Nonfiction November: New to My TBR

November 26, 2014 2014, book events, nonfiction, Nonfiction November 2


It’s been another great month of reading and sharing through Nonfiction November and just like last year the recommendations have been fantastic. Though I’m already up to my ears in nonfiction I’m wanting to read, these definitely grabbed my attention:

Though I drifted from my original plans a bit, I read much more nonfiction than I regularly would in a given month and most of it was written by women.

  • Our Declaration by Danielle Allen
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
  • On Immunity by Eula Biss
  • Severed by Frances Larson
  • I Am Not a Slut by Leora Tanenbaum
  • Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson
  • Spare Parts by Joshua Davis

Thanks to Kim, Leslie, Rebecca and Katie for a fantastic event!



Severed by Frances Larson

November 25, 2014 2014, ARC, nonfiction, Nonfiction November, reviews, women in nonfiction 14

Severed by Frances LarsonSevered by Frances Larson
Published by Liveright on November 17th 2014
Source: Publisher
Pages: 284
Buy From IndieBoundGoodreads


Though its title sounds relentlessly gruesome, Severed is less a look at severed heads themselves and more an investigation into the human fascination surrounding them. Anthropologist Frances Larson looks at different ways humans have approached heads throughout history, including the gathering of trophy skulls during World War II, the pseudoscience of phrenology, and dissection for modern medicine.

Early in the book, Larson discusses the collection of Shuar shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which have long been a constant source of attention. The heads, once used by the Amazonian tribe in rare religious ceremonies before being discarded, quickly gained value when the Shuar realized Westerners were willing to buy them for a high price. Soon, the Shaur were making the heads specifically to sell and the market was flooded with fakes made from animal skulls, including some in the Pitt Rivers collection itself.

“People think that large, raucous crowds at executions belong to a distant era in our past, and so they do, but the more I have read about the history of executions, the more I think that the gradual concealment of executions from the public eye over the last two hundred years—and even, to some extent, the demise of torture as a method of punishment—has had less to do with popular opinion and more to do with the preoccupations of polite society.”

The idea of being fascinated by severed heads while ignoring the barbarism of viewing decapitation itself crossed over into the public executions of the French Revolution and even modern terrorism. Though her text was written before the recent rise of viral beheadings by ISIS, Larson touches on the issues of morality that circle when we have access to executions at our fingertips. These videos quickly become and remain leading search terms and top downloads, contributing to Larson’s theory on “polite society”.

While the topic itself may make readers squirm, the actual content of Frances Larson’s book is quite contained and endlessly interesting. More than just a look at decapitation, Severed is a history of human minds, bodies, thoughts and fears.


It’s Monday November 24th, What Are You Reading?

November 24, 2014 2014, it's monday, what are you reading? 29


Happy (short week) Monday! I’m digging into some great books as we begin to wrap up Nonfiction November, starting with Spare Parts by Joshua Davis. It totally piqued my interest when I heard about it at BEA and I set it aside to read along with my nonfiction this month. Though I still have some nonfiction titles I’d like to read this year, I’ve been itching for some fiction and found Kate Racculia’s Bellweather Rhapsody calling to me. I heard great things about it when it was published earlier this year and it’s totally living up to expectations.

In case you missed it yesterday, the finalists for Book Blogger Top Picks were posted and the final round of voting is open. Head on over to vote!

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?


Book Blogger Top Picks – Final Voting

November 23, 2014 2014, book events, discussion, lists 14


We’ve reached the final round of Book Blogger Top Picks! Thank you so much for voting and spreading the word—there was a great response to the semifinal round. The entries have been narrowed down to three books in each category and voting will be open until December 6th.

Head on over to vote!

Adult Fiction Finalists

FIC Euphoria by Lily King
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

YA Fiction Finalists

YA We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy Finalists


The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
The Martian by Andy Weir

YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy Finalists


Cress by Marissa Meyer
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Steifvater

Romance Finalists

ROM Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins
Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover

Short Story/Essay Finalists

SS Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Memoir, Autobiography or Biography Finalists

Mem Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Graphic Novel/Trade Comic Finalists

GN This One Summer by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki
Saga Volume 3 by Brian K Vaughan
Ms. Marvel Volume 1 by G. Willow Wilson

Nonfiction Finalists

NF Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

Middle Grade/Children’s Finalists

Mid The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak
The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


2014’s Best Book Club Picks

November 20, 2014 2014, book club, discussion, lists 26

2014 Best Book Club

When putting together last year’s best book club picks, I mentioned looking for titles that could spark discussion around interesting topics or debatable characters and the same holds true for 2014. Each book has an element that will get readers standing up for their opinions, questioning conventions or searching for answers. Take note! Here are eight great new book club picks.

On Immunity by Eula Biss

I feel like I’m constantly pushing for book clubs to give nonfiction a try because it can lead to some of the best group discussions. In On Immunity, new mother Eula Biss examines the fears, truths and myths around modern immunization and how those ideas impact society as a whole.

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Short story collections can work well for book clubs, as they allow for discussion around common themes as well as individual stories. Stone Mattress is perfect for this, as the collection’s stories are incredibly strong on their own but are also bound together by several different themes.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

An Untamed State can be a difficult book to get through on your own, which makes it perfect to read with a supportive group. But the novel also begs to be talked about upon finishing, as it touches on numerous challenging and important topics.

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

Another great piece of nonfiction, Dataclysm focuses on breaking down and finding patterns in the data gathered by different social media networks. Though it sounds technical and dry, Christian Rudder presents the information in a way that will have you itching to discuss his findings with someone else.

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Just before How to Build a Girl was published earlier this year, I took part in a readalong with several other bloggers. Based on our weekly talks alone, I can attest to the fact that Caitlin Moran’s sharp, funny novel on growing up is perfect for reading with a group.

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

One thing guaranteed to bring a group of people together is looking back to the whirlwind of adolescence. Brutal Youth follows several teenagers as they navigate the bully-infested waters of their early-90’s high school. Both the characters and the challenges they face create ideal opportunities for discussion and flashback.

Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

Though I’m far from Brooklyn and don’t have children, I saw many recognizable faces in Cutting Teeth. As their stories collide in a weekend away at the beach, Julia Fierro’s characters create a great space for open dialogue on modern parenthood and it’s expectations.

California by Edan Lepucki

After a crisis wipes away the world Cal and Frida once knew, the pair seeks shelter in the California wilderness. When Frida discovers she is pregnant, they are forced to make decisions about their future that will have groups asking questions, making predictions and puzzling out answers.


What 2014 titles would you recommend to book clubs?


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

November 19, 2014 2014, nonfiction, Nonfiction November, reviews 20

Just Mercy by Bryan StevensonJust Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Published by Random House Publishing Group on October 21st 2014
Source: Library
Pages: 352
Buy From IndieBoundGoodreads


When I first encountered Bryan Stevenson, I was tearing pages out of Smithsonian Magazine. Before any reading material made it to my students at the state juvenile correctional facility, I first had to remove any questionable content. Smithsonian was generally safe, but I was quickly drawn into a story profiling Stevenson and Why Mass Incarceration Defines Us As a Society. After finishing the story myself, I made sure it found its way to as many of my students as possible. I brought up many of its major points in my history and government classes, hoping to spark discussion and bring light to recent changes in juvenile law.

Stevenson’s new book follows him from a poor upbringing in Delaware, though uncertain years in college and into his early career as a lawyer, where he quickly discovers the country’s desperate need for real representation for the poor. In chapters that range from heartbreaking and infuriating to uplifting and hopeful, he details his time working with prisoners on death row and juveniles facing endless life sentences. Though he does spend time outlining serious flaws in our current judicial system, for the majority of the book Stevenson shifts the discussion from political to personal. Throughout Just Mercy, we meet people who are more than just a rap sheet, headline and sentence. From his first face-to-face meeting with a death row inmate, Stevenson learns that the people he works with have histories, personalities, feelings and hopes that are often clouded by their crimes.

“‘It’s been so strange, Bryan. More people have asked me what they can do to help me in the last fourteen hours of my life than ever asked me in the years when I was coming up.’ He looked at me, and his face twisted in confusion.

I gave Herbert one last long hug, but I was thinking about what he said. I thought of all the evidence that the court had never reviewed about his childhood. I was thinking about all of the trauma and difficulty that had followed him home from Vietnam. I couldn’t help but ask myself, Where were these people when he really needed them?”

I’ve carried quite a bit of guilt since leaving my job earlier this year, as my reasons had little to do with my students and much more to do with the bureaucracy they were caught in. But Herbert’s words are an amazing reminder of the power of compassion at every point in life, something I constantly hope we can learn to embrace as a country. Just Mercy is a book more than capable of teaching us.

You can hear more about Just Mercy through Bryan Stevenson’s interview on NPR’s Fresh Air.