Is it too late to join #NonFictionNov ?





Week 1: Your Year in Nonfiction So Far (Hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness)
Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?


So far this year I have read 15 nonfiction books, 9 of which were audiobooks. That may sound like a decent number, but it’s really not, as it’s only 7.5% of my total so far this year! And as for why most of them are audiobooks… I don’t have a long commute and when I’m in the car with the kids (that is to say, a good part of my day) I let them listen to audiobooks of their choice (current fave is the Wings of Fire series). I listen to audiobooks when I’m taking a walk and prefer to listen to nonfiction books, which are easier to pick up again after some time away. Oh and in the past year or so I’ve been crocheting and audiobooks are the best thing to crochet with.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

In terms of my nonfiction reading, I read mostly memoirs and a few science nonfiction. My favourite nonfiction is I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong, which really opened my eyes to the fascinating world of microbes! As for favourite memoir, it’s hard to pick really! I enjoyed Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, partly because it was set in South Africa, and Shaun Bythell’s Diary of a Bookseller, a sweet and funny read by the owner of Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I really don’t read as much nonfiction as I want to but I think in the past couple of years I’ve been more attracted to science-related nonfiction.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus

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

Book recommendations! And also inspiration to read heaps more nonfiction! I’m currently on the look out for a true crime read, in order to finish the Popsugar challenge!

Thanks for reading! And feel free to throw all kinds of nonfiction reads my way.

#nonficnov: Immigration reads



It’s week 4 of Nonfiction November! You can find all the details here

This week’s topic:

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Immigration and citizenship has been on my mind of late.

I read a lot of fiction about the immigration experience (like Americanah, The Namesake, The Book of Unknown Americans), but not much in terms of nonfiction. These are some of the books I have read that fit into this category.



The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian was a short read about ‘citizens of the world’ including the buying and selling of passports, and the Bidoon, who are the stateless people of countries like the United Arab Emirates.


I read The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea a while ago (it was published in 2004) but I still remember the horror of reading this book about this group of men who attempt to cross from Mexico into Arizona.
The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream by Patrick Radden Keefe was a fascinating tale about a $40 million smuggling business run by a middle-aged woman known as Sister Ping.

Some books I would like to read:
Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives (Voice of Witness) compiled by Peter Orner

Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them by Philippe Legrain

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

The Boys from Little Mexico: A Season Chasing the American Dream by Steve Wilson

We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future by Deepa Iyer

The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

Do you have any recommendations?

#nonficnov – fiction-nonfiction pairing


(All the details for Nonfiction Nov are here)

Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I always love when bloggers and book sites do this, but when I sat down and thought about it, I realize that this isn’t an easy task. Maybe it’s because I don’t read much nonfiction? But here are some attempts!

If you liked: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (a fantastic story set largely in space with strong female characters)

try: Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

Seveneves is one of those the Earth is doomed kind of books but with women in the key roles. Hooray! That made me think of the Rocket Girls, women who worked at Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) as “computers”. That was the term used for their jobs in the 1940s and 1950s – they did calculations (velocities, trajectories) and all the math behind getting these rockets into space. And it was pretty much an all-women team of human computers. 

If you liked: The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang

try: The Chinese in America by Iris Chang

and The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

 I recently read Wangs and loved this smart and funny book about a family whose fortunes have fallen. I thought a good nonfiction pairing would be one about Chinese immigration to America as well as one that talks about the 2008 financial crisis. I haven’t read The Big Short yet but want to after reading the Wangs. 

If you liked: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

try: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick  and In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

Another two-fer. I picked Orphan-Master’s Son as that’s the only popular fiction I’ve read set in North Korea (if you’re interested, Hwang Sok-Yong’s The Guest is set in North Korea, but I’m guessing he’s not a familiar name to many). Barbara Demick has written an unforgettable book about life in North Korea and Yeonmi Park relates her own experiences growing up in North Korea in her book. 
And now for the most obvious pairing of all…

If you liked:
The Princess Bride by William Goldman

try: As You Like It: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. If you can get hold of the audiobook, even better!


#nonficnov – choosing nonfiction



(All the details for Nonfiction Nov are here)

Choosing Nonfiction:

What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book?

Sometimes I pick up nonfiction after reading a fantastic work of fiction. So I think the answer to that would be that I pick up nonfiction as a distraction from the fiction I’m reading. I know that’s not really the kind of answer the question is looking for, but that’s my answer!

Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to?

I like books about travel, diaspora and immigration. And also, foodie nonfiction! Sometime this year I started listening to celebrities narrate their own audiobooks and really like that – like Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, and Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

Do you have a particular writing style that works best?

I like narrative nonfiction. I like when the writer’s personality is very much infused into the book. Like in The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries by Jessa Crispin, who is writing about historical figures, but also very much about herself, her relationship and her own ‘exile’ of sorts to Berlin. Oh and I like when books are funny (but not necessarily funny as in written by comedians), like Mary Roach’s works.

When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you? If so, share a title or cover which you find striking

Smoke gets in your eyes  is for the title. While the other two are for the covers.

#nonficnov: My year in nonfiction



Almost forgot all about Nonfiction November! You can find all the details here

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions –

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?


I read more nonfiction than I thought I did – 24 books! And a good number of them were audiobooks, which is very unusual for me. It’s hard to pick just one!

I loved listening to As you wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride that was just an absolute treat for the ears! Bluets by Maggie Nelson was, at 113 pages, so short but so beautiful. And The Song Poet

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?


The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang, a Hmong American writer, is a book that more people should read. First of all, the story of her father and his family struggling to survive, having to flee their village is moving, emotional. Their stay in a refugee camp in Thailand, where Yang was born, was painful. But it was even harder to read about their life in America, where they work day and night to make a new life for their family in this strange new land. 

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

Science-related nonfiction!

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

More recommendations please!

Read in November 2014


Thanks to Nonfiction November, I read a good number of nonfiction books last month – and perhaps more importantly, wrote about them! The challenge also added to my now-burgeoning nonfiction TBR list! Such good books all around!

Some of my favourite reads this month were The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’Farrell and Gossamer by Lois Lowry (see below for my thoughts).

November was also the month in which I finally finished Drood, a monster of a book at 775 pages, that went on for far too long although it did make me want to read Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, who are the two main characters.

And I finally read my first John Scalzi book, Old Man’s War, a fascinating book set in the future, where, on his 75th birthday, John Perry joins the army. And not just any army, but an interstellar one, fighting aliens for planetary space. How does it all work? Well nobody on Earth really knows. It was a fun ride, but I am pleased to note that the second book, Ghost Brigades, was even better! Yes, I was so into the first book that I immediately borrowed the second one after I was done.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds was a fun graphic novel read set in a restaurant and has magic mushrooms. But not those kind of magic mushrooms, these mushrooms will fix mistakes and change the past. Great graphics, loved the colours, it was a fun and sometimes funny (other times dark) read.

French Kids Eat Everything – Karen Le Billon
Men we reaped: a memoir – Jesmyn Ward
A crack in the edge of the world: America and the great California earthquake of 1906 – Simon Winchester
L.A. Son: My life, my city, my food – Roy Choi
Can’t We Talk about something more pleasant? – Roz Chast
Worn stories – Emily Spivak
A visit to Don Otavio Sybille Bedford
Cleopatra: A life – Stacy Schiff

The hand that first held mine – Maggie O’Farrell
Gossamer – Lois Lowry
Drood – Dan Simmons
The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) – Maggie Stiefvater
Anatomy of a misfit – Andrea Portes
I married you for happiness – Lily Tuck
Old man’s war – John Scalzi
The Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi
War Horse – Michael Morpurgo
Life after life – Jill McCorkle

Graphic novels
The guild – Felicia Day; Jim Rugg
In Real Life – Cory Doctorow, Jen Wang
Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Books added to my TBR list thanks to #nonficnov



It’s the last week of Nonfiction November, hosted by Lost in BooksSophisticated DorkinessRegular Rumination, and Doing Dewey.

This week’s topic: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!


My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar (Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity who called it a “deeply moving story”)

Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Human Mind by Margalit Fox (via A Horse and a Carrot who was “just plain captivated from the first page to the last”)

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (via A Sophisticated Dorkiness)

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (via Sarah’s Book Shelves who said this book is “mostly (very funny, incidentally) social commentary on the personalities in these professions and the general public as a whole during that time period.”

Capital by Rana Dasgupta (Via Regular Rumination) – set in Delhi. Plus love that cover.

Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson (via Books Speak Volumes who said it’s a “must-read for anyone who ever harbored a secret desire of becoming an archaeologist when she grew up”. Hello! That’s me!


Thank you so much to the wonderful hosts of Nonfiction November  – Lost in BooksSophisticated DorkinessRegular Rumination, and Doing Dewey – for opening my eyes and for adding to my TBR list!




Nonfiction Reads from Roz Chast, Emily Spivack, and Sybille Bedford


Chast’s graphic memoir is both funny and sad. It was such an eye opener with regards to growing old and dying.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a graphic memoir of her last years with her parents, who are in their 90s and live on their own in Brooklyn. Her parents are quite a pair – her mother is bossy, and to be honest, a little bit scary and demanding; her father is a chronic worrier, and becomes senile. They have a fear of retirement homes and refuse to talk about the inevitable. But it does happen. Her mother falls down one day and can’t get out of bed, and she is the one who cooks, drives and keeps their lives together. And so they have to move into an assisted living home, and Chast has to clear out their apartment – and all the many many items they have accumulated over the years (shavers??).

But wow, to first of all learn of 90-plus-year-olds living on their own. And then to read of the cost of assisted living. It was a big shock to my system.

This was a hard book to read. Some of the pages were hilarious, and others were just gut wrenchingly sad. You will inevitably think of your own family and wonder what you will do when your own parents can no longer look after themselves.


Worn Stories – Emily Spivack

The synopsis from Goodreads:

Everyone has a memoir in miniature in at least one piece of clothing. In Worn Stories, Emily Spivack has collected over sixty of these clothing-inspired narratives from cultural figures and talented storytellers. First-person accounts range from the everyday to the extraordinary, such as artist Marina Abramovic on the boots she wore to walk the Great Wall of China; musician Rosanne Cash on the purple shirt that belonged to her father; and fashion designer Cynthia Rowley on the Girl Scout sash that informed her business acumen. Other contributors include Greta Gerwig, Heidi Julavits, John Hodgman, Brandi Chastain, Marcus Samuelsson, Piper Kerman, Maira Kalman, Sasha Frere-Jones, Simon Doonan, Albert Maysles, Susan Orlean, Andy Spade, Paola Antonelli, David Carr, Andrew Kuo, and more. By turns funny, tragic, poignant, and celebratory, Worn Stories offers a revealing look at the clothes that protect us, serve as a uniform, assert our identity, or bring back the past–clothes that are encoded with the stories of our lives.

I was excited to read this, it sounded like it would be a great read, but I think I was expecting something more in-depth but each story was just one or two pages long. Some of the stories were poignant, relating to a tragedy or a loved one, one or two were humorous, but too many were rather forgettable. And towards the end, I didn’t really want to read on, although I did finish it, just to finish reading the book. Sigh.

Maybe you would enjoy this more than I did, especially if you’re a fan of some of the contributors, see above. I felt that the collection could have been more diverse, as a lot of the contributors were those from the art world.


A Visit to Don Otavio – Sybille Bedford

Bedford, a German-born English writer, led a rather interesting life (click on the link for the Wikipedia entry). This book is about her year in Mexico after World War II.  Originally published as The Sudden View: a Mexican Journey in 1953, A Visit to Don Otavio is a witty, intelligent look at Mexico in these times. Bedford is a beautiful writer, and occasionally turns her eye to the food that she consumes around the country, pleasing this foodie very very much. I am always enthralled by descriptions of food, especially in countries I’ve never been to before. Bedford is a master of observation and I am pleased to note that she has written quite a few other books:

  • The Sudden View: a Mexican Journey – 1953 – (republished as A Visit to Don Otavio: a Traveller’s Tale from Mexico, a travelogue)
  • A Legacy – 1956 – her first novel, a work inspired by the early life of the author’s father, which focuses on the brutality and anti-Semitism in the cadet schools of the German officer class.
  • The Best We Can Do: (The Trial of Dr Adams) – 1958 – an account of the murder trial of suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams
  • The Faces of Justice: A Traveller’s report – 1961 – a description of the legal systems of England, Germany, Switzerland, and France.
  • A Favourite of the Gods – 1963 – a novel about an American heiress who marries a Roman Prince
  • A Compass Error – 1968 – a sequel to the above, describing the love affairs of the granddaughter of that work’s protagonist
  • Aldous Huxley: A biography – 1973 – the standard, authorized biography of Huxley
  • Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education – 1989 – a sort of followup to A Legacy, this novel was inspired by the author’s experiences living in Italy and France with her mother
  • As It Was: Pleasures, Landscapes and Justice – 1990 – a collection of magazine pieces on various trials, including the censorship of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the trial of Jack Ruby, and the Auschwitz trial, as well as pieces on food and travel.
  • Pleasures and Landscapes: A Traveller’s Tales from Europe – a reissue of the above, removing the legal writings, and including two additional travel essays.
  • Quicksands: A Memoir – 2005 – A memoir of the author’s life, from her childhood in Berlin to her experiences in postwar Europe.


Nonfiction November: on diversity


Diversity and Nonfiction: What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for? What kind of books besides different countries/cultures do you think of as books of diversity?

Such good questions! I participated recently in Aarti’s Diversiverse, where the challenge was to read books by authors of colour. I ended up posting about 6 books, but these were all works of fiction. And I didn’t give a thought to reading works of nonfiction at all. In other words, I’ve not really given much thought to reading diversely when it comes to nonfiction.

Diverse to me means a variety of things – authors of colour, and international are the first things that come to mind. But it could also mean gender, class, and different life experiences, such as the disabled, different religions, different generations. It is a very tricky thing to discuss, this diversity. I considered giving this week a miss, but it is an important topic, and as I mentioned earlier, I don’t push myself to read diversely when it comes to nonfiction.

So what does diversity mean? Does it mean reading about people different from me? I am from Singapore, my great-grandparents were from China, but I have never been to China nor do I know what it’s like to be Chinese in China.

Or does it mean reading books that are not written by white men? Because it seems that many books are. Of course there is nothing wrong reading books written by white men. As a reader, you are entitled to read whatever you want to! But I guess the point is that as a reader, I want to be reading more widely, to be gaining a different perspective.

Hmm I don’t know whether I’m being coherent….

Perhaps I should just figure out what I am interested in reading!

Here’s one. Southeast Asia.

It might not sound ‘diverse’ – a Southeast Asian reading about Southeast Asia. But it is a very diverse region, of which Singapore is just one very tiny dot and a rather atypical dot at that. And I feel like it’s a part of the world that doesn’t get read about very much. These books have been on my Southeast Asian reading list for a while. And it is time I begin reading some of them.

When broken glass floats : growing up under the Khmer Rouge : a memoir – Chanrithy Him (Cambodia)
First they killed my father : a daughter of Cambodia remembers – Loung Ung (Cambodia)
The Mute’s soliloquy : a memoir – Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Indonesia)
The river of lost footsteps : histories of Burma – Thant Myint-U
From the land of green ghosts : a Burmese odyssey – Pascal Khoo Thwe (Burma)
The unwanted : a memoir – Kien Nguyen (Vietnam)
Catfish and Mandala – Andrew X. Pham (Vietnam)

Another part of the world that I would like to read more about is South America. But I have no idea where to begin. I do realize that saying “South America” is very vague. But I’ll be happy to read about any part of it! I was browsing Goodreads and found some books:


The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba – Julia Cooke
Waiting for Snow in Havana – Carlos Eire
Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border – Luis Alberto Urrea
My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile – Isabel Allende

Of course there are plenty more out there. And if you have any recommendations please let me know!



Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

“To be a man was to posture strength and capability; for my brother, this meant he had to be unafraid. He had to show a strength he may not have felt, had to evince a ruthlessness in his swagger that was not in him.”


“Men’s bodies litter my family history. The pain of the women they left behind pulls them from the beyond, makes them appear as ghosts. In death, they transcend the circumstances of this place that I love and hate all at once and become supernatural.”

Jesmyn Ward’s book is full of anger and grief. The death of four people close to you will do that. First her brother dies, in October 2000, then by summer 2004, three of her friends had died as well. She is still hurting, it is evident from every line in the book, every word that she pours out onto the page.

Ward takes us through her life, growing up poor in Mississippi, and in between these recollections of her life, she talks about the lives of her friends – and their deaths through accidents, drugs, suicide. She thinks back to the last time she saw them, to how she found out the news of their deaths, and the reactions of their loved ones.  She also examines the socioeconomic factors that have affected their lives and their community:

 “And the school administration at the time solved the problem of the Black male by practicing a kind of benign neglect. Years later, that benign neglect would turn malignant and would involve illegal strip searches of middle schoolers accused of drug dealing, typing these same students as troublemakers, laying a thick paper trail of imagined or real discipline offenses, and once the paper trail grew thick enough, kicking out the students who endangered the blue-ribbon rating with lackluster grades and test scores.”

And how she sought escape in books

“I think my love for books sprang from my need to escape the world I was born into, to slide into another where words were straightforward and honest, where there was clearly delineated good and evil, where I found girls who were strong and smart and creative and foolish enough to fight dragons, to run away from home to live in museums, to become child spies, to make new friends and build secret gardens. Perhaps it was easier for me to navigate that world than my home, where my parents were having heated, whispered arguments in the dining room turned bedroom, and my father was disappearing after those arguments for weeks at a time to live at his mother’s house in Pass Christian before coming back to us. Perhaps it was easier for me to sink into those worlds than to navigate a world that would not explain anything to me, where I could not delineate good and bad. My grandmother worked ten-hour-long shifts at the plant. My mother had a job as a maid at a hotel. My father still worked at the glass plant, and when he was living with us, he would often disappear on his motorcycle.”


Men We Reaped was a heartwrencher, an eyeopener. It was a very personal journey, Ward’s attempt to write away her sadness and her pain.