The Nonfiction Fifty

Heather Sellers, a writer and student of the craft and process of writing, has several titles in the “You can do it!” category of guides for people like me who struggle to stay focused and to keep on keepin’ on though our characters continue to speak in clichés, our descriptions seem overwrought, and we can’t think of any other way to end a story than to say, “And then a miracle happened and they lived happily ever after!” In Chapter After Chapter, she advises that you read 100 books like the one you want to write.

“Reading one hundred books can take a whole year,” she cautions. Starting with what seemed like a more realistic goal, I drew up a list of the Fiction Fifty for the 2009-2010 reading year, the year I was going to devote to fiction exclusively. Although I fell somewhat short, reading only 13 titles on the list and not getting my novel to a complete first draft, I made more progress as a reader and a writer than I ever had.

I’m not sure I have a nonfiction book in me. My nonfiction production, in the form of my blog posts, is fairly extensive, but I don’t think my life is remarkable or unusual enough to warrant a memoir or a collection of slices of the suburban scene. Nevertheless, after talking to a novelist at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference who has a memoir coming out next year and reading the story behind the story that a journalist friend has written about the historical figure who inspired a television miniseries, I thought I’d like to start reading some narrative nonfiction again, as well as some of the works I consult as I research the worlds of work, such as the funeral industry, that inform my fiction.

The titles are given here in alphabetical order by author. Titles given in bold are those I have read. When I have written a review, the title will be highlighted as a link to the piece. Watch the colors change!

Narrative Nonfiction

Austin, Paul. Something for the Pain: One Doctor’s Account of Life and Death in the ER. W.W. Norton, 2008.
Barnes, Kim and Claire Davis, eds. Kiss Tomorrow Hello: Notes from the Midlife Underground by Twenty-Five
Women Over Forty
. Doubleday, 2006.
Beard, Jo Ann. The Boys of My Youth. Little, Brown and Company, 1998.
Coffin, Jaed. A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants: A Memoir. DaCapo Press, 2008.
Conover, Ted. New Jack: Guarding Sing Sing. Vintage Books, 2001.
__________. Whiteout: Lost in Aspen. Vintage Books, 1991.
Dully, Howard and Charles Fleming. My Lobotomy: A Memoir. Three Rivers Press, 2008.
Earley, Tony. Somehow Form a Family: Stories That Are Mostly True. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2002.
Henderson, Kristin. Driving By Moonlight: A Journey Through Love, War, and Infertility.  Seal Press, 2003.
Fessler, Ann, ed. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. The Penguin Press, 2006.
Forman, Vicki. This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
Funderburg, Lise. Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home. Free Press, 2008.
Heekin, Deirdre and Caleb Barber. In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Huner and Love. Chelsea Gren Publishing, 2009.
Klass, Perri. Two Sweaters for My Father: Writing About Knitting. XRX Books, 2004.
Mairs, Nancy. Remembering the Bone House: An Erotics of Place and Space. Beacon Press, 1995.
McKain, David. Spellbound: Growing Up in God’s Country. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993.
O’Brien, Sharon. The Family Silver. The University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Offut, Chris. The Same River Twice. Simon and Schuster, 1993.
Reichl, Ruth. Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. Broadway Books: 1998.
Rummel-Hudson, Robert. Schuyler’s Monster: A Father’s Journey With His Wordless Daughter. St. Martin’s Press, 2008.
Slater, Nigel. Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger. Gotham Books, 2003.
Stewart, Elinore Pruitt. Letters of a Woman Homesteader. Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
Volk, Patricia. Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family. Vintage Book, 2002.
Winegardner, Mark, ed. We Are What We Ate: 24 Memories of Food. Harcourt Brace, 1998 

Expository Nonfiction

Bailey, Sue and Carmen Flowers. Grave Expectations: Planning the End Like There’s No Tomorrow. Cider Mill Press, 2009.
Braham, Jeanne. The Light Within the Light: Portraits of Donald Hall, Richard Wilbur, Maxine Kumin, & Stanley Kunitz. David R. Godine, 2007.
Cullen, Lisa Takeuchi. Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the American Way of Death. Collins, 2006.
Fialka, John J. Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America. St Martin’s Griffin, 2003.
Gilbert, Sandra M. Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve. W.W. Norton, 2006.
Gutkind, Lee, ed. Anatomy of Baseball.  Creative Nonfiction #34. Creative Nonfiction Foundation, 2008.
Kismaric, Carole and Marvin Heiferman. The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys. Fireside, 2007.
Kraybill, Donald, Steven Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher. Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. John Wiley & Sons, 2007.
Laderman, Gary. Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America. Oxford University Press, 2003.
Madison, Deborah and Patrick McFarlin. What We Eat When We Eat Alone. Gibbs Smith, 2009.
McPhee, John. Rising from the Plains. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986.
Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. W.W. Norton, 2003.
Roth, Geneen. Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. Scribner, 2010.
Runkle, Anna. In Good Conscience. Jossey-Bass (San Francisco: 1998).
Sanders, Scott Russell. Writing from the Center. Indiana University Press, 1997.
Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. North Point Press, 1986.