One of my goals for 2021 is to read more nonfiction, as I love it and neglected it this year. It is always more difficult for me to find out which nonfiction titles are coming out versus fiction ones, but there are a few that are on my radar and I want to share with you.
When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would.
Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.
The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.
Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids?
After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.
Release Date: March 9th, 2021
Walter Isaacson has written a few huge biographies, including one on Steve Jobs and another about Leonardo da Vinci. Many of his books are on my TBR, but I think The Code Breaker might be the one that finally makes me actually read his work. I know next to nothing about Jennifer Doudna or CRISPR, but I am curious to learn more.
“When I say that I was a feminist in kindergarten, I am not exaggerating,” begins Isabel Allende. As a child, she watched her mother, abandoned by her husband, provide for her three small children without “resources or voice.” Isabel became a fierce and defiant little girl, determined to fight for the life her mother couldn’t have.
As a young woman coming of age in the late 1960s, she rode the first wave of feminism. Among a tribe of like-minded female journalists, she for the first time felt comfortable in her own skin, as they wrote “with a knife between their teeth” about women’s issues. She has seen what has been accomplished by the movement in the course of her lifetime. And over the course of three passionate marriages, she has learned how to grow as a woman while having a partner,
when to step away, and the rewards of embracing one’s sexuality.
So what do women want? To be safe, to be valued, to live in peace, to have their own resources, to be connected, to have control over their bodies and lives, and above all, to be loved. On all these fronts, there is much work to be done, and this book, Allende hopes, will “light the torch of our daughters and granddaughters with mine. They will have to live for us, as we lived for our mothers, and carry on with the work still left to be finished.”
Release Date: March 2nd, 2021
Isabel Allende is a well-known fiction author, so I am curious to learn more about her personally and her perspective on feminism. The Soul of a Woman is only 192 pages, but I have a feeling I am going to take a lot away from it.
As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, she explores her experimental treatment of transcranial magnetic stimulation with brutal honesty. But also with brutal humor. Jenny discusses the frustration of dealing with her insurance company in “An Open Letter to My Insurance Company,” which should be an anthem for anyone who has ever had to call their insurance company to try and get a claim covered. She tackles such timelessly debated questions as “How do dogs know they have penises?” We see how her vacuum cleaner almost set her house on fire, how she was attacked by three bears, business ideas she wants to pitch to Shark Tank, and why she can never go back to the post office. Of course, Jenny’s long-suffering husband Victor―the Ricky to Jenny’s Lucille Ball―is present throughout.
A treat for Jenny Lawson’s already existing fans, and destined to convert new ones, Broken is a beacon of hope and a wellspring of laughter.
Release Date: April 6th, 2021
Jenny Lawson wrote one of my favourite memoirs, Furiously Happy, so I was thrilled to see that she was releasing another one. There something so real about the way she writes and I appreciate her sense of humour. I have heard that there are illustrations throughout Broken, and if they are anything like the cover I am very much looking forward to seeing them!
In 2001, Adam Neumann arrived in New York after five years as a conscript in the Israeli navy. Just over fifteen years later, he had transformed himself into the charismatic CEO of a company worth $47 billion–at least on paper. With his long hair and feel-good mantras, the 6-foot-five Neumann, who grew up in part on a kibbutz, looked the part of a messianic Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The vision he offered was mesmerizing: a radical reimagining of work space for a new generation, with its fluid jobs and lax office culture. He called it WeWork. Though the company was merely subleasing “amenity”-filled office space to freelancers and small startups, Neumann marketed it like a revolutionary product–and investors swooned.
As billions of funding dollars poured in, Neumann’s ambitions grew limitless. WeWork wasn’t just an office space provider, he boasted. It would build schools, create WeWork cities, even colonize Mars. Could he, Neumann wondered from the ice bath he’d installed in his office, become the first trillionaire or a world leader? In pursuit of its founder’s grandiose vision, the company spent money faster than it could bring it in. From his private jet, sometimes clouded with marijuana smoke, the CEO scoured the globe for more capital. In late 2019, just weeks before WeWork’s highly publicized IPO, a Hail Mary effort to raise cash, everything fell apart. Neumann was ousted from his company–but still was poised to walk away a billionaire.
Calling to mind the recent demise of Theranos and the hubris of the dotcom era bust, WeWork’s extraordinary rise and staggering implosion were fueled by disparate characters in a financial system blind to its risks, from a Japanese billionaire with designs on becoming the Warren Buffet of tech, to leaders at JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs who seemed intoxicated by a Silicon Valley culture where sensible business models lost out to youthful CEOs who promised “disruption.” Why did some of the biggest names in banking and venture capital buy the hype? And what does the future hold for Silicon Valley “unicorns”? Wall Street Journal reporters Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell explore these questions in this definitive account of WeWork’s unraveling.
Release Date: May 4th, 2021
As soon as I saw that Theranos was mentioned in the synopsis, I knew that this was a book that I needed to read. I am so fascinated by the rise and fall of these kinds of companies and there is something so intriguing about Silicon Valley. The only thing I know about WeWork comes from an article I read in The New Yorker, so I am excited to learn more in The Cult of We.
The gripping true story, told here for the first time, of the Last Call Killer and the gay community of New York City that he preyed upon.
The Townhouse Bar, midtown, July 1992: The piano player seems to know every song ever written, the crowd belts out the lyrics to their favorites, and a man standing nearby is drinking a Scotch and water. The man strikes the piano player as forgettable.
He looks bland and inconspicuous. Not at all what you think a serial killer looks like. But that’s what he is, and tonight, he has his sights set on a gray haired man. He will not be his first victim.
Nor will he be his last.
The Last Call Killer preyed upon gay men in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s and had all the hallmarks of the most notorious serial killers. Yet because of the sexuality of his victims, the skyhigh murder rates, and the AIDS epidemic, his murders have been almost entirely forgotten.
This gripping true-crime narrative tells the story of the Last Call Killer and the decades-long chase to find him. And at the same time, it paints a portrait of his victims and a vibrant community navigating threat and resilience.
Release Date: March 9th, 2021
As time has gone by, I have become more picky about the kinds of true crime that I want to read. I appreciate when an author focuses on the victims and gives them a voice. From the reviews I have read, that seems to be what Elon Green has done in Last Call. Many reviewers have said that it is well-researched, which I also appreciate.
Acclaimed author of The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents the twinning narratives of renegade scholar Dennis McCarthy, called “the Steve Jobs of the Shakespeare community,” and Sir Thomas North, an Elizabethan courtier whom McCarthy believes to be the undiscovered source for Shakespeare’s plays. For the last fifteen years, McCarthy has obsessively pursued the true origins of Shakespeare’s works. Using plagiarism software, he has found direct links between Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and other plays and North’s published and unpublished writings—as well as Shakespearean plotlines seemingly lifted straight from North’s colorful life.
Unlike those who believe someone else secretly wrote Shakespeare, McCarthy’s wholly original conclusion is this: Shakespeare wrote the plays, but he adapted them from source plays written by North decades before. Many of them, he believes, were penned on behalf of North’s patron Robert Dudley, in his efforts to woo Queen Elizabeth. That bold theory addresses many lingering mysteries about the Bard with compelling new evidence, including a newly discovered journal of North’s travels through France and Italy, filled with locations and details appearing in Shakespeare’s plays.
Release Date: March 30th, 2021
There seems to be a lot going on in North by Shakespeare and I am so curious to see what Michael Blanding has discovered in his research. I know there is a lot of mystery and conspiracy theories surrounding Shakespeare and his work, so I am looking forward to Blanding’s take on it.
Gina Frangello spent her early adulthood trying to outrun a youth marked by poverty and violence. Now a long-married wife and devoted mother, the better life she carefully built is emotionally upended by the death of her closest friend. Soon, Frangello is caught up in a recklessly passionate affair, leading a double life while continuing to project the image of the perfect family. When her secrets are finally uncovered, both her home and her identity will implode, testing the limits of desire, responsibility, love, and forgiveness.
Blow Your House Down is a powerful testimony about the ways our culture seeks to cage women in traditional narratives of self-sacrifice and erasure. Frangello uses her personal story to examine the place of women in contemporary society: the violence they experience, the rage they suppress, the ways their bodies often reveal what they cannot say aloud, and finally, what it means to transgress “being good” in order to save your own life.
Release Date: April 6th, 2021
First of all, what a great title and cover! I haven’t heard a lot about Blow Your House Down, but I am always open to reading a feminist memoir.
Nadia Owusu grew up all over the world—from Rome and London to Dar-es-Salaam and Kampala. When her mother abandoned her when she was two years old, the rejection caused Nadia to be confused about her identity. Even after her father died when she was thirteen and she was raised by her stepmother, she was unable to come to terms with who she was since she still felt motherless and alone.
When Nadia went to university in America when she was eighteen she still felt as if she had so many competing personas that she couldn’t keep track of them all without cracking under the pressure of trying to hold herself together. A powerful coming-of-age story that explores timely and universal themes of identity, Aftershocks follows Nadia’s life as she hauls herself out of the wreckage and begins to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one she writes into existence.
Release Date: January 12th, 2021
Every early review I have seen for Aftershocks has been four or five stars. I have heard that it is deeply personal and hard to read at times. I am intrigued by the fact that it is a blend of memoir and cultural history.
Born two years after her parents’ only son died just hours after his birth, Kat Chow became unusually fixated with death. She worried constantly about her parents dying — especially her mother. One morning, when Kat was nine, her mother, a vivacious and mischievous woman, casually made a morbid joke: When she eventually dies, she said laughing, she’d like to be stuffed and displayed in Kat’s future apartment in order to always watch over her.
Four years later when her mother dies unexpectedly from cancer, Kat, her two older sisters, and their father are plunged into a debilitating, lonely grief. With a distinct voice that is wry and heartfelt, Kat weaves together what is part ghost story and part excavation of her family’s history of loss spanning three generations and their immigration from China and Hong Kong to America and Cuba. This redemptive coming-of-age story uncovers the uncanny parallels in Kat’s lineage, including the strength of sisterhood and the complicated duty of looking after parents, even after death.
Release Date: August 24th, 2021
Kat Chow’s memoir Seeing Ghosts seems to tackle many interesting themes, and I am intrigued by the fact that it is described as a multi-generational ghost story, especially seeing as it is nonfiction. There also appears to be an emphasis on sisterhood, which I love reading about!
A fresh cultural analysis of female monsters from Greek mythology, and an invitation for all women to reclaim these stories as inspiration for a more wild, more monstrous version of feminism
The folklore that has shaped our dominant culture teems with frightening female creatures. In our language, in our stories (many written by men), we underline the idea that women who step out of bounds–who are angry or greedy or ambitious, who are overtly sexual or not sexy enough–aren’t just outside the norm. They’re unnatural. Monstrous. But maybe, the traits we’ve been told make us dangerous and undesirable are actually our greatest strengths.
Through fresh analysis of eleven female monsters, including Medusa, the Harpies, the Furies, and the Sphinx, Jess Zimmerman takes us on an illuminating feminist journey through mythology. She guides women (and others) to reexamine their relationships with traits like hunger, anger, ugliness, and ambition, teaching readers to embrace a new image of the female hero: one that looks a lot like a monster, with the agency and power to match.
Often, women try to avoid the feeling of monstrousness, of being grotesquely alien, by tamping down those qualities that we’re told fall outside the bounds of natural femininity. But monsters also get to do what other female characters–damsels, love interests, and even most heroines–do not. Monsters get to be complete, unrestrained, and larger than life. Today, women are becoming increasingly aware of the ways rules and socially constructed expectations have diminished us. After seeing where compliance gets us–harassed, shut out, and ruled by predators–women have never been more ready to become repellent, fearsome, and ravenous.
Release Date: March 9th, 2021
How amazing does this sound? I know many of us enjoy reading about Greek mythology, especially through a female lens. I am so intrigued by the idea of using Greek myths as a way to inspire the modern day women. There is so much potential for this collection to be amazing!
Are any of these on your radar?