The great, cold weather escape can be a suspenseful mystery thriller or a hot off the press fiction book that allows you to hibernate during the cold, dark days of winter. But we are not quite there yet. It is still fall, and Nonfiction November is the time to learn a little something and hear the truth. It is time to get real! These are the nonfiction books on my night table.
Nonfiction November Picks
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is a memoir by T Kira Madden, the niece of shoe designer Steve Madden. Coming of age in Florida, she conveys her experiences and struggles with race, sexuality and privilege. This is a courageous debut of personal pain, trauma and beauty. My friend, Susie Orman Schnall, author of The Subway Girls highly recommended it.
A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell tells the heroic story of Virginia Hall, a Special Operations Executive from Baltimore who created a spy network in France during World War ll. This is a riveting, little known story of courage that deserves to be read! I saw Sonia Purnell speak at the Fairfield University Bookstore and my interest was peaked.
Finding Chika by Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays With Morrie, is a memoir about the Haitian orphan the author and his wife fell in love with and took to America for medical intervention. Chika touched their hearts, redefined family and changed them forever. Mitch Albom appeared on CBS this morning and his beautiful story brought tears to my eyes.
Troubled Water; What’s Wrong With What We Drink, by Seth Siegel, brings to light the tragedy of unsafe water. The author highlights stories of contamination with chemicals linked to cancer, heart disease and more, and calls out heroes who have stood by change. In Siegel’s earlier book, Let There Be Water, I learned so much about how Israel developed cutting edge technology. With more than half the country being desert, they solved major water issues and now have an abundance of water.
For a few of my nonfiction favorites from the recent past, CLICK HERE.
Emotional, heartbreaking and hopeful, The Yellow Bird Sings touches the music of your soul. It is 1941 Poland; Roza and Shira, mother and daughter are Jews, hidden in a barn by farmers. Henryk, the husband, ensures their safety while violating Roza in the night, and his wife Krystyna, provides extra food for Shira; she believes all children deserve an equal chance. Roza and Shira, silenced and afraid, lay quietly in the barn’s hay for more than 15 months. After their family was violently taken from them, they have no choice but to go into hiding. They revisit their cherished memories, whisper stories, use their imagination, and create music in their heads to soothe themselves and pass the time.
When the Germans announce plans to use the farmer’s barn for storage, mother and daughter must find a new safe space right away. They are encouraged to separate so Shira can go to a convent to have lessons and be with other children, allowing her a better chance of surviving. Filled with sadness, regret and fear, Roza is on her own and heads to the forest.
The Yellow Bird Sings will rip your heart out as you feel the emotional and physical struggles of both mother and daughter; at first stifled, secluded and living in silence with the burden and horrific fear of the unknown, with only what is inside their minds and their hearts to comfort and sustain them as they live day by day in hiding. And then separated, longing to be together, doing everything possible to survive.
Author Jennifer Rosner tells an extraordinary story with beautiful use of language; her words and phrases are visual and powerful….
“Words to Zosia (Sofia) are like glass beads around her neck. If one were to break loose, they would all clatter to the floor and scatter, shatter the quiet that kept her and her mother alive, entwined beneath hay.”
When referring to understanding loss; “What is whole does not comprehend what is torn until it, too, is in shreds.”
When seeing other mothers with their children, “Something breaks loose inside Roza and skitters down the stairs of her heart.”
We follow Roza and Shira on their separate journeys, holding out hope that they will be reunited after the war. With a blanket from the past, a magic yellow bird, cherished memories in their minds and soulful music in their hearts, The Yellow Bird Sings delivers a powerful story of Roza and Shira’s incredible survival, their unbreakable connection, their will to be heard, and the celebration of music that, through the generations, links us to each other. Emotional, heartbreaking and hopeful, I could not put this book down and highly recommend it!
I loved your debut historical fiction novel, The Yellow Bird Sings. The story was powerful and your characters were filled with so much pain and love at the same time. The deep emotion it conveyed, the evocative, visual language you utilized and the heartfelt music that was described made me feel like I was experiencing the written word more fully and completely.
Thank you so much! This means a lot to me:)
Q: As a young child, Shira seems to have a special musical aptitude. What inspired you to use music in such a big way in your novel?
A: Music has had great connective power in my life; I sang as a child, and later trained to become an opera singer. My singing forged a rare connection between my mother and me; also, my father played violin daily, and his music connected us to each other, and also to Judaism.
In my novel, music is a connective tissue linking mother and daughter, together and apart, and expressing a bond that endures even in the most brutal of circumstances. Beauty, in music and in other forms, is a lifeline, conveying hope.
Q: Shira has a special relationship with her violin teacher. Who inspired this character?
A: Several mentors in my musical, academic, and writing life have been deeply supportive and generous. In developing the teacher’s character, and their relationship, it felt important for Shira to feel a profound connection to the person who coached her and supported her musical genius.
Q: Shira conjures a magic yellow bird, which she cups in her hands and also muffles to keep quiet. Shira’s mother then tells a nightly story of a girl and her bird, who avert threats and find safety. What is the significance of Shira’s bird?
A: While Shira must be silent, her yellow bird sings out the music she hears in her head and in other ways enacts the childhood she cannot. Her bird brings security as well as expression. The magic of Shira’s bird is that it admits her powerful imagination (and her mother’s) into their horror-filled situation. I believe that much survival occurred because people kept alive their imaginations (their artistry, their poetry, etc) and stayed aware of what beauty they could find in their circumstances.
Q: Can you share with us why you were interested in writing about a mom having to keep her child silent?
A: The seed for this story came years ago when I was at a book event for my memoir about deafness. (If A Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard) . My daughters were born deaf. With hearing technology (cochlear implants and hearing aids), they were learning to listen and talk and I was describing our efforts as we encouraged them to vocalize. After the book talk, a woman from the audience came up to me. She told me about her childhood experience, hiding in an attic with her mother during WW2. She had to stay entirely silent. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for her, and also her mother. While I so wanted our daughters to speak, this mother had to keep her young child from making any sound at all. From this seed, my novel grew.
Q: You do a beautiful job keeping the reader engaged, giving just enough in each chapter to motivate us to tackle the next. Once the story splits into two when Rosa and Shira go their separate ways, did you write the book in the order that we read it, or did you write one character’s story and then the other’s?
A: In later drafts, I wrote the chapters mostly in the order they appear. However, earlier in the process, I wrote out long swaths of each character’s story trajectory, to understand where they were going and how their stories might dovetail. There was a lot of cutting and reworking!
Q: What kind of research did you do for the book? How long did it take to write?
A: While I was writing the book, I interviewed several “hidden children”— adults who, as children during the war, were secreted in attics, barns, and the woods. I also traveled to the settings of my novel. In Poland I visited areas of countryside with barns much like the one I’ve written about; I visited a convent where Jewish children were hidden; and I went to a swath of deep forest where a Partisan/family camp was formed.
I consulted with experts on Holocaust history and convent life. I talked to a tracker to learn how my character could traverse the forest without leaving a trace. A Polish translator, also a mushroom forager, advised me on which mushrooms my character might find in the woods! And I consulted with a musicologist and a master class violinist, as I sought to discover how a prodigy like Shira would practice; how she would progress, what she would play. It took years to conceive of and to write this novel, and many many drafts.
Q: When Shira plays Kaddish on her violin, my thoughts went to the Mourner’s Kaddish and my heart breaks for her and the loss of her mother. Music invokes so much emotion, personal to each of us. How did you choose the musical pieces you refer to in the book?
A: Yes, Ravel’s Kaddish is haunting and evocative, and I chose it for Shira to play as a mourning piece for her mother.
Generally speaking, I listened to a LOT of music before choosing pieces; I waned to make sure each one contributed to the story, and that it would fit Shira’s circumstance and her level of play. As I mentioned, I consulted with musical experts.
Q: It amazed me how long Roza and others lasted living in the forest in Poland. We are always looking for a parking spot closest to where we are headed so we don’t have to walk an extra step, and these people walked miles and miles, with little food and shelter, and lived outside in the elements for weeks, months and years! How did you learn about the resistance camps and why did you choose to set your story in Poland?
A: I learned about the Jewish Partisans years ago from a friend who is a documentary filmmaker. (Julia Mintz is a producer/director/writer and her film is The Jewish Partisans.) When it came to researching my novel, I went to an area of Polish forest—in winter—to understand what it would be like for my character! I read innumerable accounts of people hiding in wooded camps, as families and as Partisans. We can’t overestimate the ingenuity, strength, and perseverance they brought to their survival.
Q: You have received praise for the cover of your book; can you tell us about it?
A: The brilliant art director at Flatiron developed the cover. He based it on a torn photograph, signaling that something is torn in the story. (The Picador UK cover, wildly different, is also wonderful; it suggest elements of an enchanted garden floating out from a barn window.)
Q: What have you read lately that you recommend?
A: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong — it is astonishing.
Other books I’ve recently read and loved:
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Q: Are you going on book tour and where can we expect to see you?
A: Yes, I will be scheduling events, starting with a book launch on my publication date, March 3, 2020. I will keep an events list running on my website (www.jennifer-rosner.com) and would be happy to receive invitations to read, to attend book clubs, etc!
Q: Are you working on a new book yet?
A: I have just begun a new novel – but it’s too preliminary to describe! Stay tuned.
Jennifer Rosner’s revelatory memoir explores family, silence, and what it means to be heard. When her daughters are born deaf, Rosner is stunned. Then, she discovers a hidden history of deafness in her family, going back generations to the Jewish enclaves of Eastern Europe. Traveling back in time, she imagines her silent relatives, who showed surprising creativity in dealing with a world that preferred to ignore them.
Rosner shares her journey into the modern world of deafness, and the controversial decisions she and her husband have made about hearing aids, cochlear implants and sign language. An imaginative odyssey, punctuated by memories of going unheard, Rosner’s story of her daughters’ deafness is at heart a story of whether she – a mother with perfect hearing – will hear her children.
If a Tree Falls is a poignant meditation on life’s most unpredictable moments, as well as the delights and triumphs hidden within them.
To order Jennifer Rosner’s novel, memoir and/or children’s book, click below.
I loved and learned so much reading Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. Heading to therapy when life throws you a curveball may be just the thing you need to face your problems head on. It is a process, not a quick fix, and it can be a wonderfully fulfilling relationship that develops over time. Committing each week to talk with a trained professional has the potential to allow you to feel supported and understood.
Los Angeles Psychotherapist, Lori Gottlieb provides that safe space to her own clients, and after she suffered a personal crisis, she needed that kind of support, so she sought out to find a professional to talk with. In Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, Lori shares her enlightening therapeutic experiences that helped her learn more about herself and allowed her to better help others.
“We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.”
Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, gives us the privilege to observe growth and change while peeking behind the scenes of therapy sessions, with Lori Gottlieb as the therapist and also as the client. She has a wonderful gift of writing dialog and connecting the reader to her characters through language and humor, causing me to become fully invested in everyone’s lives. I loved when she described one of her client’s crying as “not breaking down but breaking open”. I cried for Lori’s clients: John was having marriage problems and suffered a devastating loss, and Julie was having trouble starting a family and then was facing her imminent death. I could feel compassion through the pages and could tell how breakthroughs with patients seemed to deepen the therapist – patient relationships, increasing trust, and nourishing and feeding Lori, providing her own self awareness and validation in her field of expertise.
“The movement of dance allows our bodies to express our emotions in a way that words sometimes can’t. When we dance, we express our buried feelings, talking through our bodies instead of our minds – and that can help us get out of our heads and to a new level of awareness. “
It is also great to learn a new vocabulary word:
ultracrepidarianism – the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence
Lori Gottlieb allows us to feel deeply and freely, laughing and crying as we take a therapeutic ride with her and people just like us, as they journey to a higher level of self awareness and understanding. She is suffering a loss and her clients are faced with cancer, infertility, relationship problems and all the feelings that go with it. Reading is known to make people more empathetic, and this beautiful book, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, is a perfect place to start if you want to gain insight into emotions and behaviors of our fellow humans. I loved it and highly recommend it!
Q: I imagine your job is a serious one – people come to you with problems. In your book you also had a problem and were sad and upset and there was an overall feeling of tragedy, yet your book is full of humor and is so heart warming. Are you known to be funny, were things funny in real time or did you add the humorous moments when you were writing?
A: I think life is inherently comic and tragic, sometimes at the same time. One way we manage pain is be seeing the humor in the ridiculousness of the human condition. I mean, we’re all ridiculous at times even though our pain is very real. So the humor was inherent to the narrative. I didn’t need to add anything.
Q: Do you think all that you went through has helped you become a better therapist?
A: I think that seeing Wendell made me a better therapist. As his patient, I got to see a therapist who brought his personality into the room, who was so unselfconscious and authentic while also holding appropriate boundaries. In graduate school, we’re taught to be careful in many ways and sometimes that layer of training gets in the way of being human in the room, of creating a deep, rich experience that ultimately helps the patient most. I wouldn’t be the therapist I am today had I not had that modeled for me by my own therapist. And I think you can see some of that evolution happening in real time in the book, as I leave his office and go to my own, and make different choices in the therapy room with that day’s patients.
Q: Your story was enlightening and gave me a lot to think about. One thing that struck me was the fact that therapists mourn alone due to privacy issues. Did Julie’s husband recognize you at the celebration of her life, or did you attend unnoticed?
A: He knew who I was because I saw Julie at their house for the lat few sessions when she was too sick to come into the office. So I met him then. But I was very much anonymous, by design, at her funeral to protect her privacy.
Q: You described therapy as a relationship between patient and therapist rather than one sided. When you told Wendell he wasn’t a man (meaning you didn’t see him that way, you saw him as a therapist) did you realize that is how others may see you? Is it difficult for you to be stripped of your feminine self and seen as a therapist rather than a woman?
A: I’m still my feminine self in the therapy room – I/m me, in all of the ways i present in the world. That’s the point he was making. We’re not robots, we’re human beings. And patients respond to us the way they respond to people in the world.
Q: I cried so many times while reading your book: you knew exactly how to get to my emotions. Why do you think that is the case?
A: I think the book resonated so widely because it’s real life – not the social media version of life, but just life. And that’s so relatable. Readers are deeply invested in these people because they see parts of themselves in each person I write about. They’re invested in both their hardships and their triumphs. Readers become very attached to these patients, just as I did as their therapist.
Q: What are you reading these days? What do you recommend?
A: I just read the galleys for Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again. It’s a follow up to Olive Kitteridge and it’s phenomenal. Can’t recommend it highly enough! I just reviewed it on Goodreads.
Q: I hear your book is going to be a drama series on TV. Can you share any details about it?
A: The TV version is both comedic and dramatic, like the book. Therapists have been portrayed in all kinds of unrealistic ways on TV, so I hope this show helps to change that. It’s about a woman who happens to be a therapist, versus a show about a therapist. And I think that distinction makes all the difference.
LORI GOTTLIEB is a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author of MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE, which is being adapted for TV with Eva Longoria. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes The Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column and contributes regularly to the New York Times. She is sought-after in media such as The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, CNN, and NPR’s “Fresh Air.”
Learn more at LoriGottlieb.com or by following her @LoriGottlieb1 on Twitter.
You may want to grab a copy of a few favorites of mine from 2018; all of these great books left me thinking and wanting to discuss.
White Houses by Amy Bloom, about Eleanor Roosevelt and her lover, The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya, about a young girl who escaped the Rwandan Massacre, Tin Man by Sarah Winman, about two young men who journey toward their truth and His Favorites by Kate Walbert about teenage vulnerability.
There are so many books to read, sometimes it can be overwhelming to decide what to choose. For money conscious bookclubs and for those who prefer an actual book over a kindle, it is nice to choose titles that are available in paperback – less expensive and lighter to carry.
Prepare for the fall and pick up a few great reads to have on your nightstand.
CEO of Populus Group, Bobby Herrera has had his struggles. Growing up in a Mexican migrant worker family, he was not unfamiliar with long hours and difficult times. In school for six months of the year and then traveling to work in the fields to provide food for the people in this country for the next six months, without getting the recognition, Bobby felt socially invisible. Unable to spend money like the other kids, Bobby and his brother did their best to fit in but knew they were different. Once he was in the army at 18, fulfilling his father’s lifelong dream, he realized how his difficult lifestyle had prepared him for military training. Looking back at his upbringing he felt great appreciation for his parents and all they did for him, and he understood that struggle gave him a gift.
Through charming personal anecdotes, Bobby talks about his ongoing leadership journey and the lessons he has learned. From exploring his own identity, to being aware of how much to give and take with colleagues, bosses and underlings, to choosing where and how he wanted to make an impact, Bobby tells his stories and encourages us to think about our own leadership styles. Each chapter ends with Questions to Guide Your Journey, allowing you to think about how you respond to different situations and how you might be able to change your thinking and behavior, and venture off the beaten path to improve outcomes.
This is an easy to read, engaging, and thought provoking little book, great for anyone in a leadership position. Whether you are the CEO, middle management, a parent, or recently entering the workforce, there are lessons to be learned and Bobby Herrera can help guide you on your journey. For me, as a reader, one of the best things he says is “the best leaders are always learning” and “books are the greatest resource I can recommend to you”. Bobby has a special shelf he calls “Bible Row” where he keeps his books that guide him, revisiting them often. They make him ask better and bigger questions and make him think. I believe The Gift of Struggle: Life Changing Lessons About Leadingdeserves a place on everyone’s shelf. How we look at who we are and where we came from, no matter where that might be, can impact how we are treated, how we choose to treat others, and our level of success. I enjoyed this one.
Reading helps us to examine our world in new ways. It provides us with opportunities to become more educated on an infinite number of topics and allows us to look at issues ways we may never have before. Reading gives us insight into relationships and helps us understand people, teaches us empathy, and presents opportunities to ask questions.
Here are 4 benefits of reading, and 30 book suggestions for you to enjoy!
1. LEARN ABOUT INTERESTING TOPICS
Exploring places around the world and going back in time through reading gives us access to infinite knowledge.
Littleby Edward Carey is a story based on the imagined life of Madame Tussaud, Eleanor Roosevelt and her unconventional relationship is depicted in White Housesby Amy Bloom, and the life of the strong female poet, Forugh Farrokhzad is revealed in Song of a Captive Birdby Jasmin Darznik.
Strong Women That Were Wronged
These are devastating stories of women in the past who were not protected by the government, like the rabbits in The Lilac Girlsby Martha Hall Kelly, and the factory workers in The Radium Girlsby Kate Moore.
Grand Central Terminal History
Fictitious stories about the actual art school located above Grand Central Terminal are depicted in The Masterpieceby Fiona Davis.
2. EXAMINE COMPLEX RELATIONSHIPS
Reading can provide different prospectives, helping us see a story from all sides.
Loosely based on the author and Philip Roth, we read about a young girl in a relationship with an older male in Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday.
A look back on the memories of the narrator’s first love, there is a young male in a relationship with an older female in The Only Storyby Julian Barnes.
People are always saying reading encourages empathy and it is really true…When you are reading you are made more aware of other people’s feelings and given the opportunity to understand people that are different.
Becoming is an engaging memoir from a tall, bright, black girl from Chicago who grew up in a traditional home with loving family and the opportunity for education. Where her life led is remarkable and Michelle Obama tells us about her youth, her relationship, marriage and daughters along with her thoughts and opinions about being a black woman, wife and mother in the White House. As the First Lady, she had worthwhile major initiatives surrounding children’s health, military families and education and she provides readers with an insider’s look and insight into her time in Washington DC.
Becoming is not just about becoming FLOTUS, it is about Michelle Obama’s personal growth based on choices she made and ones that were made for her due to circumstances – choices about her career, whether or not she got married and had children and how she created and honored her family values, made an impact on people and participated in causes she cared about, utilizing her new found power and visibility to help the people in our country become healthier, more ambitious and hopeful. She wasn’t just the president’s wife; Michelle Obama was a refreshing force with strong morals and an effective agenda for positive change in the White House, while providing stability for her children and husband as he took on the biggest job in our country.
One of Michelle Obama’s major initiatives while in the White House was the Let’s Movecampaign with the goal to reduce childhood obesity and encourage a healthier lifestyle. She worked with her Executive Director, Sam Kass, who at the time was President Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition, and together they created the first major vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden.
A role model for women and girls, Michelle Obama took on the job of First Lady and conducted herself in the public eye with grace and effectiveness and deserves admiration and accolades. I highly recommend this book, regardless of your politics, as it gives you a unique understanding of the Obama family, the challenges members of the black community and all women face, and the endless possibilities for making positive change in your immediate world and the world at large. I loved it and hear the audio version is fantastic!
About the Author:
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is the wife of the forty-fourth President of the United States, Barack Obama, and is the first African-American First Lady of the United States.
She was born and grew up on the South Side of Chicago and graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. After completing her formal education, she returned to Chicago and accepted a position with the law firm Sidley Austin, and subsequently worked as part of the staff of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Michelle Obama is the sister of Craig Robinson, men’s basketball coach at Oregon State University. She met Barack Obama when he joined Sidley Austin. After his election to the U.S. Senate, the Obama family continued to live on Chicago’s South Side, choosing to remain there rather than moving to Washington, D.C.
Everyone has a story and it is possible that Stephanie Land’s is not all that unique. That is the importance of her telling us about her job as a Maid, her strength and persistence to support herself and her daughter while bringing to light the challenges so many people living in poverty are faced with when it comes to getting government assistance. Perceived laziness and free ride mentality are hurtful stigmas that hardworking men and women fight against when unfortunate circumstances find them living below the poverty line.
In a similar vein of Educated by Tara Westover, Stephanie Land beautifully expresses her insights on humanity and gives a voice to the hardworking people who like her, struggle to stay afloat doing domestic labor jobs working for the wealthier to earn a living, apply for housing assistance and vouchers for food, barter for room and board and strive to the best single parent possible…all while on the quest for higher education to create a better life.
According to the US Census Bureau, close to 40 million people in this country live in poverty, with women and minorities leading the charge.
If you want to read more stories about poverty, try Heartlandby Sarah Smarsh and Evicted by Matthew Desmond.
Enjoy this Video interview of author Stephanie Land.
Stephanie Land is the author of MAID: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, Washington Post, Guardian; Vox, Salon, and many other outlets. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow through both the Center for Community Change and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her two daughters. Follow on Instagram and Twitter @stepville.