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.
Mini-review: Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Gone Fishing: The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
Mini review: Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard
Walls: Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays by Eula Biss
Mini-review: The Lyric Essay as Resistance: Truth from the Margins by Zoe Bossiere and Erica Trabold eds.
Mini-review: If This Were Fiction: A Love Story in Essays by Jill Christman
In the Golden Land: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Mini-review: Not a Novel by Jenny Erpenbeck
Mini-review: The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
Mini-review: In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
Mini review: A Fish Growing Lungs by Alysia Li Ying Sawchyn
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
Mini-review: The Part That Burns by Jeannine Ouellette
Mini-review: The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
Head for the Hills: Educated by Tara Westover
When the fat lady sings: The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
Mini-review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Reform!: The Tragedy of Liberation – A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 by Frank Dikötter
Mini review: The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited by Louise Lim
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
Mini-review: Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison
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
Mini review: A Harp in the Stars: A Lyric Essay Anthology edited by Randon Billings Noble
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
Mini-review: Bao by Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung, and Wai Ting Chung
Feeding the Homies: L.A. Son, My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi
Mini-review: How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher
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
Mini-review: Dishoom “From Bombay with Love” – Cookery Book and Highly Subjective Guide to Bombay with a Map by Shamil Thakar, Kavi Thakar and Naved Nasir
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