graduate about “growing up in a poor Rust Belt town.”

Sing for Your Life by Daniel Bergner — The story of a young black man’s journey from prison to life as a rising opera star.

White Rage by Carol Anderson — A history of how “social progress for African American was countered by deliberate and cleverly crafted opposition” from white America.

Urban Forests by Jill Jonnes — An exploration of how trees and urban green spaces contribute to public health and urban infrastructure.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton — An Oprah-endorsed memoir about confronting pain to build deeper, truer relationships. y of living your own truth.

Presence by Amy Cuddy — Techniques for improving confidence and performance through mind-body connections.

Around the Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson — A memoir of “family, friends, the hustle to make it from DC to Hollywood, and the joy of living your own truth.”

The Invention of Russia by Arkady Ostrovsky — A look at Russia’s nationalist movement and aggression against America.

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessie Klein — Essays on growing up as a tomboy and becoming a woman.

I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman — A memoir of mothers and daughters and the complexity of families.

A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston — A memoir by the star of Breaking Bad.

The Battle for Home by Marwa al-Sabouni — An eyewitness account of life in Syria by an architect.

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner — The true story of an American family separated by the Iron Curtain for more than 40 years.

Playing Dead by Elizabeth Greenwood — “A journey through the world of death fraud.”

Pilgrimage by Mark K. Shriver — A portrait of Pope Francis based on interviews from the people who knew him as Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick — Essays on life from a short, funny, introverted actress.

Never Look an American in the Eye by Okey Ndibe — “A memoir of flying turtles, colonial ghosts, and the making of Nigerian American.”

Books for Living by Will SchwalbeA look at the books that can help answer life’s big and small questions.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen — Rock star memoir!

In Such Good Company by Carol Burnett — A behind-the-scenes look at The Carol Burnett Show.

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston — An eyewitness account of following in the footsteps of a swashbuckling journalist in Honduras.

The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy — A Book Riot favorite, a memoir of growing up working class in Queens.

The Pigeon Tunnel by John le Carré — A memoir from a legendary author who got his start in British Intelligence during the Cold War.

Messy by Tim Harford — An economist explores “the benefits that messiness has in our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it instead.”

When We Rise by Cleve Jones — A memoir of life in the gay rights movement in the 1970s.

The Boys of Dunbar by Alejandro Danois — The true story of a Baltimore basketball coach whose undefeated team launched four players to the NBA.

Soul at the White Heat by Joyce Carol Oates — Critical and personal essays on the writing life.

Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein — An invitation into Elena Ferrante’s workshop where she answers questions on the writing life.

Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry — A humorous collection of essays on why Florida is just so damn weird.

And that’s all for this week! I hope the weather where you are is lovely, the books on your shelves are plentiful, and the people you live with don’t mind you spending the weekend with a good book! — Kim

True Story

National Book Awards, WHAT HAPPENED Sets Records, and New Nonfiction

Last week, the National Book Foundation announced the longlisted titles for the National Book Awards in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about the nonfiction list, which you can see in the photo below and the link to the NBA site.

The Book of Separation by Tova Mirvis published in hardcover and ebook from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Born and raised in a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish family, Tova Mirvis committed herself to observing the rules and rituals prescribed by this way of life. She married a man from within the fold and began a family. But at age forty, Tova decides to leave her husband and her faith. This is a memoir about what it means to free the part of yourself that has been suppressed, even if it means walking away from the only life you’ve ever known. Honest and courageous, Tova shows us how she learns to silence her fears on her own path to happiness.

Intellectually, I can see that it’s a list that makes a strong statement about our current political climate. There are several books on the history of race relations in the United States, two on the rise of the evangelical wing of the Republican Party, and three others on issues that have been in the news lately (totalitarianism in Russia, fake news, and progressive activism). I appreciate that the judges for the long list made a statement about what the world is like right now.

Emotionally, it left me a little disappointed. There’s room in great nonfiction to read for fun, or to read about the strange and quirky things that make up the world around us. This list doesn’t have any memoirs or books on science, for example, which are two areas where I know there’s great writing. I can’t help wishing we had space in our awards lists for some of that.

As a different example of an awards list, last week Kirkus Reviews also announced their finalists for the Kirkus Prize. That list has almost no political books on it, and instead includes some natural history, science history, and memoirs. I don’t know if a list that leans away from our current climate is better or worse, it’s just different.

I’m curious what you all think on this issue, and what we might see as the rest of the major awards for the year get announced. I wrote about this a bit more about the NBA list specifically over at Book Riot, if you care to think about it further, and if you’re into videos, Rincey talked a little about her book award list wishes on the site this week too.

What Happened Breaks Sales Records

Speaking of political books… Simon and Schuster, the publisher of Hillary Clinton’s memoir What Happened, told the Associated Press that the book has sold more than 300,000 copies in the first week of sales. According to BookScan, the hardcover sales of 168,000 copies is the highest opening for a nonfiction book since Mark Owen’s 2012 memoir, No Easy Day, which sold 250,000 copies. Sales of the ebook and audiobook editions have also been record-setting for the publisher. Looks like people cared what she had to say, after all.

Book Riot Launches Recommended!

In case you haven’t heard, Book Riot recently launched a new podcast, Recommended. In each episode, interesting people talk about books that matter to them. The first three episodes have each featured a writer of nonfiction – Samantha Irby (author of the essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life), Tara Clancy (author of the memoir The Clancy’s of Queens), and Annalee Newitz (a tech and science writer who wrote about extinction in Scatter, Adapt, and Remember). You can find out more about Recommended and subscribe at this link.

New Releases on My Radar

Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand – My history reading leans toward the very specific. I’m not likely to pick up a book on the broad history of south and central Asia, but I’m all in for an account of “greed, conquest, murder, torture, colonialism, and appropriation” told through the history of a diamond.

Backlist Bump: I’ve heard excellent things about Anand’s 2015 book on Sophia Duleep Singh, titled Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary.

Thanks, Obama by David Litt – The buzz on the Book Riot backchannel for this book, a “hopey, changey” look at the Obama White House, has been universally good. I’m saving it for when I really need a shot of optimistic nostalgia.

Bonus Read: Litt had a funny excerpt in Politico Magazine about how he managed to upset the entire country of Kenya in a speech.

Reset by Ellen Pao – In 2015, Ellen Pao sued a Silicon Valley venture capital firm for workplace discrimination and retaliation. Although Pao eventually lost the suit, it helped open up a conversation about discrimination and sexism in the tech industry, and her fight for change as CEO of reddit and through the nonprofit Project Include.

Bonus Read: I liked this take on the book from Wired, suggesting Reset is the next logical read in business books after Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.

And that’s it for this week. Let me know what you look for in your book awards lists, along with any other comments or feedback on Twitter and Instagram at @kimthedork or via email at Happy reading!

True Story

Great Reporting that Leads to Great Books, and More New Nonfiction Releases

Last week, Ta-nehisi Coates published a stunning piece about Donald Trump and the Trump presidency in The Atlantic called “The First White President.” Reading it got me fired up, about both politics and my love for really good long-form reporting and analysis. Reported features can help introduce you to new writers, or help you get a handle on a topic you may not have considered before.

This week’s newsletter is sponsored by Mary Jane’s Ghost by Ted Gregory.

Summer 1948 in Oregon, Illinois, a young couple visiting lovers’ lane is murdered. The crime garners nationwide headlines, but after a sweeping manhunt no one is arrested and the deaths of Mary Jane Reed and Stanley Skridla fade from memory. Fifty years later entrepreneur Michael Arians moves to Oregon, opens a roadhouse, gets elected mayor, and becomes obsessed with the crime. He contacts the Chicago Tribune and his letters fall to reporter Ted Gregory. For the next thirteen years Gregory remains beguiled by the case and Arians’s hopeless pursuit of justice. This is the story of these two odysseys

Several of my favorite books from the last few years started as long-form reporting. Katy Butler’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door, one of the best books I’ve read on aging and our medical system, started as a New York Times Magazine piece called “What Broke My Father’s Heart.” I discovered Anthony Shadid and his beautiful memoir, House of Stone, through some of his reporting for the Washington Post. And Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink’s devastating account of decisions at a hospital in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, began as a series that won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

But, even if you don’t want to go book length on some of these topics, there’s a lot of great journalism out there to discover. The Atlantic conveniently put together this list of more than 100 great works of journalism, which has a cool variety of pieces to peruse through with some authors I am sure you’ll recognize. The Best American series is also a good resource – I particularly like checking out Best American Essays and Best American Science and Nature Writing to find new writers to follow.

And now I turn to you, readers. What are some of your favorite sources for interesting reporting? Have you discovered a book or writer because of a piece in a newspaper or magazine?

New Releases on My Radar

Despite the fact that our TBR piles keep growing and our time for reading never seems to increase, this week was another great one for new nonfiction. In addition to Hillary Clinton’s much-anticipated memoir about the 2016 election, What Happened, here are a few books that made it on my radar:

  • Ranger Games by Ben Blum – A reporter investigates how his Marine cousin came to be part of a crew robbing a bank.
  • Unbelievable by Katy Tur – A CNN anchor recounts her experiences covering the 2016 Trump campaign.
  • Curry by Naben Ruthnum – Essays on curry, a dish that “doesn’t quite exist” but that “can have infinite, equally authentic variations.”
  • Bloodlines by Melissa del Bosque – A rookie FBI agent infiltrates a Mexican drug cartel through American quarter horse racing.

Over at Book Riot…

Ann Foster has a list of books on the well-behaved women of history.

I put together a list of 10 great YA nonfiction books (and have some most posts on YA nonfiction brewing – it’s a really interesting, growing genre).

Cindy Butor shared some basic background on DACA and the DREAMERs, and offers some reading suggestions to understand this issue better.

Katie MacBride rounds up some great audiobooks by women in politics.

And Tara Cheeseman writes about the Mitford sisters and suggestions some fiction, biography and memoirs to get to know them better.

Science and Math Kindle Deals

Add to your e-reader TBR with some of these great Kindle deals on books from the science and math section:

  • Console Wars by Blake Harris for $1.99 – A look at the battle between Sega and Nintendo during the early 1990s. I read this one, it’s pretty fun.
  • A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell for $1.99 – A memoir about the “ins and outs of beekeeping”A Book of Bees
  • The Network by Scott Woolley for $1.99 – The inside story of how America’s airwaves were developed through the relationship between an industrialist and an inventor.

A Look Ahead: National Book Awards!

Just after my deadline for this newsletter, the 10 titles that made this year’s National Book Awards longlist for nonfiction were announced. I’m hoping to write a little bit about them next week. With that, you know the drill – you can reach me on Twitter @kimthedork or via email at with questions, comments, suggestions, or book recommendations. Happy reading!

True Story

10 New Nonfiction Books Out This Week

It seems that fall is truly here – the leaves are turning, pumpkin spice lattes are back, and a ton of awesome books are newly out on the shelves.

The first Tuesday of the month is typically a big day in publishing, and this week was no exception – my TBR is exploding from all of the awesome books that came out on September 5. This week, I decided to channel my favorite velocireader, Liberty Hardy, and put together a new books megalist focused strictly on nonfiction. Here are 10 of the books I’m most excited to check out ASAP.

Sponsored by Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough

Complex, passionate, brilliant, flawed—Alexander Hamilton comes alive in this exciting biography.

He was born out of wedlock on a small island in the West Indies and orphaned as a teenager. From those inauspicious circumstances, he rose to a position of power and influence in colonial America.

Discover this founding father’s incredible true story: his brilliant scholarship and military career; his groundbreaking and enduring policy, which shapes American government today; his salacious and scandalous personal life; his heartrending end.

Richly informed by Hamilton’s own writing, with archival artwork and new illustrations, this is an in-depth biography of an extraordinary man.

Border by Kapka Kassabova (Graywolf Press) – A reporter returns to her country of origin, Bulgaria, to explore its border between Turkey and Greece and its role as a border to the West. This book looks like a fascinating mix of history, travel, journalism, and memoir.

Crash Override by Zoe Quinn (PublicAffairs) – After an ex-boyfriend posted an inflammatory, untruthful blog post about her, game developer Zoe Quinn found herself the most public victim of the #gamergate movement. In the book, Quinn shares her experience being harassed by an online mob, and her work to help others through the Crash Override Network, an advocacy and online-abuse crisis resource.

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen (Random House) – While it seems like the who “fake news” and “alternative facts” era we’re in is new, it actually has a long history in our country. Kurt Andersen explores how this may actually be “the ultimate expression of our national character and path” – a potent mix of individualism, epic dreams and epic fantasies.

Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A by Danielle Allen (Liveright) – Cuz is one of the books I was most curious to pick up BookExpo this spring. Allen writes about her baby cousin, Michael Allen, a young man arrested for attempted carjacking at 15 who spent the next 11 years in prison. After Michael was released, Allen tried to help him, but learned how the world isn’t open to young black men just out of prison.

Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi (St. Martin’s Press) – In 2015, podcast host Manoush Zomorodi encouraged the listeners of Note to Self to participate in an experiment – one week of unplugging from their devices to help rethink our relationship to our gadgets. Bored and Brilliant is an extension of that experiment that shares more research on links between boredom and creativity, and guides readers through their own seven day experiment in unplugging.

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter) – Memoirs by chefs are some of my favorite books. In this book, Alice Waters traces her meandering path to opening Chez Panisse in 1971. I am really excited by the the note that the book includes recipes, photographs and letters, which I imagine will be very cool.

Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson (Avery) – I have been trying to develop a consistent meditation habit for the last couple of years, but it never seems to stick. In this book, Goleman and Davidson explore “the truth about what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it” through smart practice and the newest science of mind-training.

Reconcilable Differences by Dawn Markova and Angie McArthur (Spiegel and Grau) – A cognitive neuroscientist and a communication expert team up to explore how to connect with people when it feels like you’re speaking entirely different languages. At the core of the book is an exploration of the difference between rational and relational intelligence.

If All the Seas Were Ink by Ilana Kurshan (St. Martin’s Press) – Living alone after a painful divorce at 27, Ilana Kurshan began a daily study of the Talmud, “a book of rabbinic teachings spanning about 600 years and the basis for all codes of Jewish law.” For the next seven years, Kurshan studied daily and shares some of her insights in this memoir.

Tales of Two Americas, edited by John Freeman – In this collection, 36 contemporary writers explore what life is like in a country as divided as the United States. The collection includes essays, poems, and stories to try and help connect these deeply varied experiences to our own. Any collection that can pull together Ann Patchett, Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, Hector Tobar, Edwidge Danticat, Eula Bliss, Karen Russell and more, is worth picking up.

Kindle Deals in Biography and Memoir

And if that’s not enough book goodness for you, here are three great Kindle Monthly Deals from the biography and memoir section you can snag this month:

And with that, I’ll close this newsletter out so I can get back to my book — I’m about two-thirds done with Bored and Brilliant and want to hide my phone in my sock drawer forever. You can reach me on Twitter @kimthedork or via email at with questions, comments, suggestions, or book recommendations. Happy reading!