My readers know that I’m not a fan of history books. But I read them all the same as part of my research into all things Shanghai. While I’ve dangled my toes into the nonfiction pool, I’ve been occasionally surprised by strange and wondrous creatures. Creative nonfiction, in particular, thrills me and I hope to read more of it soon.
The nonfiction books you’ll find on this review page fall into four categories.
Works of creative nonfiction now take pride of place. These, in turn, are divided into essay collections versus book-length memoirs.
Under the category of research, you’ll see my ongoing efforts to school myself in Chinese history, culture and politics. This is the research I need to do in order to create an authentic backdrop for my historical novels, The Shanghai Quartet. You’ll find some of that research reviewed here, though not all of it. If you’re particularly interested in 1930s Shanghai, the setting for The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, you can have a look at A Reading List. Or, if you’d like a bigger picture on Shanghai history, try this.
As I continue to develop as a teacher of creative writing, I find books on the craft of creative writing increasingly helpful. It’s not just about what I can tell my students but how to improve my own writing.
A new category pertains to food and craft (of the non-writing sort). While cookbooks do not normally lend themselves well to book reviews, you’ll find a few standouts here.
Listed alphabetically by author surname and category. For lyric essays, see also Poetry & Plays.
Gone Fishing: The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
Walls: Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays by Eula Biss
In the Golden Land: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Dead Folks: The Glen Rock Book of the Dead by Marion Winik
Word-painting: The New Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
La Migra: The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú
Persimmons: Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer
The Talented Tenth: Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
Head for the Hills: Educated by Tara Westover
When the fat lady sings: The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
Reform!: The Tragedy of Liberation – A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 by Frank Dikötter
Little Red Book: Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong by Mao Zedong
The Sensitivity Reader: The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
How to Make a New Socialist Person: Laogai: The Chinese Gulag by Hongda Harry Wu
Read to Write: A Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Gutkind’s Baby: Creating Nonfiction: Lessons from the voice of the genre edited by Lee Gutkind and Robyn Joblowski
Flash: The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field edited by Tara L. Masih
The Manual: Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
His Master’s Voice: The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction edited by Dinty W. Moore
Close Reading: Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
Russians: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Reading, Writing and Life) by George Saunders
Rules: The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (4th edition)
Home and Hearth
Feeding the Homies: L.A. Son, My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi
The Reluctant Recipe Reader: The Perfect Loaf: The Craft and Science of Sourdough Breads, Sweets, and More by Maurizio Leo
Chinese Cooking: Slippery Noodles by Hsiang Ju Lin
Mendfulness: Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim and More by Katrina Rodabaugh
Sunday: Modern Love: The Lives of John & Sunday Reed by Lesley Harding & Kendrah Morgan
Attention: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
Windfall: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Mother-Heroes: The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem by Julie Phillips
Joodse Huizen 4 (Jewish Houses) edited by F. Rijksbaron, E. Shaya and G.J. de Vries
Dutch History Writ Small: Ons Kamp by Marja Vuijsje