My Year in Nonfiction (Thus Far)

If your household is anything like mine, stressful days and nights of lost sleep are ceding to relief after the U.S. election result was finally announced. We celebrated with whoopie pies (a Pennsylvania specialty) and Prosecco.

And look: I happened to pass 270 yesterday as well!

I’d taken part in the Six Degrees of Separation meme every month since February, but this time I had no inspiration. I was going to start with these two apple covers…

…but that’s as far as I got. Never mind! I’ll be back next month, when we all start with the YA classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

Instead, I’m catching up with this past week’s Nonfiction November prompt: Your Year in Nonfiction. It was hosted by Leann of Shelf Aware.

What topics have been prominent in your year’s nonfiction reading?

I’ve read a lot of nature and popular science, probably more than in an average year. Greenery by Tim Dee has been an overall highlight. I managed to read 12 books from the Wainwright Prize longlists, and I’m currently reading four books of nature-themed essays or journals. Thoughtful as well as consoling.

The popular science material has focused on environmentalism and current events, which has inevitably involved politics and long-term planning (Annabel called this category “The State We’re In”): e.g. Losing Eden, Footprints, The Good Ancestor, and Notes from an Apocalypse.

Thanks to the food and drink theme I set for my 20 Books of Summer, I read a number of foodie memoirs. The best one was Heat by Bill Buford, but I also really enjoyed Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain and My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss.

Since the Wellcome Book Prize didn’t run this year, I’ve read fewer health-related books, although I did specially read Not the Wellcome Prize shortlistee The Remarkable Life of the Skin by Monty Lyman, and Dear Life by Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor, has been one of my overall best nonfiction reads of the year.

Not very well represented in my nonfiction reading this year were biographies and travel books. I can struggle with the depth and dryness of some books from these genres, but I’d like to find some readable options to get stuck into next year.


What are your favorite nonfiction books you’ve read so far?

I’m a huge memoir junkie. Some of the most memorable ones this year have been Winter Journal by Paul Auster, Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott (a reread), and A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas (another reread).

An incidental theme in the life writing I’ve read in 2020 is childhood (Childhood by Tove Ditlevsen, Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, Oleander, Jacaranda by Penelope Lively, Period Piece by Gwen Raverat); I hope to continue reading around this topic next year.


What books have you recommended the most to others?

I’ve mentioned the Clarke (above) in any discussions of books about illness and death.

I recommended the memoir Are You Somebody? by Nuala O’Faolain more than once following Reading Ireland Month.

Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake’s enthusiastic book about fungi, is one I can imagine suggesting to readers who don’t often pick up nonfiction.

And Signs of Life by Dr. Stephen Fabes has generated a fair bit of interest among my Goodreads friends.

Besides Annabel, Kate and Liz also wrote about their 2020 nonfiction reading habits.

How has your nonfiction reading been going this year?

29 responses

  1. Congratulations – I’m not surprised you struggled to write anything these past few days, it’s been a bit of a gruelling wait. I am not a huge non-fiction reader, but there are some on this list that I am quite keen on reading, like Entangled Life, Vesper Flights and Melissa Harrison’s book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Macdonald I’d particularly recommend; it’s likely to be one of my top few nonfiction releases of the year.


  2. It’s been a week of tension and then great relief! I don’t know what whoopie pies are, bt they look interesting….! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They go by various names. Imagine a giant Jaffa cake. The cake and filling can be any flavour you choose, though chocolate and peanut butter (what we had) is a pretty common combination you’d find in rural Pennsylvania. My sister used to live there and we’d buy these at a local Amish supermarket.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Those whoopie pies look delicious! Glad you had an enjoyable celebration after a stressful week x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m lucky to have a husband who’s very good at baking.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I mainly read non fiction and my favourite this year (so far) is The Oak Papers by James Canton.
    I was more than a bit disappointed with the Melissa Harrison. I was so looking forward to reading it but found it lacklustre.
    Whoopie pies and prosecco – I like your style!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll have to seek out The Oak Papers. The Harrison has been fine, but in a crowded nature writing field I’m not sure fine is good enough!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think we’re all relieved that Biden got the votes – it was nail-biting indeed – and those whoopie pies look delicious. Thanks for the link – I’ve been rather poor at reading NF this year in comparison, but will definitely read the Clarke once it’s in paperback.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My impression is that you read quite a lot more nonfiction than the average blogger! We’ve had some crossover on health and current events books. (The Clarke came out in PB in September.)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s exciting to find out what a whoopie pie is! I have read a lot of nature and BAME-experience centred books this year, which is an odd combo. Fewer running books than usual, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think those two themes make sense for this year — the nature books should be calming, and the race books should be galvanizing!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So much to celebrate. The world feels like a safer place today, and I love the look of those whoopee pies

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are still challenges ahead for such a divided country, but I do hope the tide has turned.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Apologies for this non-literary comment, but excited to see the whoopee pies!! They look delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pretty much everyone has commented on the whoopie pies! They were pretty awesome. Having the last one today for a tea treat on a dismal afternoon.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. *whoopie, thanks autocorrect


  10. I’ve just ordered Greenery from the library. They haven’t got The Oak Papers, which Penny’s raved about before. And I’m interested in The Consolation of Nature, as what these writers did is exactly what I did every day, and in fact I’ve built my own anthology of the writing I did at that time. I’m less motivated this time. Cynicism has kicked in, and the weather has been far less positive..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s been interesting to read a work of recent history. I’m alarmed at how much I’ve already forgotten about the chronology of the UK pandemic response in March and April. It helps that all three are excellent writers, and Marren is even based fairly locally to us.


  11. Yay, for the end of the election!!

    Your nonfiction readings always amazes me – and make me think you must be so knowledgeable on such a variety of topics!
    My own nonfiction reading is pathetic in comparison, but I always enjoy the ones I manage to read. I loved the books I read about walking, and I adored Are You Kidding Me?! by Lesley Crewe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like those sorts of witty observations on ordinary life. Maybe you like more active nature/travel books rather than the passive looking at stuff 😉 There are some great travelogues of long-distance walking, but I think I’ve probably already mentioned them on one of your posts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you did, yes! 🙂


  12. How funny that you also passed 270! ha ha!

    You’ve read so many good looking books. I have reached my goal of reading at least 20 nonfiction titles for the year. My favorite has to be Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. But I’ve read some good ones like So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, The Beautiful Struggle by Coates and Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s awesome that you met your goal! I read Heart Berries the other year for Novellas in November. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is definitely high on my list.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. What a great year of nonfiction! I’ve noticed the environmentalism theme in your posts and I’m feeling inspired to read more of the same myself. In particular, I’d like to read books with advice for ways individuals can reduce their environmental footprint and also about how to advocate for policy changes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might get some good ideas from Live Sustainably Now: A Low-Carbon Vision of the Good Life by Karl Coplan.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the suggestion! Adding it to my to-read list 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I like your 270 joke! LOL (As usual, at this point in the year we are very close, but you will likely end up reading more than me this year for sure. 267, today, I’ve just looked it up.) The political news is still preoccupying a pocket of time in my daily life, but in a more controlled fashion. Although I haven’t checked my stat’s for this year, I suspect I’m a little lower than I’d like to be with NF, although probably still higher than last year, with the biographical reading I’ve done on writers like Rachel Carson and Flannery O’Connor, etc. so maybe I’ll be content with how it ends up? You’ve made me want to go check, but EOY is just a few weeks away, I suppose…yikes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s right, not long until end-of-year stats time!! My numbers have shot up even just in the couple of weeks since this post, thanks to the novellas and lots of ongoing library reads due soon.


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