Musings From A Bookmammal

NONFICTION NOVEMBER–WEEK 1: Favorite Nonfiction of 2014


NF November 2014Today marks the beginning of NONFICTION NOVEMBER—the second annual celebration of all things nonfiction! I participated last year and had so much fun meeting new bloggers and adding great nonfiction titles to my TBR list! If you’re into reading nonfiction and want to join in the fun, just click on the graphic to visit the first linkup. A new prompt and linkup will be posted every Monday throughout November. Be prepared, though—your TBR list will explode with great NF books!

This week the following prompts are presented:


What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I’ve always loved nonfiction and I read a lot of it. So far this year I’ve read a total of 92 books, and 47 of them have been nonfiction. I never really have a plan for what I’m going to read during any given time, so it’s just by chance that half of my books so far this year have been nonfiction. For Nonfiction November, I’m not planning on exclusively reading nonfiction—but I’m hoping to find many more nonfiction titles to add to my TBR list. I’m also hoping to find new-to-me bloggers who share my love for books in general and nonfiction in particular!

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

I have to be honest—this question is so unfair! There is no way that I can select just one favorite nonfiction title of the year! So–I’m combining these questions to describe the four NF books that I enjoyed the most this year and that I find myself recommending the most often. Ready? Here we go!

empty mansionsEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.

If you love to escape by reading about the lives of the impossibly rich, or if you like a good modern day mystery, give this book a try! Huguette Clark was a reclusive New York heiress. Born in 1906, she grew up in incredible wealth, and after an extremely brief marriage (she returned home alone just days into her honeymoon) she eventually owned enormously expensive homes in California, New York, and Connecticut–yet they stood vacant as she lived her last twenty years in a simple New York City hospital room, despite being in excellent health. She gave away millions of dollars in money and gifts to charities, foundations promoting the arts, and to her employees–some of whom never saw her or spoke to her except via phone or through closed doors.

At her death in 2011, her estate was valued in excess of $300 million. However, she’d left TWO signed wills—one favoring her remaining family members (distant relatives from her father’s first marriage, most of whom hadn’t spoken to her in decades–she had no children of her own), and a second will leaving everything to her lawyers, long-time private nurse, and other employees. The question was, had she been in control of her decisions, or was she being controlled by the people she hired to care for her and manage her money? And why did she spend the last 20 years of her life living in a hospital, when even her doctors agreed that there was no medical reason for doing so?

When I finished this book, I immediately went online to do some research about what has happened with Huguette’s estate since the book was published—but I won’t share what I found, as I don’t want to create any spoilers for those of you who may choose to read it. This book was not only one of my favorite nonfiction reads of 2014, but it’s one of my favorite books of any genre.

boys in the boatThe Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown

I don’t “do sports” but I love reading about them. I’ve read lots of books about baseball and basketball, but I knew virtually nothing about the sport of rowing (or “crew”) before I started this book. It’s the story of the 1936 US rowing team that won the Gold medal at that year’s Summer Olympic Games in Hitler’s Berlin. The author paints such a vivid picture of the young men on the team as well as the skill required to excel at this sport–I had absolutely no idea! There’s a lot of anecdotal information about the Depression era that’s very interesting, and it also created a great interest for me about the 1936 Olympic Games.

reading in wildReading In The Wild by Donalyn Miller

I work in educational publishing and I’m always on the lookout for ideas on how to help kids learn to love to read. This book discusses in plain language how teachers (and parents) can help children become lifelong readers. Miller offers the opinion that many practices commonly used in classrooms—such as reading journals and contests—can actually work against helping children understand that reading should be a part of our everyday lives and not simply something to be done in school. She also provides practical suggestions on how educators can create an authentic book-loving culture in their schools. Many of the ideas presented apply to parents as well. I completely loved the message of this book!

Maeve's TImesMaeve’s Times: In Her Own Words by Maeve Binchy

I was sad to hear of Maeve Binchy’s death a few years ago–so imagine my delight when I learned that a new Binchy book was to be published this year! I was even more excited when I found out that it was to be a collection of nearly 100 of her columns that were originally published in The Irish Times, starting in the 1960s and continuing through 2011. Presented in chronological order, these pieces offer a whole new glimpse into Binchy’s writing style. I had no idea that she had been a columnist, and I devoured this book over a couple of marathon reading sessions in a single weekend. The topics range from humorous slices of life, to character sketches, to news reporting, to controversial opinion pieces. The only thing that tripped me up a bit was the very frequent use of Irish slang and terminology, which I don’t recall encountering too much in her novels. However, this makes total sense in that her columns were most likely intended exclusively for local Irish readers, while she must have known that her novels would find an international audience. I loved this book, and was so grateful to see an entirely new side to one of my favorite novelists.

Honorable Mentions/Just Missed The List:

Relish: My Life In The Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

How about you? Have you read any of these? What types of nonfiction books do you enjoy? Please share—and please visit the first November Nonfiction linkup (just click on the graphic at the top of this post) for more great nonfiction titles!

Author: bookmammal

I love books, reading, writing, cooking, eating, reading while eating, and sharing thoughts about all of the above–plus a bit more! I usually post about topics relating to books and literacy during the week, and then participate in a variety of non-bookish memes on the weekend. Please feel free to join in! Some random things about me– –I have multiple bookshelves in every room of my home except the bathroom. They’re all filled to bursting. They help to make my house my home. –I have two cats who I love dearly, but who I definitely do NOT dress in human clothing. Ever. –I’ve never had a cavity. –I make a mean spaghetti sauce. –I’m a newcomer to yoga and I love it. –My day is not complete without a little chocolate.

44 thoughts on “NONFICTION NOVEMBER–WEEK 1: Favorite Nonfiction of 2014

  1. The Boys in the Boat and Empty Mansions are two of my favorite nonfiction titles this year. I’m hoping participate in Nonfiction November, too!

  2. I didn’t know Maeve Binchy had been a columnist either.

    • I was so surprised when I found that out–but after reading this collection I could definitely see how her nonfiction and fictional writing voices complimented each other. It was such an enjoyable read!

  3. You’re the second person I’ve seen mention Empty Mansions as their favorite of the year…I’ll have to check that out! Boys in the Boat was one of my favorites of last year – and it was also one of my overall favorites (not just nonfiction)…it was absolutely fantastic! I also have My Salinger Year on my list to read this month. Enjoy!

    • Empty Mansions was one of those books that I probably made a pest of myself over by talking about it to pretty much EVERYONE when I was reading it!
      The Boys In The Boat definitely seemed like a novel to me–just a great book all the way around!
      I hope you enjoy My Salinger Year!

  4. Oh, I’ve heard so many good things about Empty Mansions . . . it sounds great! I’ll have to add that to the list.

  5. I’ve got to read more non-fiction. There are so many good titles!

  6. You inspire me to read more non-fiction! Your choices always seem so interesting!!

  7. Interesting and varied list of favorites! I’m still impressed you managed to get your list down to only four 🙂

    • Believe me, it was tough!!! At the end of the year I’ll most likely do Top 10 lists for my favorite fiction and nonfiction books of the year–that will be a little easier!

  8. I absolutely loved Empty Mansions, so I’m tickled to see it on your list. And I’m intrigued by Reading in the Wild! Will definitely keep an eye out for that!

    • Wasn’t Empty Mansions just . . . wonderful???
      If you think Reading in the Wild sounds interesting, you may want to also look for her first book–The Book Whisperer. Both are very inspiring and thought provoking.

  9. Honestly, I feel like such a cheat to participate in this month… Comparemy 3 reads to your incredible number! Anyway, I think I ought to look up Empty Mansions since so many seem to have loved it.

    • It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality, right??? Real life often gets in the way of reading life–as long as you’re enjoying what you do read, I think that’s what counts.

  10. I’m glad you took the time to write about Empty Mansions because I’ve seen it thrown out a lot lately but I had no idea what it was about. Sounds fascinating! And I’ll definitely be adding Reading in the Wild to my list as I have young children who I would love to become natural readers.

    Relish made my top list for graphics. Loved that one!

  11. I really loved Empty Mansions, too, so I’m glad to see that so many people are recommending it – I hope it finds a bunch of new readers through Nonfiction November!

  12. The Boys In The Boat is one of my absolute favorites. I shoved that one into a bunch of people’s hands last year.

  13. I’ve seen Empty Mansions everywhere for this event, it sounds fascinating! Onto the list it goes… Shamefully I’ve only read about two nonfiction books so far this year but I’m already halfway through my first this month so I plan to make up for it a bit in November 🙂 I’m also really excited to read My Salinger Year.

  14. Reading in the Wild sounds like it is along the philosophy I have with kids and reading.

  15. Picking favorites is ridiculously hard isn’t it? I really enjoyed Boys in the Boat a lot. I highly recommend any of Daniel James Brown’s books. If you haven’t read his others you definitely should 😀

    Empty Mansions sounds fascinating and is going on my wish list right this minute, thanks so much!

  16. I never heard of Empty Mansions until reading everyone’s Nonfiction November posts. It sounds like a real winner! Reading In the Wild also appeals to me because I’m trying to instill of a love of books and reading in my kids, so I would love to see what kind of insight this book could provide.

  17. Reading In The Wild sounds like a terrific book! I always wonder how my own parents have influenced me to become a reader, and book-loving is definitely a trait that I want to pass down, haha. And I remember adding Relish to my TBR list after last year’s Nonfic Nov but never got a chance to read it!

    • I just picked up An Age Of License (by the author of Relish) from the library–it’s another graphic-format memoir about her trip to Europe shortly after her first book came out. I’m not sure it can top Relish for me, but I’m hoping to enjoy it!

  18. Wow! You’ve read so much nonfiction! One day I’d like to read that much. I feel like I read nonfiction so much slower than I read fiction. I’ve heard such good things about Empty Mansions. It’s definitely on my list! Thanks for joining us in Nonfiction November again this year!

    • I was so glad to hear that NF November was happening again this year–and next week’s prompt (“Be The Expert”) was my favorite last year! Thanks to you for co-hosting again!

  19. So impressed with the # of books you’ve read this year and so many NF books. I haven’t read any of the books you’ve mentioned, but am adding all of them to my reading list.

  20. I’ve read Empty Mansions as well and loved it. So glad to see it made your top of the year list.

  21. Right now I’m reading Cleopatra for the readalong but I have Empty Mansions checked out too. I’ve put The Boys in the Boat on my list on your recommendation too. Isn’t this a great event?

  22. Pingback: Nonfiction November Week 1 Wrap Up

  23. What a great list — and The Boys in the Boat makes it into my list of all-time favorite books.

  24. Pingback: Nonfiction November: New to my TBR list - The Emerald City Book Review

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