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!

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!



A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the great California Earthquake of 1906



“Perhaps all cities, like all the creations of humankind, lack the real permanence they often seem to seek. But this was something more. Because of where San Francisco was built, and because of the febrile and uncertain nature of the world that underpins its foundations, it has a unique vulnerability and suffers under a greater sense of edgy impermanence than any other great city anywhere. San Francisco that morning seemed, in the context of the landscape spread around it, a city more temporary than any other great urban creation that humans have ever made.”

I felt my first earthquake when I was about 14 or 15, my family and I were on holiday in Los Angeles. We were in the hotel room and it was probably sometime in the morning when the floor moved. Then a recorded voice advised us from outside the corridor not to worry, that it was an earthquake. Or something to that extent. My sister and I were less worried than excited – our first earthquake! Of course we were all thankful that it was just a very minor one. Then we went about our day.

Earthquakes are a rarity in Singapore, although we are close to the earthquake-prone area of Indonesia, and not too far from where the Indian Ocean tsunami happened. I don’t recall ever feeling an earthquake when living in Singapore.

So to move from Singapore to the San Francisco Bay Area a few years ago was, well, interesting. When we bought our house, the contract had all these statements about being close to the Hayward Fault, and various other things.  And so I worry quite a bit about the possibility of earthquakes although I have only felt two earthquakes since we’ve lived here, and they were minor ones. But reading this book, and realizing that scientists at the US Geological Survey predict a high likelihood of a big one happening in the area before 2032, gives me the shivers. I realize that 1906 was a long time ago, that things have changed tremendously in terms of building design and what not, but I can’t help but worry! Especially since the 6.0 earthquake that occurred in South Napa just in August, which, while fortunately not too many were injured (and sadly, one person died after chimney bricks fell on him), did quite a bit of damage. Plus look what happened in 1989, during the disastrous Loma Prieta earthquake. Is the Bay Area prepared for the next big one? Am I prepared if something does happen? I really don’t know.

Anyway, back to Winchester, who I reckon is the type of person who enjoys taking long meandering walks just to see where things go, because that’s how his book reads.

Winchester begins by tempting the reader with some snippets of information on the earthquake, some depictions of it from first-hand accounts, and some longing and loving depictions of the city and its surrounds, from his perch high above on Mount Diablo.

I can understand all that geological and geographical facts that he pounds away at. It is an earthquake book, that was to be expected. To read of a meteor crater in Winslow, Arizona, though and various small towns in Missouri and California, which have seismologists all excited, ok fair enough, but Winchester does take us on a rather long meandering route through time and space before we eventually get to 1906 San Francisco. He has after all driven from the east coast of the US to the west, and I guess that means he has a lot of time to think about his project, his journey and more.

So to finally return to San Francisco in the 1900s is a bit of a relief. But Winchester isn’t ready to take us to the earthquake, not quite yet. First we learn about the relative youth of America in those days, the treaties signed like the Louisiana Purchase, buying 600,000 acres of Alaska from Russia, then the treaty signed with Mexico for western lands. And of course one cannot talk about San Francisco history without touching on gold. Some Chinese still refer to this area as “旧金山” (pronounced ‘jiujinshan’) or literally “old gold mountain”.

But wait! In Chapter Seven, Winchester heads back to contemporary times, this time bringing the reader to central California and a little farming town called Parkfield, a “much-measured place” full of scientific equipment, devices monitoring monitoring monitoring seismic activity. And there are discussions about plates and a variety of other things that may interest you more than me.

Aha, Chapter Eight takes us back in time again, with more of the story of San Francisco! Ok so in case you haven’t guessed yet, I am more of a history buff than a geography one. I love all these little details about life back then – how prices of goods rocketed after the gold poured in (nearly a million dollars in the first eight weeks), how people abandoned their jobs to go dig up some gold (more than 200 sailing vessels lay offshore in July 1849, sailors all after the shiny things. By the end of the year, this number was 600!). People lived in flimsy tents, and it was filthy and just downright dirty and gross. And corrupted. This was the mid-1800s. And he throws in all these tidbits, like how the San Francisco patois, like the use of ‘crib’ to mean ‘home’, ‘crimp’, ‘shanghai men’, and even ‘hoodlum’. And far more fascinating (at least to me) details about life in San Francisco, in the west in the 1800s. Oh I bathed in this chapter, I really did. Because Winchester, when he’s good, he’s really really good.

And TADA, in Chapter Nine, we get to April 17, 1906! FINALLY.

But NO! He fools us again. Winchester first sets it up with a rather long few pages about the day before it, the adventures of an opera singer, a tenor, in town to perform and staying at the seven-storey Palace Hotel, we read newspaper accounts of the opera Carmen, then some other things about what happened the night before the earthquake, entertainment at the theatre, a couple of fires, all this ending and GAHHH he didn’t get to the EARTHQUAKE!! He ends with dawn, April 17, 1906: “Dawn was unfolding quietly, serenely. All was perfect peace.”

Ok so now CHAPTER TEN, according to my e-book, we are 47.7% into the book. Winchester is on thin ice here. But we finally meet the Earthquake:

“It made its entrance in a spectacular, horrifying, unforgettable way. It came thundering in on what looked like huge undulating waves, with the entire surface of the earth and everything that stood upon it seeming to lift up and then roll in forward from the direction of the ocean. The whole street and all its great buildings rose and fell, rose and fell, in what looked like an enormous tidal bore, an unstoppable tsunami of rock and brick and cement and stone.”

Winchester digs up accounts from various people, policemen, hotel guests, ship captains, even a very young Ansel Adam and his Chinese cook. He makes the simple point that clocks stopped, because they ran on pendulums. And this one detail stuns me. I understand the telegraph wires going down, the fires and all that. But to think that they weren’t able to tell the time because their clocks stopped blew me away. Yes it was a long time ago.

And the destruction. Relentless. Complete. Devastating.


– Some 95% of all SF’s chimneys collapsed
– The federal government estimated that only 3 – 10% of the damage done to the city was directly due to the earthquake.
– Half a billion dollars’ worth of property damage
– More than 200,000 homeless, at least 600 killed (some say it was as high as 3,000)
– Fire. Within 5 seconds of the end of the quake, 20 or 30 fires broke out in the lower part of the city, said one account
– It burned across 2,600 acres, destroyed 490 city blocks, 28,188 buildings.
– They burned for three days. Dynamite had to be used to create firebreaks. The water supply pipes had mostly fractured. Eventually the rain began.
Ok so I’ve complained quite a bit here about this book and how long it took to get to the actual event. But I understand it, I understand Winchester’s need to set the stage, to get the reader to understand what things were like at that time, to lay a foundation for the reader about plate tectonics and the earth’s movements and stuff. He wanted to cover all his bases. It’s just sometimes that these places that he visits, the connections he makes between issues is a little bit odd, for instance, he mentions a little town in Ohio, which is the hometown of Neil Armstrong and somehow that takes us all the way to the Gaia theory. He also brings in various characters, hints at their lives and what they were doing during the earthquake but then he drops them and seems to forget that he ever talked about them. I was alternately bored and fascinated by this book. The far-too-detailed stuff about geography made me skim the pages, whereas I loved those details about life in the 1800s and 1900s, how things were so different.

Simon Winchester is one of those people with such devotion and enthusiasm about a subject that he is willing to drive from San Francisco to Anchorage, Alaska, just to see a pipeline.

I was wondering, as I FINALLY finished this book, is this Winchester’s style? He has written quite a few popular books on a variety of subjects, and for a while I was quite convinced I had read one of his books but I realize now that I haven’t, that this was my first Winchester.

Did I simply pick the wrong one to start with? Is there another Winchester book that is more readable?

It did however make me want to read more about the anti-Chinese sentiment that wafted around California at that time. Many years ago, I read Iris Chang’s The Chinese in America.  And it might be a good time to revisit that.



I read this book for Nonfiction November 2014,  an event hosted by Lost in BooksSophisticated DorkinessRegular Rumination, and Doing Dewey.

Nonfiction November: Anyone up for some foodie nonfiction?


So, it’s Week Two of Nonfiction November! Regular Rumination is hosting this week and this is the 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).

Ok I didn’t know where to go with this one!

Am I an expert at something? These days the only thing I’m good at is reading while ignoring taking care of my two young fellas.

I tend to read all over the place! But as I sat down and took a long look at my Goodreads ‘read’ and ‘nonfiction’ categories, I realized that one nonfiction topic I have read quite a bit about is food.


Yeah so food is a rather big topic in itself. There are books on different countries’ cooking and food. (Links are to my posts on the books. I have read all the books I’m mentioning here, but have not written about all of them). For instance, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen or Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food–Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal by Mark Kurlansky or To the People, Food Is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in a Changing China by Audra Ang. Or books on ingredients, like Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. Or even on the instruments that we use to eat and cook our food, such as Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson.

Sometimes the book aims for a more unique angle like 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander, who hones his bread making skills rather passionately.

Or this one about allergies, which I first read when I found out my son was allergic to several foods (wheat, milk, peanuts and tree nuts. He’s since outgrown the first two but is still allergic to peanuts and tree nuts): Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley.

Or for those interested in culinary traditions, especially those of European immigrants, a look into life of five families in a New York tenement in the mid-1800s through the food they cooked and ate, in 97 Orchard: An Edible History of five Immigrant Families in one New York Tenement.

But then I realize that perhaps one sub-topic that might interest you all, at least it does me, is the chef-memoir or anything related to restaurants. I love to eat out. A skill I first honed in Singapore, a city-state covered with restaurants, high-end and low-end. In this tiny island you get restaurants by Joel Robuchon, Jamie Oliver, Guy Savoy, Daniel Boulud, Tetsuya Wakuda. And it’s got restaurants making the World’s Best list. Not too shabby for an island nation that runs 50 km (31 miles) east to west and 26 km (16 miles) north to south. So perhaps it is understandable that Singaporeans are big foodies (to be honest there’s nothing all that much to do if you’re not really into shopping and partying. I wasn’t.) There’s nothing like searching out that next hot dining establishment. Sometimes living in the suburbs of Northern California, I miss that. Sure there’s plenty of good food here too but it’s so very spread out! Excuses excuses (young children excuses) I know. So yes, I have only made it to a handful of good restaurants here. Perhaps the meal that has stood out the most would be my lunch at the French Laundry (in case you are interested, photos and details are in this post).

Anyway let’s get back to the books! For it seems that I have read more than a handful of chef memoirs and other books written about life in the kitchen!

There are the celebrity chefs:

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef – Gabrielle Hamilton
Yes, Chef – Marcus Samuelsson

And going behind the scenes of a kitchen at a restaurant:
Sous Chef

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford
The amazing Michael Ruhlman has written quite a few books on this, although I’ve only read (I think! it was a while ago!) the first one:

The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America
The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection
The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen

The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine by Rudolph Chelminski just tore me apart. This is the story of one of the top chefs in France, Bernard Loiseau, and the madness of Michelin star perfection.

And of course there is the ever-present Anthony Bourdain and his fun reads:


The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines – this one is my favourite!
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.

And when there are restaurants, there will be critics, which is where books by critics come in handy:

Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess by New York magazine food critic Gael Greene. Which I only gave 3 stars on Goodreads, although I can’t remember why.

Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life by Mimi Sheraton

Ruth Reichl, former restaurant critic and editor of Gourmet, wrote quite a few memoirs:
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table
Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way

and even a work of fiction that is set at an about-to-go-bust food magazine, Delicious!
And an interesting insight to getting that ‘fourth star’ from the New York Times from the view of a restaurant, its owner and its staff.

The Fourth Star: Dispatches from Inside Daniel Boulud’s Celebrated New York Restaurant by Leslie Brenner

Alright, so that’s probably far more information than you will ever need on this topic, I hope! Thanks for indulging me!

But I’d like to know, what’s your favourite foodie read?