Nonfiction November Week 1: My Year in Books

While I’m almost sad October is over, it’s time for Nonfiction November, and that makes everything better. For the first week, here’s our prompt:

Week 1 (November 1-5) Your Year in Nonfiction with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction: 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?

This was a difficult prompt for me this year. After looking through all the nonfiction I’ve read since last November, I couldn’t come up with a single book that I would put above the rest—nor could I find a simple pattern for what I was gravitating toward. Sure, there were the usual food and theatre and political books, but I read more broadly than in years past.

Really, with everything still in general turmoil this year, I think I was grabbing for any book that could be a distraction.

Fortunately, I found a ton. Here are fifteen of my favorite nonfiction reads since the last Nonfiction November:

An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe
Holidays can be stressful for anyone, but if we all approached them like author Nina Stibbe they’d at least be funny too. I’m a big fan of this hilarious memoir devoted to Christmas and the general wildness that’s permeated the festive season throughout her entire life.

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom and edited by Leonard S. Marcus
There’s perhaps no bigger titan in the history of children’s publishing than Ursula Nordstrom, and this collection of her letters details exactly what made her so special in cultivating some of the best talent as editor-in-chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?: A Memoir by Séamas O’Reilly
There’s almost nothing better than a good memoir, and they’re rarely as good as this heartfelt exploration of growing up as one of eleven children at the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way by Caseen Gaines
I’m constantly looking for nonfiction about Broadway and theatre in general, so I was thrilled to discover someone was finally writing a book about one of the most influential productions in Broadway history—and thankfully, it more than met my expectations.

Hot, Hot Chicken: A Nashville Story by Rachel Louise Martin
Honestly, I’m a sucker for books about food. Now if only they were all as good as this exploration of hot chicken, its history, and its influence in Nashville.

I’m Not Making This Up, You Know: The Autobiography of the Queen of Musical Parody by Anna Russell
This was a book I’d wanted to read for a long while. Anna Russell was a remarkable performer, somehow mashing together comedy and opera into a tour deforce career that lasted decades. No one else has ever been able to quite do what she did, and that includes this unique autobiography. Funny and charming, just like her.

Krazy: The Black and White World of George Herriman by Michael Tisserand
Before reading this book, I wasn’t at all familiar with George Herriman or his comic strip Krazy Kat. However, Tisserand, with his careful attention to detail and absolute adoration for his subject, gave me a deep appreciation for this icon of comic history.

Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living by Bailey White
If I was handing out awards for my reading this year, Bailey White might win the award for Most Unique Voice. With witty folksiness, she has crafted an incredibly endearing look at the eccentricities of family.

Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power by Anna Merlan
I’m only mildly interested in conspiracy theories, but I’m absolutely fascinated by people who are devoted to conspiracy theories. Fortunately, this book does a deep dive into both of these things and their influence on the United States … Kind of bleak and kind of horrifying, but absolutely riveting all the same.

Sealand: The True Story of the World’s Most Stubborn Micronation and Its Eccentric Royal Family by Dylan Taylor-Lehman
Ever wanted to take control of a disused military fort and move your family into it? Yeah, I hadn’t really considered it, but this book certainly makes the case.

Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? by David Hughes
While I pay a lot more attention to theatre than any other form, I love all sorts of behind-the-scenes books, and this is one of the best. Reading this will make you question how any movie ever gets made.

This Much is True by Miriam Margolyes
99% of books by actors are terrible. Fortunately, this one is in the 1%!

The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham
This year, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about theme parks, and this was one of the most interesting books in that collection. While I’ve never been to a Disney park, this is a fascinating hyper-focused look at the ride’s bumpy history.

Vote First or Die: The New Hampshire Primary: America’s Discerning, Magnificent, and Absurd Road to the White House by Scott Conroy
Well, I can’t talk about my year in reading without reading political books. Generally, they’re all bad, but an occasional bright spot jumps up. This examination of New Hampshire’s status as the first primary in each presidential election in the United States shows a lot of the absurdity involved in not just that process, but the entire political system.

The Whorehouse Papers by Larry L. King
Brash and colorful, this is definitely the most unique book that details the making of a big Broadway musical. While The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas would ultimately be a massive success, reading this account of the tumultuous production process makes you wonder how it even opened in the first place.

If you’d like to participate in Nonfiction November—and I hope you do—feel free to head over to What’s Nonfiction and link your post for this week.

You can also participate on Instagram with Jaymi @theocbookgirl by using #nonfictionbookparty


  1. Your summary of the Miriam Margolyes book made me laugh. It’s true that most actors can’t write for toffee! I knew about the existance of Sealand but not that the writers had brought out a book – I’ve always been a bit fascinated by it, so I’ll have to look it up.


  2. That’s an interesting list. I haven’t read a single one of them or even heard about any of the books or their authors. The only one I know of is Miriam Margolyes and I love your description of her. She is great indeed.

    Here is my Year in Non-Fiction November for Week 1.


  3. I remember listening to Bailey White’s essays on NPR…I wonder if she is still alive…and that collection of her essays is just lovely.

    Adding Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power by Anna Merlan to my list.


    1. After reading her book, I became so curious about what she’s been up to. I saw a post someone made about meeting her within the past year, so it does seem like she’s still around. I’d love to read something new from her. She has an incredible voice.

      And I hope you enjoy it! It’s a wild read.


  4. There are a lot of interesting books on your list! I am adding Vote First or Die to my TBR (as a 20+ year resident of NH how can I not?) If you haven’t read anything by Adrian Miller you might want to check him out–he is a food writer (and former White-House-staffer) whose latest is Black Smoke.


    1. As a New Hampshire resident, I think you’ll get even more out of it than I did! The author obviously has a great appreciation for the state … if not necessarily for the circus that comes to town every four years.

      And thank you for the recommendation! I’ve had his work on my TBR pile for seemingly ages, but I really need to get around to actually reading some of it.


  5. A pattern? A theme? For a minute, I had it pegged as books that include “mama,” but then that stopped and you went your merry way with whatever distracted you. I think you had a fun nonfiction year!


  6. I know I tell you this all the time, but you seriously always find THE most interesting and unique nonfiction!! Obviously with our love of all things food writing I had to add Hot, Hot Chicken to my list. And The Whorehouse Papers!!! Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is one of my all-time favorite movies but I’ve still never seen the play. The book sounds so interesting though, and I had no idea it was such a tumultuous production, although I guess I’m not totally surprised? Did Ye Hear Mammy Died sounds really interesting and moving too, and Vote First or Die sounds incredibly important, I need to look into that one. Amazing list as always!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are too kind! I swear, at this point I think I subconsciously seek out obscure books just to get you to write that.

      I think you’ll love Hot, Hot Chicken. It’s a really cool blend of food history with this rich history of Nashville. Just a very unique piece of writing. And if you love The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, then you will love this book. He goes into quite a bit of detail about the movie too—mostly about contract negotiations—and it’s wild. It’s honestly amazing that the musical even premiered. Plus, it’s just so, so funny. At one point, they cast the woman who the musical was based off of in a small ensemble role and she would just sit and complain about the lead actress.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t really seek out conspiracy theories, but when I stumble upon one, I can fall down a rabbit hole. I also remember reading something about Sealand, years ago, and now I must know more!


  8. So many wonderful titles! I have added The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion to my TBR. I have never been to a Disney park (don’t plan on going either) but the story of the Haunted Mansion has captured my attention since hearing about it on my favorite podcast.

    Have a wonderful NFN!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I detect a particular interest in film and theatre here, and I can imagine that was sustaining through the pandemic. I share those interests though I don’t tend to read a LOT in that area. The book that grabbed my attention most among this was you unique voice one, Mama makes up her mind.


    1. You are spot on with that assessment! I didn’t get a lot of theatre reading in this past year, but when I did, it was exactly what I needed. And Mama Makes Up Her Mind is such a lovely read. I often don’t reread books, but I keep thinking I’m going to revisit it sometime soon. Highly recommended!


  10. I just love Bailey White! I haven’t read Mamma Makes Up Her Mind for years, but I remember loving it. She’s like the nonfiction version of Fannie Flagg, another southern favorite.

    Happy Nonfiction November


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