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New Political Biographies, Memoirs and Adaptations

This week’s newsletter has gotten pretty political, thanks to new biographies, adaptations and memoirs by and about major political figures. Let’s dive in!

Sponsored by Timber Press, an imprint of Workman Publishing

At the age of thirty-four, Leslie Buck put her personal life on hold to pursue her passion. She became the first American woman to join Uetoh Zoen, one of the oldest and most highly acclaimed landscape companies in Kyoto. The work was often grueling and the cultural differences challenging, but a reverence for nature brought her and the dedicated craftsmen together. Cutting Back recounts Buck’s journey and her revelations along the way. This delicate and reflective memoir powerfully appeals to women working in a man’s world, visitors in foreign lands, and the other in us all.

New Books On My Radar

Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama by David Garrow (May 9 from William Morrow) – Is the world ready for a nearly 1,500 page biography of Barack Obama’s early years, covering his childhood through his run for the White House? I’m not sure, but it’s here anyway.

Bonus Read: The New York Times has a good review of the book, covering some of the more controversial aspects. The author also spoke about his process and motivations on Inside Edition.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (May 2 from W.W. Norton) – In this book, “Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.” Woo, science!

Bonus Read: CBS News published some excerpts from the book, which will give you a good taste of what’s to come.

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (May 16 from Flatiron Books) – This book is one of my most anticipated reads of the year, thanks to the overwhelming good buzz about it on the Book Riot backchannels. Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, a young lawyer, begins to question her long-held beliefs about the death penalty after exploring a shocking case. As she digs deeper, she also has to grapple with long-buried family secrets and her past.

Bonus Listen: You can listen to about 10 minutes of the prologue read by the author at this link.

Adaptation News

There’s been some interesting news trickling out about some upcoming film and TV adaptations.

Mindy Kaling has optioned Alyssa Mastromonaco’s memoir Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House. The book, published just last month, chronicles Mastromonaco’s time working for Barack Obama. Kaling plans to turn the book into a tv series, which sounds SO GOOD.

Reviews for The Lost City of Z, based on the 2009 book by David Grann, have been largely good (although not totally glowing). I liked this one from the New York Times, and this one in The Atlantic. I’m excited by the notes about how it feels like a classic Hollywood movie updated with more contemporary awareness.

The Glass Castle finally has a release date, August 11! The adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ 2005 best-selling memoir stars Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts. This is another one of those big nonfiction books I haven’t read, but it looks like it’s on my summer reading list.

And in more political news, Shattered, a new book by journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, has been optioned for a limited television series. I honestly can’t decide what I think about this… it feels too soon, but maybe it’s what we all need in order to put 2016 to bed? What do you think, dear readers?

Book Review Schadenfreude

Normally, I am not into reading bad reviews of books just for the fun of it… but for Ivanka Trump, I will make an exception. The reviews for her new book, Women Who Work, have been almost universally terrible – you can get a peek at the highlights (or lowlights?) in this round up.

I did check Women Who Work out from the library to form my own opinion, but aside from the few eye-rolling moments highlighted in the reviews, it’s boring enough that I don’t think I’ll finish it. If you want some better books on working women, Rioter Trisha Brown put together a great list of books to read about women and work when your father isn’t a billionaire.

On My Nightstand

I’m currently in the middle of The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life by Washington Post critic and senior arts writer Sarah L. Kaufman. By looking at grace in many forms, with an emphasis on arts and culture, Kaufman explores a “philosophy of living that promotes human connection and fulfillment.” I picked this one up impulsively while out shopping, and so far have been pleasantly surprised. I like the idea of trying to move through the world with more thoughtfulness and attention, and am enjoying the range of examples Kaufman has been drawing on to make her case.

Correction: A reader emailed to point out I made a mistake in my blurb for This Is Just My Face by Gabourey Sidibe. Sidibe is known for her role in the movie Precious, which was based on the novel Push by Sapphire. My mistake, apologies!

And that’s all for this week! As always, feedback and comments are always welcome. You can catch me on Twitter @kimthedork, Instagram @kimthedork, or via email at Happy reading!

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New Memoirs from Gabourey Sidibe, Amy Tan, and Sheryl Sandberg

April showers bring May flowers, and the chance to sit outside with a good book. The house I moved into last fall with my sister has an awesome back porch, which I plan to utilize plenty this spring and summer. Where’s your favorite place to read when the weather gets warm?

Today’s newsletter is sponsored by TarcherPerigee, publisher of Adult-ish by Christine Vanko and Adulthood for Beginners by Andy Boyle.

Ready for #RealLife?

Whether you’re a newly minted “adult” navigating your first job and paying rent for the first time—or are just about to graduate and join the “sophisticates” in the real world, Adult-ish and Adulthood for Beginners provide the tools and advice for Millennials seeking to ease the transition from dorm room to cubicle life.

Adult-ish, an illustrated, interactive journal encouraging self-reflection, is a celebration (and keepsake) of your first years as an “adult.”

Adulthood for Beginners is the hilarious—yet useful—guide for avoiding years of awkwardness, mistakes, bad dates and more that older Millennials and Gen Xers wish they’d had when they were younger.

New Books On My Radar

This Is Just My Face by Gabourey Sidibe (May 1 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) – Buzz on the Book Riot back channels for this book has been really good. Gabourey Sidibe is probably best known for her work in the movie Push and the television show Empire, but she’s also had an interesting life that (according to the publisher summary) has included a polygamous father and work as a phone sex “talker.” Intriguing! I’ll probably check this one out on audio, since Sidibe narrates it herself.

Bonus Read: Sidibe wrote about her love/hate relationship with social media for InStyle.

The H-Spot by Jill Filipovic (May 2 from Nation Books) – It may be immature to admit that the title of this book makes me giggle every time I type it but… whatever. In the book, attorney and author Jill Filipovic argues that the biggest challenge between women and true happiness is a rigged system that relies on free feminine labor, unrealistic standards of female perfection, and more. I imagine this one will get me riled up.

Bonus Read: In the New York Times, Filipovic argues that the Trump administration’s all male photos are a strategy, not a mistake.

Radical Hope, edited by Carolina De Robertis (May 2 from Vintage) – If the current political climate is beginning to wear on you, Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times might be a book to pick up. Collecting letters from authors like Junot Díaz, Thanh Nguyen, Karen Joy Fowler, Celeste Ng and more, the book offers perspectives on love and courage for uncommon times.

Bonus Read: The book’s Amazon page includes an excerpt from De Robertis’ opening letter explaining her idea for the project. It’s lovely.

Thoughts on Henrietta Lacks

Last weekend, HBO debuted their movie version of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I haven’t watched it yet (I know, I know), but I have been eagerly collecting think pieces and reviews to peruse after I’ve had a chance to form my own opinion. Here are a few I think will be worth reading:

Book News in the World

On Monday, Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance died at the age of 88. The book, now considered an important work of popular philosophy, was based on a 1968 motorcycle trip Pirsig took with his son. The NPR story goes on to note that Pirsig is from Minnesota (woo, home state!) and helped found the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. I’ve never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – have any of you?

This October, Amy Tan has a memoir coming out titled Where the Past Begins. According to Entertainment Weekly, “she’ll explore her own past and the secrets of her family’s history, linking them both to her beloved novels.” I highly recommend clicking through to watch the video of Tan commenting on the cover of the book, it’s charming.

On My Nightstand

This week, one of my most anticipated books of the year came out – Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. After her husband, David Goldberg, died unexpectedly in 2015, Sandberg reached out to her friend, Grant, a Wharton psychologist, to learn more about resilience and recovery. The book combines Sandberg’s journey with Grant’s research on how humans handle adversity to explore how to increase our own resilience. Without getting too personal, I’ll just say that the last nine months of my life have been filled with my own immense loss, and so connecting with Sandberg through this book has been both difficult and hopeful.

As always, suggestions, recommendations, and feedback are welcome. You can reach me at or on Twitter and Instagram at kimthedork. Happy reading!

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Eat Cake, Drink Wine and Celebrate the Pulitzer Prizes

Hello again, nonfiction lovers. It’s been an exciting week – the Pulitzers were announced, Margot Lee Shetterly has another book deal, and I’ve been reading about the science of expensive wine. Let’s get down to it!

This week’s newsletter is sponsored by Post Grad By Caroline Kitchener.

What really happens in the first year out of college? When Caroline Kitchener graduated from Princeton, she began shadowing four of her female classmates, interviewing them as they started to navigate the murky waters of post-collegiate life. Weaving together her own experience as a writer with the experiences of these other women—a documentarian, a singer, a programmer, and an aspiring doctor—Kitchener delves deeply into the personal and professional opportunities offered to female college graduates, and how the world perceives them.

New Books on My Radar

April is such an exciting month for new books, I had a hard time narrowing down this week’s new releases down to just three. If you are anxious for more, check out Liberty’s April New Books Megalist from her New Books newsletter.

Sunshine State: Essays by Sarah Gerard (April 11 from Harper Perennial) – I feel like I have been seeing this book everywhere forever, and I’ll admit, all the buzz has made me curious. This collection looks at the state of Florida as a “microcosm of the most pressing economic and environmental perils haunting our society.” With comparisons to The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, how could you not give it a try?

Bonus Read: Christine Sang interviewed Sarah Gerard for Brooklyn Rail. The interview includes some interesting tidbits on the production and organization of the book.

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki (April 11 from W.W. Norton) – I am one of those people who read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and immediately tried to Kondo my entire life. I’m also one of those people that has fallen off the wagon and now lives in a perpetual state of clutter… so of course I’m going to keep obsessing over books on minimalism. In Goodbye, Things, average dude Fumio Sasaki shares his personal experience with minimalism and the joy it’s brought him.

Bonus Read: The Guardian writes about Japan’s ‘hardcore’ minimalists, including Fumio Sasaki.

Cake: A Slice of History by Alysa Levene (April 11 from Pegasus Books) A micro-history of cake, from fruit cake to pound cake to angel food cake and more? I don’t need to hear more, I am in.

Bonus Read: Alysa Levene wrote about “the gender dynamics of pastries – and what it means for feminists in the kitchen” for the New Republic.

The Politics of Science

A recent study conducted by scientists at Yale, Cornell and the University of Chicago found that left-leaning and right-leaning readers are drawn to different topics in scientific literature. According to a summary of the study in the Huffington Post:

Liberals tended to prefer topics within the “life” and physical sciences, such as physics and astronomy. Conservatives, meanwhile, preferred commercial science subjects including medicine, criminology and geophysics. Certain topics like psychology and climate science attracted both liberal and conservative readers.

What’s the moral of the story? I’m not really sure, other than that your book purchasing history is being used in creative ways, and combating political polarization may mean reading outside your comfort zone across a wide range of subjects.

Book Riot Insiders

Looking for even more Book Riot goodness? We’ve got a new subscription program called Insiders, launched just this week. If you sign up (for as little as $3/month) you’ll be able to track new releases, listen to a dedicated Read Harder podcast, get a look behind-the-scenes at Book Riot, and more. Visit the Insiders site for more information and to sign up.

Pulitzer Winners Announced

The 2017 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced this week. Three of the “Letters, Drama and Music” awards are regularly given to nonfiction:

If you follow the prize link, you can also check out the other finalists and see winners from the past. I’ve always found the Pulitzer finalists (especially in general nonfiction) to be pretty good reads. And if you’re looking for something shorter, the winners and finalists in journalism are reliably excellent.

Two More Books from Margot Lee Shetterly

If you are among the people who loved Hidden Figures, here’s some good news – author Margot Lee Shetterly will be writing two more books “examining the idea of the American Dream and its legacy.” The first book will tell the stories of two influential African American households in midcentury Baltimore.

On My Nightstand

Spring has sprung, which I hope means more time for reading out on my back deck. This week I’ve got a couple of books in progress. Thanks to my Book of the Month subscription, I have an early copy of One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, a collection of essays by Saachi Koul, which has made me laugh out loud at least once already. I’m also almost finished with Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, a Mary Roach-esque look at the world of sommeliers, wine snobs, and olfactory scientists. It’s been a delight.

As always, suggestions, recommendations, and feedback are always welcome. You can find me as @kimthedork on both Twitter and Instagram, or connect via email at Happy reading!

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True Story: 25 Nonfiction Favorites Now Out in Paperback

One of my ongoing frustrations with the Publishing Industry is that there seems to be no consistency in when books originally out in hardcover will be out in paperback. Sometimes it’s just a few months, while other times it can be years before a paperback can fall into my hot little hands.

This week’s newsletter is sponsored by Yoga Bodies from  Chronicle Books.

With portraits of more than 80 different yogis of all ages, shapes, sizes, backgrounds and skill levels, Yoga Bodies breaks the mold of what it means to have a “yoga body.” Inspiring and empowering, these real stories of real people who found transformation through yoga celebrate the glorious diversity of the human form.


I almost always prefer the paperback, both for price and convenience, but tend to forget about titles I’m curious about between the hardcover and paperback publication dates. It’s hard to be a reader, am I right?

Since I’ve got this newsletter, I decided I could use it to try and do something about this problem. My plan is to devote one newsletter at the end of each quarter with a selection of “new in paperback” nonfiction picks. This list isn’t nearly comprehensive, but I do hope that it’s useful. Prepare for your TBR to explode… I know mine did!

Negroland by Margo Jefferson – A cultural critic looks back her upbringing in “upper-crust black Chicago.”

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – A memoir of women in science, friendship, collaboration, and relationships with the natural world.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond – An investigation into how hard it is to get ahead as a renter, based on reporting in Milwaukee.

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister – An exploration of the impact of single women on politics and culture.

The Return by Hisham Matar – Twenty-two years after his father disappeared, Matar returns to Libya to make sense of his upbringing. (Technically this is out April 4, so look then!)

Alligator Candy by David Kushner – Florida suburbs. 1970s. Murder and what everything that comes after.

Shrill by Lindy West – “A feminist rallying cry in a world that thinks gender politics are tedious and that women, especially feminists, can’t be funny.”

The Firebrand and the First Lady by Patricia Bell-Scott – The long friendship of Civil Rights leader Pauli Murray and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Dark Money by Jane Mayer – Big-ticket Republican donors are buying influence and elections… it’s troubling.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson – Hilarious, uncomfortable, deeply personal essays on mental illness, depression and joy.

Lust and Wonder by Augusten Burroughs – Capstone of three memoirs, following Running with Scissors and Dry.

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri – Memoir of a beloved writer learning to read and write in another language.

A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold – A mother grapples with her son’s role in the Columbine shooting and her journey as a parent.

The Lost Tudor Princess by Alison Weir – Lady Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s “cunning” niece, who survived five monarchs.

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein – An in-depth look at the conflicting pressures affecting young women and their views on sexuality.

The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson – A “deep dive into the true meaning of Barack Obama’s history presidency.”

The First Congress by Fergus M. Bordewich – Hey, Hamilton nerds! A “lively” history of how the Founders came up with a functioning government.

The Family Tree by Karen Branan – An account of a 1912 lynching by the great-granddaughter of the sheriff who sanctioned it.

Sex Object by Jessica Valenti – “The painful, embarrassing, and sometimes illegal moments that shaped Valenti’s adolescence and young adulthood in New York City.”

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes – What would happen if you spent a year always saying yes?

United States of Jihad by Peter Bergen – “A riveting, panoramic look at ‘homegrown’ Islamist terrorism from 9/11 to the present.”

Imbeciles by Adam Cohen – The story behind Supreme Court ruling that made government sterilization of “undesirable” citizens legal. Yikes…

Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt – Women doing science in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Also, Hidden Figures is out in paperback too!)

I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin – A selection from unpublished books, essays, letters, notes and interviews to accompany Raoul Peck’s new documentary about James Baldwin.

Republic of Spin by David Greenberg – A history of the White House spin machine, from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama.

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Vacation Reading, Literary Tourism and Nonfiction Megalists

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m writing this newsletter on the tail end of a much-needed vacation that included a few days in Chicago for sightseeing and (finally!) seeing the musical Hamilton (I am obsessed). One of our stops was Unabridged Bookstore, an independent bookstore known for their hand-written staff recommendations, extensive sale book section, and collection of LGBT literature.

This week’s newsletter is sponsored by Unbound Worlds’ Cage Match.

Cage Match is back! Unbound Worlds is pitting science fiction characters against fantasy characters in a battle-to-the-death tournament, and you can win a collection of all 32 books featured in the competition. Enter now for your chance to win this library of sci-fi and fantasy titles!

I had a great time perusing their excellent nonfiction selection. In addition to some well-curated tables of new nonfiction near the front of the store (pictured above), they also had some great displays of books in support of political resistance (pictured below). I managed to restrain myself and only bought three books – Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, Traveling with Ghosts by Shannon Leone Fowler and The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander.

New Nonfiction On My Radar

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan (March 7 from W.W. Norton)

I was *this close* to grabbing this book off the new nonfiction table at Unabridged, but the weight of my tote bag held me back. In the book, journalist Dan Egan looks at the history of the Great Lakes and the “ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes.” At a time when leaders would rather ignore that climate change exists, this book is more important than ever.

Bonus Read: Dan Egan’s extensive reporting on the crisis of the Great Lakes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is can be read online at this link.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy (March 14 from Random House)

Hey, a new nonfiction book I’ve actually read! This memoir, about Ariel Levy’s miscarriage and dissolution of her marriage while on a reporting trip in Mongolia, is a stunning read about loss, redemption, and building an unconventional life in a conventional world. I tore through this book in just a few days, connecting deeply with Levy’s exploration of modern womanhood and what it takes to find and make the life you want in the face of loss and crisis.

Bonus Read: The core of this memoir is based on a piece Levy wrote for the New Yorker in 2013 about her miscarriage in Mongolia.

The Family Gene by Joselin Linder (March 14 from Ecco)

I’m a little obsessed with medical mysteries, so this memoir looks to be right up my alley. After years of being misdiagnosed, doctors discovered that Joselin Linder suffered from a rare blockage in her liver. As Linder tried to find an explanation for her condition, she discovered a long family history of strange symptoms. Working with a team of genetic researchers at Harvard Medical School, Linder discovered her family carried a rare “private mutation.” The book is the story of her discovery and what it means for her family and broader issues in medical science. Fascinating!

Bonus Read: NBC News profiled Linder and her family back in 2014, a nice overview of the book and Linder’s history.

BookExpo releases Editors Buzz titles

Last week, BookExpo (formerly Book Expo America) released the titles for their 2017 Editors Buzz panels this summer. During the annual panel at BookExpo, the editor of each book has a few minutes to pitch it, which helps build the hype for big fall titles. I was disappointed to see there are no nonfiction selections on the list this year, mostly because the nonfiction featured in the panel the last couple of years has been very good. I can personally recommend several titles, including On Immunity by Eula Biss, Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy, and Another Day In the Death of America by Gary Younge, just to name a few.

Mega Book Lists Galore

Book Riot’s 100 must-read books feature is murder on my TBR. In the last couple of weeks, Ashley Bowen-Murphy put together an amazing list of 100 books about the history of medicine, and Jessi Lewis also recommended 100 nonfiction adventure books. They’re both wonderfully informative and idiosyncratic book lists.

On My Nightstand

Before heading to Chicago, I spent the early part of my vacation holed up at my family’s cabin without reliable Internet access – the perfect excuse to read a ton. I ended up mostly immersing myself in some fiction – A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab – but also found time to get into a couple of books I got from my local library, The Home That Was Our Country by Alia Malek (newly-released this month) and You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson (a popular book on the Book Riot back channels).

And with that, this newsletter is coming to a close. As always, suggestions, recommendations, and feedback are always welcome. You can reach me on Twitter @kimthedork or via email at Happy reading!

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True Tales of Cyborgs, Syria, and Cancer Cells

Well hello, fellow readers. How is the weather where you are? I’m a Minnesotan, so small talk about the weather is how we start all conversations. Late February brought a brief window of spring-like weather to my area, which meant sitting outside at a local coffee shop as I finished up Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. It was truly a rejuvenating way to spend an afternoon, but also made me really antsy for summer beach reading to arrive.

Enter to win a pair of Apple AirPods. Take your audiobook game to the next level.

New Books on My Radar

To Be A Machine by Mark O’Connell (Feb. 28 from Doubleday) – If you’ve ever wished for a bionic arm, or wondered about the ways technology could improve your senses or extend your life, then this book may be up your alley. Journalist Mark O’Connell explores the idea of transhumanism, “a movement pushing the limits of our bodies—our capabilities, intelligence, and lifespans—in the hopes that, through technology, we can become something better than ourselves.”

Bonus Read: This interview with The Ringer gives a sense of the stories you’ll find in To Be a Machine.

The Home That Was Our Country by Alia Malek (Feb. 28 from Nation Books) – I’ve been on the lookout for new books about Syria, both what it’s like to live there now and how the current situation came to be. The Home that Was Our Country looks like it fights right in my personal wheelhouse of reported memoirs that use a personal story to help illustrate bigger trends and history in a place I want to learn more about.

Bonus Read/Listen: Alia Malek was interviewed about the book for Weekend Edition on NPR.

American Hookup by Lisa Wade (Jan. 10 from W.W. Norton) American Hookup actually slipped off my radar when it came out in January, which is a shame because it sounds great! I’m often skeptical about books that try to explain the sexual culture of young people because they can be really pedantic and alarmist, but from what I can tell Lisa Wade’s book offers a more nuanced look at hookup culture in the context of college campuses, privilege, and sexuality.

Bonus Listen: Lisa Wade was interviewed about hookup culture on campus during an episode of the Hidden Brain podcast. This interview is what reminded me I wanted to read this book!

We’re Getting Close to HeLa!

The first teaser trailer for HBO’s adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was released earlier this month and gosh, I am excited about this one. Henrietta Lacks was a book black tobacco farmer whose cancerous cells were taken for research without her permission in 1951. Those cells, known as HeLa, have been used in many of the most important medical discoveries of our time, but have also created a long trail of heartache and complication for the Lacks family. If you haven’t read Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 book that is the inspiration for the film, go get yourself a copy right now. It’s stellar.

Candy, Medicine, Growth, the Presidency, and Beyoncé

The Book Rioters have been writing quite a bit about nonfiction over the last few weeks. Patricia Elzie offers quick takes on three books about candy and Maureen Stinger writes about one of my personal genre kryptonites, medical memoirs. James Wallace Harris shares some nonfiction on grit and growth, Trisha Brown looks at the presidency, and Christina Vortia highlights some unsung African goddesses.

On My Nightstand

The first book I’m working through right now is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, reading along with Jeff O’Neal and Rebecca Schinsky’s Better Living Through Books podcast. In the book, Kahneman gives an overview of his groundbreaking research done with Amos Tversky on the fast (automatic/intuitive) and slow (deliberative/logical) ways our brain works. It’s just two chapters per week, which seems about right for a book that, so far, leans more towards the informative than the entertaining.

The second book on my nightstand is First Women by Kate Andersen Brower (out in paperback in January). I liked Brower’s first book, The Residence, which offered a personal and insider look at what life is like in the White House. In this book, Brower turns her reporting to lives of the First Ladies and how they managed their personal, political, and familial ambitions while being scrutinized by the American public. So far, it’s great.

As always, suggestions, recommendations, and feedback are welcome. You can reach me at or on Twitter at @kimthedork. Happy reading!

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Memory, Marine Biology, Modern Humans and Mathematics

Hello hello, fellow nonfiction lovers! This week, I want to start out with a question: Are you a new release reader? Are you someone who is always on top of the latest books, or someone more comfortable diving into older titles? I’m a little of both, I think. I love finding out what books are coming out soon, but I am rarely a reader that picks up a title right on the publication date because I always have so many backlist books calling my name.

Knowing that, I urge you to take my new release recommendations with a grain of salt. Think of them as books that have piqued my interest and that I think other readers might be curious about too, rather than books I’ve read and can unequivocally recommend. Ok, on with the books!

New Books On My Radar

Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee (Feb. 14 from Ecco) – When she was just 33 years old, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee suffered a stroke, turning her world upside down. For a period after, Lee collected her memories in a notebook, which she has since used to construct her memoir. This reminds me of another reconstructed medical memoir that I loved, Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire, but with a little more meditation on the way memory and identity work together.

Bonus Read: This memoir is based on a 2014 essay published on BuzzFeed, a good place to start.

Traveling with Ghosts by Shannon Leone Fowler (Feb. 21 from Simon & Schuster) – In 2002, 28-year-old Shannon Leon Fowler, a marine biologist, was on a backpacking trip with her fiancé, Sean, when tragedy struck. During a visit to Thailand, Sean was killed by a boy jellyfish, the most venomous creature in the world. After bringing Sean’s body home, Fowler continued their trek around the world while trying to grapple with the fact that the thing she loved most, the ocean, could also be the cause of her deep pain.

Bonus Read: Fowler wrote an essay for Real Simple about how losing Sean helped her learn how to ask for and accept help.

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari (Feb. 21 from Harper) – Now that humans have, mostly, managed to address some of the species most pressing concerns for survival – famine, plague, and war – what comes next? That’s the big question in Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari’s follow up/companion to his first book, Sapiens. I’ve had this one floating on my radar for quite some time but I’ll admit, I’m a little intimidated! It feels like one of those I aspire to read but may never actually get to because it seems over my head. But boy, does it sound interesting!

Bonus Watch: For a quick take on Harari’s first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, check out his 2015 TED Talk on the rise of humanity.

Drama High on the Small Screen

NBC has ordered a drama pilot based on Michael Sokolove’s wonderful book Drama High, which I called out in my first newsletter. The show is being developed by Jason Katims (creator of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood) and Jeffrey Seller (producer of Hamilton), which makes me awfully confident it will be great. I am bouncing in my seat thinking about seeing the stoic wisdom of Coach Taylor brought to a story about the arts.

Nonfiction in Your Earbuds

The finalists for the 2017 Audie Awards were released last week. They offer awards in a huge number of categories, which can be fun to peruse. For nonfiction lovers, take a peek at the finalists in Autobiography/Memoir, Business/Personal Development, History/Biography, and Humor. Rioter Rachel Smalter Hall also highlighted some of her favorites in the most recent edition of Audiobooks! More used to podcasts than audiobooks? This list (which features essay collections and humor heavily) is a great resource if you want to try getting into audio.

On My Nightstand

I am finally getting around to one of last year’s big nonfiction reads, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, the story of how black, female mathematicians made their mark at NASA during the Space Race despite being segregated by Virginia’s pervasive Jim Crow laws.

I went to see the movie – starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae – several weeks ago, and enjoyed it quite a bit, but the book is much richer and more interesting than the pared down version of the story you can see on screen. The book is also reinvigorating my latent passion for space nonfiction – I’ll definitely be checking out these recommendations from Swapna Krishna over at Tor.

And that’s all for this week. As always, suggestions, recommendations, and feedback are welcome. You can reach me at or on Twitter at @kimthedork. Happy reading!

True Story

Nonfiction: Because There’s No Alternative to the Facts

Happy February, nonfiction lovers! Ever since the bonkers phrase “alternative facts” made its way into our lexicon, I’ve been thinking even more about the importance of solid, well-researched nonfiction in all formats – books, news articles, essays, documentaries – that can help us make sense of the world and our place in it. Here’s hoping the books I’ve got to share this week can help in that respect.

This week’s newsletter is sponsored by Penguin Random House Audio.

Start off the new year with some inspiring audiobooks!  From personal improvement, to spiritual listens, to health and fitness advice, audiobooks are a great way to digest this useful content while on the go!

Visit for listening suggestions.

 February 7: New Books Day

This Tuesday is a big day for new books, including several nonfiction picks that have been on my radar for quite awhile. In no particular order, here are four I’m excited about:

All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey (Grand Central Publishing) – This collection of essays, about “best friends who happen to be famous strangers” looks to connect pop culture with the personal that includes Angelica Houston, Winona Ryder, Princess Diana and Sylvia Plath. I’ve been doling this one out slowly over the last few days and so far find it delightful and smart.

Bonus Read: Did Taylor Swift rebound from her breakup with Calvin Harris to quickly? Why the hypocrisy in the way men and women bounce back after heartbreak. Massey explores these questions in an essay for The Guardian.

The Perpetual Now by Michael Lemonick (Doubleday) – Books on how our minds work, especially the complicated territory of memory, always fascinate me. In this book, Lemonick tells the story of Lonni Sue Johnson, an artist with no memory of the past and no ability to create new memories, who still maintains many of her musical and artistic talents.

Bonus Read: For a taste of Lemonick’s accessible writing style, you can check out his archive at Scientific American, where he’s an opinion editor.

Age of Anger by Panka Mishra (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) – If you’re a reader looking at the current administration with as much confusion as I am, this is a book I think you will want to look for. Mishra, and author and columnist based in London, looks at the forces that have left individuals “susceptible to demagogues and their simplifications” causing “intense hatred of supposed villains, the invention of enemies, (and) attempts to recapture a lost golden age.” As soon as I have a brain that can handle political reading, I will be picking up this book.

Bonus Read: Mishra took on this topic in a December 2016 long read for The Guardian, a good read if you’re skeptical or nervous about book-length political nonfiction.

Pretend I’m Not Here by Barbara Feinman Todd (William Morrow) – As a journalist myself, one job I have always wondered about is ghostwriting. How do you get one of those gigs, and does it pay well? I’m not sure if this book will answer those questions, but I’m still looking forward to this memoir, about a young copy aide at the Washington Post who eventually had the chance to help famous folks like Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Hillary Clinton and more. I’m here for this!

Bonus Read: This 2006 commentary for Morning Edition shares some funny thoughts on the life of a ghostwriter.

Emmett Till, Revisited

The violent, racially-motivated murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Chicago boy visiting the Deep South in August 1955, is one of those horrifying stories that is at the core of the American Civil Rights movement. Yet it seems there’s still more we can learn about it. In a recent Vanity Fair piece, author Timothy Tyson shares new information he gathered on the incident, including the (unsurprising) revelation at the woman who accused Till made up much of her most sensational testimony. The piece is a super interesting look at how even our most familiar stories can be revisited in time.

Reading More Nonfiction?

Sign up for this newsletter because you’re trying to get more nonfiction in your reading life? Over at Book Riot, Sophia Khan has three suggestions for how to make that happen.

On My Nightstand

The bananas political environment, along with some major changes in my personal life over the last six months, have put me in a strange reading mood – I can’t seem to settle down to read a book, but know that shutting down all the noise to take some time of deep focus might be exactly what I need.

The one book that’s been holding my attention is The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith, a look at the four pillars of building a meaningful life and how to create meaning in a more secular world. It’s been calming and inspiring, which feels like what I need in this moment.

And there you have it, another couple of weeks of the world in nonfiction to fill up your inbox and toppling TBR. As always, suggestions, recommendations, and feedback are welcome. You can reach me at or on Twitter at @kimthedork. Happy reading!

True Story

15 Go-To Fun and Fascinating Nonfiction Reads

Hello and welcome to True Story, Book Riot’s newest newsletter about the wide and varied world of nonfiction curated by me, Kim Ukura, one of Book Riot’s resident nonfiction nerds.

When I realized that my first edition of the newsletter was coming out on Inauguration Day, I was torn about how to approach it. After some hemming and hawing and procrastinating due to imposter syndrome, I decided the best thing to do was start out with something a little different – a big, juicy list of 15 of my favorite fun and fascinating nonfiction reads, which I hope will serve as a resource for anyone looking to escape for a little bit before jumping back into the work of holding those in power accountable.


This week’s newsletter is sponsored by Once We Were Sisters by Sheila Kohler.

A stunningly beautiful, heartrending literary memoir about the tragic death of the author’s beloved older sister and a tribute to their bond. When Sheila Kohler was thirty-seven, she received the heart-stopping news that her sister Maxine was killed when her husband drove them off a deserted road in Johannesburg. Stunned by the news, she immediately flew in, determined to find answers and forced to reckon with the lingering effects of their unusual childhood. In her signature spare and incisive prose, Kohler evokes the bond between sisters and shows how that bond changes but never breaks, even after death.



This list – which ended up being a lot longer than most editions of True Story will be – contains some of my favorite and most-recommended reads, so I hope you’ll be able to find something to enjoy.

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette – I was mildly obsessed with Beanie Babies in my youth, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I really understood just how bananas that whole period actually was. This book has some of the best quotes from interviews that I’ve ever read in a reported work of nonfiction – a testament, I’d guess, to both good reporting and how much people who worked with Ty Warner (the creator of Beanie Babies) actually hate him now.

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum – Subtitled “Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York,” The Poisoner’s Handbook is the story of how two men – medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler – developed new scientific methods to combat the growing popularity of poison as a tool of murder. This book is so good, especially in thinking about how science and crime-fighting are constantly evolving disciplines.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield – Last year, I spent a period being obsessed with life in space. Of all the books I read, this one was my favorite. Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who served as commander of the International Space Station, has a wonderfully warm sense of humor, is honest about what life is like for astronauts, and peppers the book with tons of good space facts (for example, when you stay in space for a long period, all of the calluses on your feet fall off because you don’t actually walk anywhere!).

Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni – This memoir, about a young Iranian American woman reporting in Tehran just out of college, hit many of my own personal genre kryptonites. I love recommending it because it sets an engaging and thoughtful story about being a young working woman against the complicated backdrop of Iran and Iranian culture.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown – The 1936 Berlin Olympics are so well-known, it’s hard to imagine that there was an untold story as good as this one. In this book, Brown managed to make me care deeply about rowing, a sport I knew literally nothing about, to the point where I was sitting on the edge of my seat as I read. This book is perhaps my most recommended title on this list. Go read it!

Without You There Is No Us by Suki Kim – In 2011, South Korean American journalist Kim posed as a Christian missionary to get hired as English teacher at a North Korean university designed to educate the sons of the elite members of the country’s ruling class. This reported memoir is a look inside that country, including the bizarre worldviews cultivated by a government that cuts its citizens off from the outside world. This one was sometimes a tough read, but totally absorbing.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor – I don’t necessarily consider myself a major Star Wars fangirl, but I couldn’t get enough of this wonderful, meandering, and encompassing, look at the history of Star Wars and the many ways that fans and creators have made its stories and characters their own.

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter – If you are even a casual fan of the musical Hamilton, do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book. The beautiful photos, detailed annotations for each song, and behind-the-scenes details of the production process will keep you absorbed for hours.

Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone – There are very few books that have delighted me more than this one, which opens at the Magic Olympics (!!!) in Stockholm, Sweden where Stone, an amateur magician, is practically laughed off the stage during his performance. Although he vows to give up magic in pursuit of a graduate degree in physics, he finds himself drawn back in. This book is a wonderful mix of psychology, history, and true crime that I completely loved.

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester – I don’t think I need to say much to convince bookish people about the awesomeness that is a book on the history of the Oxford English Dictionary. How you can not at least pick up a book with the subtitle that includes both “murder” and “madness”? This book is a must-read for all word nerds.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – This book is one of my go-to recommendations for people who say they just aren’t interested in nonfiction. Although I’m guessing most people willing to sign up for a newsletter on nonfiction don’t feel that way, I felt compelled to include it because it is such a good read on medicine, class, and race. Plus, a movie version is coming to HBO this year (more on that in a future newsletter, I promise!).

Stiff by Mary Roach – When I told my sister I was putting a book about what happens to bodies donated to medical science on this list, she gave me a little side-eye. But of all the Mary Roach books I’ve read, this one is my favorite. She’s a funny and engaging science writer who can make any topic interesting, so if bodies aren’t your thing you can also grab one of her other books to learn about sex research, the supernatural, your digestive system, preparing for space travel, or preparing for war.

Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis – Did you know competitive Scrabble is a thing? I definitely did not, but after I read this book I wanted to take it up immediately (despite the fact that I’m generally terrible at Scrabble). Even if you don’t love to play, this look at the history of the game and the people who love to play it is a great read.

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee – A nearly 600 page book on the history of cancer doesn’t seem like the most obvious recommendation for a “fun” book list, but I seem to recommend this book a ton for people looking for readable nonfiction you can sink your teeth into. It’s beautifully written, emotionally rich, and full of facts you’ll be itching to share with someone else.

Drama High by Michael Sokolove – The marketing copy for this book describes it as Friday Night Lights meets Glee, which is actually a pretty great description. Drama High is the story of Lou Volpe, a legendary high school theater director in a working-class down in Pennsylvania. In addition to being a thoughtful portrait of a well-loved teacher, the book also explores the value of the arts for people of all backgrounds.

Whew! That was quite the list. I hope there’s at least a couple new books on that list that will spark your interest.

I expect to get into a more regular format with the next edition of True Story, which will include a mix of new release reminders, backlist recommendations, links to nonfiction news, and anything else I think might be interesting. Suggestions, recommendations, and feedback are always welcome. You can reach me at or on Twitter at @kimthedork. Happy reading!

True Story

A Reading List for Understanding the Media in 2016 (dev)

A few years ago, I was teaching a digital journalism course at a local college. It was a dream job in a lot of ways: I had a small group of enthusiastic students and the freedom to choose my own readings. We examined the news, and how it was reported, as it happened. And because the digital landscape was constantly changing, so was the course. I was always reading and changing the syllabus.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how I’d update my syllabus to account for 2016. How would I teach my student my students to deal with a media landscape in which any fact can (and will be) disputed? In which reporters are targeted? With a president-elect who lies often and blatantly? With implicit bias in major news organizations, and fake news churned out by small ones?

This reading list (much of which is my own TBR) grew out of that. It has all the information I wish I could teach my former students, were I teaching this year: history, context, racial bias in the media, ethics, an examination of why people hate the press, and essays about the media’s role in a digital and contentious world.

For a background in digital media:

online-news-by-stuart-allanOnline News: Journalism and the Internet, by Stuart Allan –  I actually did assign this book to my class, and you should know something: it’s dry and my students haaaaated it. BUT (and this is the important “but” I’d give my students when they started to complain about their reading) it provides an essential history of news and the Internet, going back to the Oklahoma City bombing. If you want to understand how the news got online, and how that changed the industry and how we think of news,  this book delivers.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, by Clay Shirky – This book’s not so much about media as it is about using the Internet to organize, but its focus on the Internet makes it an important resource for anyone who wants to understand the Internet’s influence on the news. It’s a little dated (MySpace is mentioned), but it is an exploration of how the Internet has changed the way we connect with one another, and that includes the media.

The Master Switch, by Tim Wu – This book, also not strictly about the news, is a slightly more jaded examination of the Internet. Wu focuses on the information industry’s history, pointing out that all information industries, from the telephone to the Internet, start in a lawless, free, chaotic state, until a corporation clamps down and privitizes. This book may point at the future of the Internet and the media.

For an understanding of media distrust:

Getting It Wrong: Debunking the Greatest Myths in American Journalism, by W. Joseph Campbell – The media’s mandate is the truth, but so many of its own stories aren’t true. In this second edition, W. Joseph Campbell examines the biggest media-driven myths — from Watergate to the Internet age — describing how these myths “feed stereotypes, distort understanding about the news media, and deflect blame from policymakers.” (It may sting a little to read this if you’re a journalist, but hey, hydrogen peroxide only stings when it’s working, right?)

trust-me-im-lying-by-ryan-holidayTrust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holiday Why yes, the media is often manipulated. Why yes, it’s easy for someone who knows how. I feel a little queasy about putting this book by media strategist Ryan Holiday on the list, but any student of media should know the press’s weak points.

Why Democracies Need an Unloveable Press, by Michael Schudson – Everybody looooves to hate the media. This was true way before this election, it was true before the Internet was a thing, and it’s probably been true since the first newspaper was published back in Rome. This book, by sociologist Michael Schudson, addresses the relationship between the media and democracy and examines what public knowledge is, and what it should be.

Understanding racial bias in the news:

Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media, by Pamela Newkirk – This book is from 2002, a time when — although there were a number of black reporters in newsrooms — they often faced resistance from editors and their papers when they tried to tell stories that challenged the white mainstream narrative. Newkirk tells stories of racial struggle within newsrooms across the country, as black reporters tried to challenge stereotypes, depict African-American communiteis fairly and honestly, and simply do their jobs. This book may be 14 years old, but it’s just as relevant as ever.

race-baiter-by-eric-deggansRace-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation , by Eric Deggans — Veteran journalist Eric Deggans’s 2012 book is tailor-made for this year. Deggans examines the way that today’s media courts readers and clicks by exploiting their prejudices. While Newkirk writes about news organizations suffering from entrenched racial prejudices, Deggans writes about the news organizations that deliberately weaponize them, and the consequences of those articles.

News For All The People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres – It’s no secret that the media is responsible for shaping our cultural narrative, and that means that the media disseminates prejudices and images that contribute to racial oppression. This book examines the history of race and news from the colonial age to segregation, to the present day, and tells the stories of Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American journalists.

Guidelines for 21st century journalism:

the-new-ethics-of-journalism-by-kelly-mcbrideThe New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century, edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel – I’m reading this book, which was put out by Poynter, right now. The book’s goal is to come up with guiding ethical principals for the 21st century, but the essays themselves — which examine the role of media in the Internet age — (for example,  how do you report in a “post-fact” age?) are the most interesting part.

The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom,by Joel Simon – Few discussions of journalism focus on the threat to journalists themselves. This book, put out by the Columbia Journalism Review, discusses the danger that individual journalists are in across the globe, by governments, militants, and terrorists, among others. The threat to journalists is also a threat to journalism, because when reporters are surveilled, threatened or killed, public information suffers. Joel Simon proposes 10 priorities for combating this new censorship and a global free-expression charter