Mini-Reviews: My Adventure into Non-Fiction

minireview

I’m doing something a little different and a little new today! For one, I never read non-fiction, and I don’t usually write mini-reviews. But today, as the title strongly implies, I’ll be sharing some mini-reviews of non-fiction books I have read in the last two months!

Before August this year, I was never interested in non-fiction. I enjoy reading because I enjoy the act of escaping into another world. Reading non-fiction, I discovered, offers something else: it offers insight, it can humanize, and it can implore. I loved the four non-fiction books I read in August and September – three were biographies and one was a series of essays, and I can’t wait to tell you about them today!

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inordertolive

1. IN ORDER TO LIVE BY YEONMI PARK

Full title: In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom

Last year, I watched Yeonmi Park’s talk at the One Young World Summit which not only engaged me, but it moved me (to tears, I might add). After months of staring at her book in bookstores, I finally got myself a library copy.

Reading In Order to Live was not only an opportunity to learn about North Korea and Park’s life, it was also an opportunity to unlearn what was taught in high school. When I was in high school and ignorant to the horrors and injustices of the world, I learned about North Korea and its regime with a terrible emotional detachment to the horrors that went on. Reading In Order to Live was an opportunity for me to rectify the impassive education and knowledge I possessed about North Korea – it was an opportunity for me to humanize and truly connect with a human crisis. Yeonmi was my guide and anchor in this story; she and I went to hell and back.

The writing is highly accessible, easy to read, and is no-nonsense. Park is not a masterful storyteller, but she has an important story to tell. And whilst we can be pedantic about the minute details of her story and their possible inaccuracies or exaggerations, I think what’s more important is the struggle, hardship, and horrors that pervaded her life in North Korea are shared by millions of others, and that this continues today.

In Order to Live is an absolutely necessary piece of writing; an illuminator into one of the darkest places in the world and a testimony to hope. A powerful and moving story.

Find this book on: Goodreads

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badfeminist

2. BAD FEMINIST BY ROXANE GAY

I had heard wonderful things about this book. After Glaiza recommended this book to me, I immediately hit the library and borrowed this book. I feel obligated to preface this review with a small disclaimer: Gay is an academic, but the contents of this book and her essays are not quite ‘academic’ in the conventional sense. Regardless, that doesn’t diminish the book’s validity and importance in the slightest; in fact, I found her collection of essays utterly charming, sincere, accessible, and fantastically insightful.

Though not intended to challenge, educate, or revolutionize feminism on a wider scale, Bad Feminist is a collection of sincere essays that highlight that being human comes with contradictions, imperfections, and complexities – and how that relates to her feminism. Perhaps your feminism may not align with Gay’s, but her writing and ideas are thought-provoking and possess a profound wisdom.

What I loved most about Bad Feminist was Gay’s honesty. She shares her perspectives on a variety of topics, from culture to gender to politics, doing so with the utmost transparency. She critiques ideas and notions, but does so with awareness of her personal shortcomings and limitations – and I appreciated that; I found it refreshing. Bad Feminist is a book that radiates acceptance, empowerment, and awareness; a must-read for all feminists – those who are still trying to find their footing, and those who have found their politics and perspectives.

Find this book on: Goodreads

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theargonauts

3. THE ARGONAUTS BY MAGGIE NELSON

I read The Argonauts after Sydney recommended it to me while we were discussing feminism in YA. The Argonauts is a fantastic memoir that frankly discusses gender, identity, and motherhood.

Central to the memoir are thoughts and exploration of her relationship and marriage with her genderfluid partner as well as her own tumultuous but ultimately loving adventure into motherhood. Nelson also explores society’s use of constructs and language and its limitations in defining the fluid, ever-changing, ever-evolving, complex self. Her meditation and introspection of the subjects, delving into the connection between the self and society, are compelling and utterly thoughtful — more so, she does so with refreshing self-awareness and honesty. And though this may all seem well and complicated, at its heart, The Argonauts is about love – how it grows and evolves as we grow and evolve – and it is a beautiful thing.

The streams of consciousness and its constant shift in focus and narrative can be jarring and disorientating – it either works for you, or it doesn’t. It can work, becuase eventually it all comes together with profound (and coherent!) purpose, or, it may not work for you because its digressive narrative may appear fractured and disjointed. Either are valid. Regardless, The Argonauts is unlike anything I have read before. Altogether brave, transgressive, nuanced, and sincere, The Argonauts is an enlightening memoir.

Find this book on: Goodreads

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whenbreath

4. WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR BY PAUL KALANITHI

Of the books I have reviewed today, this book spoke to me the most, and yet here I find myself having the least to say.

The cruel irony compelled me to read this book, but Paul’s life was not ironic at all. As his wife said, what happened to him was a tragedy, but Paul Kalanithi was not tragic.

Under the assumption you know what the book is about, Kalanithi begins by taking us through his life – a reminder that he is and was always more than his diagnosis – from his childhood, falling in love with literature, to finding his passion in medicine and later neuroscience. And then, standing at the precipice of completing his neurosurgeon training, Kalanithi finds himself at another: he is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.

A gifted writer, his writing is eloquent, oft poetic, and profound. The stories that he chose to share, evoked a wide range of feelings from me. There is focus on the doctor-patient relationship, the responsibilities, pressures and rewards of being a doctor, and the limitations of being a doctor, being human. His recounts are honest, absolutely insightful and perceptive, and stays deeply rooted to his humanness.

What does it mean to live in the face of death? When Breath Becomes Air, though small, bares its arms open to the full and unfiltered spectrum of life in an attempt to ask this question. What matters when all you have is now? This book presents a plethora of unspoken questions, and manages to offer answers and insights in its own subtle way. When Breath Becomes Air is a powerful book, an ode to life and the gift of living.

Find this book on: Goodreads

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I haven’t read any non-fiction books since When Breath Becomes Air, but I’d love to read more! So friends:

  • Do you read non-fiction? Why or why not?
  • What is your favourite non-fiction book?
  • Do you have any non-fiction recommendations?
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28 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: My Adventure into Non-Fiction

  1. I LOVE non fiction and I wish I read it more often. My favorite so far has to be Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki. It’s such an interesting insight to a world most people never get to experience and a great dismantling of Memoirs of a Geisha.

  2. I’ve been meaning to read Bad Feminist for the longest time and still haven’t gotten around to it :/ Your review reminded me of that lol
    I noticed you like When Breath Becomes Air, if you want another medically related nonfiction, I highly recommend Better by Atul Gawande. He’s actually a doctor and he writes about some of his patients but also how he wants to better healthcare. It’s really fascinating! As for feminist nonfiction, I recommend Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. It made me so angry but it was enlightening!

    • Hi Carolyn! ❤

      Give it a go, I say. Bad Feminist was funny and so insightful. I really loved Gay’s voice in the book.

      Oh, thank you for the rec! I’ve never heard of Better but I’ll check it out. And OOOH okay I’m completely on board with that perspective. Thank you! ❤

      Ahhhhh I followed everydaysexism on tumblr back in the day. I’ll put it on my radar though, thank you!

  3. I read a number of nonfiction titles last year. Of the ones I read, I highly recommend The Glass Castle and Unbroken. (Both made it to my all time favorites shelves, and were actually the books that spurred my motivation to begin Xingsings-they were my very first reviews ever. They’re that moving.) The Glass Castle is a memoir of a renown American journalist’s life growing up homeless (her parents chose this lifestyle pretty much) all the way into her adulthood and success. Unbroken is a powerful WWII war story of resilience about the great Zamperini.
    Brilliant reviews, and I’m so happy you’re on a nonfiction kick (and enjoying the ones you’ve picked up so far), Chooi! :)

    • Hi Summer! ❤

      Ooh, thank you so much for those recs! I trust your taste.
      Wow, The Glass Castle sounds very compelling and provoking (in a good way)! I’ll definitely check it out!

      Hehe thank you so much Summer! I hope to continue reading more. ❤

  4. I struggle with finding the perfect non-fiction book! I tend to stray towards science, but most often the books aren’t really written in a way that is simple to me, someone who isn’t an expert in that particular field. But one of my favorite non-fiction books is Quiet by Susan Cain, because it is really easy to read, and it talks about introverts (which I am one, so I really connected to it). But other than that, I haven’t touched a non-fiction book since! I’ll have to check out the ones you reviewed here! Bad Feminist sounds intriguing! In Order To Live sounds like a really hard read, but I do want to get to it one day!

    • Hi Val!

      Oh gosh, I know; I am especially choosey when it comes to non-fiction. :I

      Oh, I actually picked up Quiet awhile ago, but I never finished it! I think another book demanded my attention so I put it aside. I’m an introvert too, so maybe I should give it another go.

      Bad Feminist is great – very accessible, thoughtful, and very funny. In Order to Live is great – harrowing, but you won’t regret reading it. ❤

  5. I really want to read In Order to Live! I have actually never seen her talk, so I’ll watch that now. And I’ve heard many great things about When Breath Becomes Air as well. I think it’ll be so sad though, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to read it.

  6. I really want to read Bad Feminist! I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. Sometimes I think I should, but I always gravitate towards fiction. My favourite non-fiction is Eating Animals by Jonathan Saffran Foer – I came really close to becoming a vegetarian after reading that book! My other favourite is Quiet by Susan Cain, which I as an introvert really relate to.

    • Hi Cilla!

      Bad Feminist is really, really thought-provoking and insightful. I really enjoyed it! I think if you don’t read a lot of non-fic but you’re interested in feminism, it’s a good book to pick up!

      Oh goodness, thank you for the rec! As someone who isn’t a vegetarian, maybe I should read this book. Perhaps it’ll give me a different view. :)

      I started reading Quiet, but didn’t continue because other books grabbed my attention. I may pick it up again if you enjoyed it – thank you for reminding me about it! ❤

  7. I enjoyed reading non-fiction, but don’t read them really often. I’ve also been trying to read more essays this year, especially BAD FEMINIST and WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINIST. I would also like to read I AM MALALA before the year ends. I’ve also been eyeing IN ORDER TO LIVE for so long, but haven’t been around to read it. Non-fiction could be harder to read, but they all tell important stories. Can’t wait to read your next review about non-fiction books!

    • Hi Tasya!

      I’m the exact same! I’m just drawn to fiction more, but if my mood calls for it, non-fiction is wonderful.

      I really, really enjoyed We Should All Be Feminists! It was so short but powerful. I haven’t read I am Malala but I see it often at the bookstore. Maybe I should read that soon. :)

      Oh goodness! This encourages me to read more non-fiction – thank you so much! ❤

  8. I also don’t read a lot of non-fiction. About the only read that wasn’t fiction that I’ve tried recently was this, although I can say it was really good:
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29331084-my-heart-can-t-even-believe-it

    The book you read about North Korea sounds intriguing.

    To be honest, I just bought a non-fiction book, now that I think about it. It’s about Chernobyl (I live quite close to where it happened, neighbouring country). People say it’s a depressing read, but that’s no reason not to know. Same as you say about “In order to live”. I’m adding that one, by the way :)

  9. I rarely read nonfiction, but when I do Intend to read memoirs by comedians via audiobook. Some of my favorites being Amy Poehler and Jenny Lawson.

    I’ve definitely heard of In Order to Live and would be interested to read about the authors experiences. I think you were spot on when you said that nonfiction has the power to give us new perspective.

    • Hi Amanda!

      Ooh, I haven’t read either of those. I haven’t tried listening to a non-fic audiobook before – but now that I think of it, I bet it would be really, really fun and would help me connect to the writing.

      In Order to Life is really, really good. Harrowing, but good. I highly recommend it!

  10. Non-fiction interests me soooo much. It’s so fascinating and I love learning about absolutely everything I possibly can. I definitely don’t read it as much as I want to though. My favourite would probably be true crime. I have an entire shelf dedicated to it. From this list I really want to read In Order to Live and Bad Feminist!

    • Hi Lauren!
      I’m starting to really understand the appeal of non-fiction now. I just read a book called Salt to the Sea which was about WWII, and I enjoyed it so so much. Now I want to learn everything about WWII, or at least more about history.

      I hope you enjoy Bad Feminist and In Order to Live! Both have very different tones and messages, but both are important, so I hope you’ll like them.

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