The same circumstances and reasons that prevented me from fully participating in Novellas in November meant I did not do the full Nonfiction November experience either, despite really enjoying it last year. I did read some though. Shout out to hosts What’s Nonfiction, Doing Dewey, Plucked from the Stacks, She Seeks Nonfiction, and The OC Book Girl for running extensive themes and challenges that offer something for everyone. Even a lazy blogger like me! Read on for brief reviews:
Bitcoin Widow by Jennifer Robertson
I fell down a Gerald Cotten rabbit hole last year. He was the disgraced founder of Crypto exchange QuadrigaCX, who died under somewhat sketchy circumstances just as his house of cards was falling – or did he? I listened to two podcast series and devoured several long articles, but was left with the same conclusion – he’s almost certainly dead, but the “almost” still bothers me! I didn’t expect any real revelations from his widow’s memoir, as anything juicy would almost certainly be incriminating. Indeed, this was a bland and repetitive “it wasn’t me” that asks us to believe that Ms. Robertson was extremely naive and incurious about her husband’s wealth, activities, and motivations. For real completists only.
The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley
On the other extreme, I’d recommend this memoir to almost anyone, especially if you have an interest in fashion or journalism or New York or Paris, or even you just loved The Devil Wears Prada (though the real Wintour seems to favour Chanel). I’d also recommend an audio-paper combo. The book is essential for the glossy pictures, and the audio is essential for Talley’s voice.
Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber
This one’s for the office drones, the knowledge workers, and the members of the laptop class. If you truly enjoy strategies, frameworks, and roadmaps, you might feel a little attacked. If you have long suspected it’s all a bit…. silly… you immediately feel a sense of recognition. As a wise man* once said, “we don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way!”
Being serious for a moment, I’ve never read a book like this before and found it fascinating, if not always 100% coherent. I started Graeber’s controversial The Dawn of Everything earlier this year, and found it similarly original and a little hard to follow at times, but I only made it to about 100 of its 700 pages before it was due back at the library.
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
Like most productivity books, the ideas here are pretty simple and common sense. This one’s compelling because it’s by someone who changed their mind about it. As a veteran bullet journaler and Getting Things Done-er, it was a little uncomfortable, but also freeing, to hear that productivity culture, hacks, systems, etc. are (mostly) all for nought.
Try Not to be Strange by Michael Hingston
This was so niche, that even though I liked it, I’m not sure who I could recommend it to! Well, any “book” person, really (so, you, dear reader) but a person off the street? I’m not so sure. Hingston untangles a literary mystery that touches on travel, translation, rare book collecting, turn-of-the-century (20th that is) sci-fi, and most of all, the kings, queens, pretenders and usurpers of a maybe-imaginary throne.
This was also a rare case where I wished the author spent more time on his personal story and connections to the narrative, but that’s probably because I know him!
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman
This was my first Klosterman. There’s something infuriating about his style. You could make the standard nineties-era criticism that he has no attention span, and it’s all sound bites. Okay, he does manage to make interesting connections, and meta commentary on the nature of memory and nostalgia, but often, just as he’s onto something interesting, he changes course. The essays are heavy on pop culture (Tarantino, Reality Bites, Nirvana) and American politics (Reagan, Perot, Clinton) and it’s just relentlessly white, male, and Gen X – your tolerance for his stylistic quirks may depend on how appealing this point of view is. It was uneven, but worth it for 1) the cover (I had that phone in the 90s!) and 2) the conversation about early 90s internet culture it sparked between my husband and me. Who knew we were both trolling text-based game BBSes only to meet ten years later on a pre-apps dating site. We’re early adopters.
*a wise man: