Nonfiction November 2017 – New to My TBR

Nonfiction November 2017 Info

Week 5: (Nov. 27 to Dec. 1) Host-: Lory @ Emerald City Book Review: New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

This year, I thought ahead bookmarked (via Evernote) when and where I heard about new titles. So, here we go: Nonfiction New to My TBR.

alt text Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (And Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Any More) by Hadley Freeman

In another life, I was a film major. I love movies and I’m a child of the 80s. Recommended by Books are My Favourite and Best along with The Rules of Attraction.

alt text Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Winkler Dawson

Post-WWII serial killer within a wider story of London. Sounds good to me! Recommended via a #FuturisticFriday post by Doing Dewey.

alt text The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy by Stewart O’Nan

There’s a bit of overlap between magic and circuses and this is a story I don’t know. Recommended by Always Doing.

alt text Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder

Sports? Kick-ass ladies? Yes, please! Recommended by My Book Strings.

alt text Winner of the “I didn’t know I wanted to know about” award: Wild Places for a Be the Expert post about Survival at Sea.

I had no idea there were so many books on this subject or that I wanted to read them all. I need to start reading faster…

alt text Bunk: The True Story of Hoaxes, Hucksters, Humbug, Plagiarists, Forgeries, and Phonies by Kevin Young

This is a honorable mention because, while nonfiction, it (whispers) wasn’t from a NonFicNov post. Instead, it was from Outlandish Lit’s 11 Books To Look For This November! This is a book right up my alley.

Okay, confession time. This is an abridged list of what’s new to my TBR. So… many… books…


Post Hodgepodge – November 2017

When I don’t have much to say, but still want to post…

NaNoWriMo 2017 ~ Week 3 Update

Went through my previous NaNoWriMo attempts and pieced together about 2/3 of a story. I’m working my way through rewriting, but it hasn’t been without a few snags. (Mainly due to my dithering.)

Review ~ Salvation on Sand Mountain

Cover via Goodreads

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington

For New York Times reporter Dennis Covington, what began as a journalistic assignment—covering the trial of an Alabama pastor convicted of attempting to murder his wife with poisonous snakes—would evolve into a headlong plunge into a bizarre, mysterious, and ultimately irresistible world of unshakable faith: the world of holiness snake handling. Set in the heart of Appalachia, Salvation on Sand Mountain is Covington’s unsurpassed and chillingly captivating exploration of the nature, power, and extremity of faith—an exploration that gradually turns inward, until Covington finds himself taking up the snakes. (via Goodreads)

This book was a random find from my neighborhood’s free little library. “Faith-based snake handling,” I thought. “There’s a topic I never knew I wanted to know about.” Unfortunately, though, Salvation on Snake Mountain has an identity crisis, one that Covington admits to in the 15th anniversary edition’s Afterword. What started out as a news item morphed into something personal for the author, but Covington tries to straddle the line between journalism and memoir, not committing to one or the other. I think that’s to the book’s detriment. Still, an interesting book about something I only knew about as a stereotype.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Da Capo Press, 1994 (2009)
Acquired: Neighborhood Free Little Library, 2/21/17
Genre: nonfiction, memoir

Deal Me In, Week 47

(What’s Deal Me In?)

“The Music of the Yellow Brass” by  Charles Beaumont

Card picked: 2 – Deuces are WILD!

Since I’m setting up my list for next year’s Deal Me In, I had no “loose” stories. Instead, through a convoluted wandering around the internet, I landed on an audio collection of Charles Beaumont’s stories and listened to the first one. I was vaguely familiar with Beaumont’s name. Turns out, he’s a golden age speculative fiction author, somewhat renowned for his work on The Twilight Zone TV show. And I ended up listening to a story with absolutely no speculative fiction aspects what-so-ever.

Jaunito is a skinny young man, a torero in training, who is miraculously given the chance at a fight with lots of money on the line for him and his mentor Enrique. It is all too good to be true. Sometimes, it’s not just the bull’s blood that the crowd wants to see.

I enjoyed Beaumont’s writing, providing a slice of bull-fighting life.

Nonfiction November 2017 – What makes a favorite?

Nonfiction November 2017 Info

Week 4: (Nov. 20 to 24) – Katie @ Doing Dewey: Nonfiction Favorites: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

Ooo, good question. I decided to take a look at my Goodreads “Favorites” shelf (what would be my 5⭐ picks if I rated that way) to see what nonfiction books had made the cut and what they had in common.


Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America's Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist

Obviously, the first thing that jumped out at me like an assistant in a spangly outfit is that many of my favorites are about magic history. It’s the obsession that I didn’t know I had for 35 years. But in the past five or so years, I’ve read a lot of nonfiction books about magic (and related subjects) and not all of them are on my Favorites shelf. And I don’t *just* read about magic… (Reviews: Hiding the Elephant, The Magician and the Cardsharp)

Depth of Information

Thunderstruck The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day

I like the deep delve. On a meta level, I suppose depth of information signals to me that the author knows their stuff and that they have a certain amount of passion for the subject. The thing of it is, I don’t even have to understand everything! Lots of crunchy bits in my nonfiction gives my mind something to chew on. Stretching your understanding of a topic can also reinforce lower level concepts. (Reviews: ThunderstruckThe Improbability Principle)

Wider Context

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous 19th Century Chess-Playing Machine

One of the great sadnesses of my life is that I spend a long time thinking that history was boring. I don’t feel I’m entirely to blame; history is often taught in a dry events-and-dates kind of way. But I could have reached out sooner! To me, history (and almost any other topic) is better when placed in a wider context. Nothing exists in a void and most of my favorites always provide a good amount of context for their subjects. (Reviews: Tesla, The Turk)

Review ~ Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women

Cover via Goodreads

Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women by Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay is one of the world’s great sleight-of-hand artists. He is also a most unusual and talented scholar, specializing in the bizarre, exotic, and fantastic side of the human species. The youngest magician to have appeared on television, Jay has become well known for his astonishing stage show as well as for his cameos in such movies as Glengarry Glen Ross and, most recently, Boogie Nights.

Jay’s unparalleled collection of books, posters, photographs, programs, broadsides, and, most important, data about unjustifiably forgotten entertainers all over the world made this unique book possible. An investigation into the inspired world of sideshows, circuses, and singularly talented performers, Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women is history of the most unusual–and irresistible–sort. (via Goodreads)

Amusing that the above summary was written so long ago that it doesn’t mention Ricky Jay’s work on The Prestige, The Illusionist (as a consultant), and Deadwood.

Why was I interested in this book?
Ricky Jay is a fabulous magician. He’s probably my favorite behind Teller/Penn & Teller. He’s also a magic historian and a historian of singular entertainments. Many acts, like pigs that can do math and women who can withstand the heat of an oven to emerge with perfectly cooked steaks, share an aspect of deception with the only slightly more respectable profession of magician.

What Worked
A few years back I read Harry Houdini’s Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, which covers a similar territory, but in a much more shallow way. Ricky Jay truly loves his subjects and knows their histories. You might think that fire-resisters, poison-eaters (as well as frog-eaters—I’m looking at you David Blaine),  mnemonists, and “carnie” acts like extraordinary artists with physical disabilities are of 20th or even only 19th century origin, but you’d be wrong. Many of these acts have lineage in the 17th and 18th centuries.

For example, one of Jay’s favorite subjects, Matthew Buchinger, was born in 1674. Buchinger was a magician, musician, and calligrapher despite being twenty-nine inches in height and lacking legs, feet, or hands. All of the stories in this books are well-sourced and the book contains a goodly number of plates, poster, and photos (on the rare occasions that Learned Pigs ventures beyond the 1850s).

By Matthew Buchinger (1674-1740) – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Smooth_O using CommonsHelper. Original uploader was Kingofspades, Public Domain, Link

Unlike Houdini’s book, Jay isn’t really interested in “their methods.” But if it comes up, there isn’t any modern-day supposing. Fire-resister and poison-eater Chabert was taken to task by medical professionals of his day because he claimed he had cures for scurvy and typhoid. The exposure of other parts of act followed in the press.

What Didn’t Work
Less, “what didn’t work” and more “why it took me over two years to finish this book”: It’s dense. It’s diverse. Ricky Jay’s writing style (and patter style) is very much informed by the histories he’s obsessed with. To illustrate, this is one of my favorite routines of his, entitled “The History Lesson.”

The book is written in beautiful, entertaining language, but it isn’t a quick read.

This is definitely a dip-in book. Read a chapter here, dazzle at a poster there. Worth the time, but not to be consumed in one sitting. Unless you have a stone-eater’s fortitude.

Publishing info, my copy: over-sized paperback, Villard Books, 1987
Acquired: Jackson Street Booksellers, July 2015
Genre: nonfiction

Nonfiction November 2017 – Become an Expert: Folklore in the Digital Age

Nonfiction November 2017 Info

Week 3: (Nov. 13 to 17) – Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness: Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I had been mulling over a what topic I might want for becoming an expert and I hadn’t come up with anything really juicy…until a happy coincidence this morning. The folks at Just a Story podcast linked to this thread on Twitter:

Here are my top three picks from the thread to get started on the subject of Folklore in the Digital Age:

Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular Expression in a Digital World Putting the Supernatural in Its Place: Folklore, the Hypermodern, and the Ethereal The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World

Anyone have any recommendations? (Great books about folklore in general would be welcome too!)

Nonfiction November 2017 – Book Pairings

Nonfiction November 2017 Info

Week 2: (Nov. 6 to 10) – Sarah @ Sarah’s Book Shelves: Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Every year I think, “Man, I’m never going to come up with anything,” and yet somehow I do. In the case of two of these pairings, I’ve mentioned the nonfiction books before during #NonFicNov because they are two of my favorites, here paired with some new-to-me fiction.

The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous 19th Century Chess-Playing Machine Curiosity

The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous 19th Century Chess-Playing Machine by Tom Standage and Curiosity by Gary L. Blackwood – The Mechanical Turk and other automata have become one of my favorite subjects. They offer an intriguing peek into the history of technology and methods of deception. Curiosity was the surprise of my spring readathon with historical accuracy and a good mystery.

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age The Last Days of Night

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson and The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore – While Graham Moore’s novel focuses on Edison and Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla is a key piece of the “electricity war.” Carlson’s bio of Tesla provides lots of technical details about the engineering, but also economic context for Tesla’s innovations.

I Lie for Money: Candid, Outrageous Stories from a Magician’s Misadventures The Ambitious Card (An Eli Marks Mystery, #1)

I Lie for Money: Candid, Outrageous Stories from a Magician’s Misadventures by Steve Spill and The Ambitious Card by John Gaspard – You didn’t think we were going to get out of this post without at least one book about a magician, did you? The thing I love about John Gaspard’s Eli Marks mystery series is that Eli is a working magician. He’s not Houdini, not a Vegas superstar, but a kids-parties-corporate-events-nightclubs magician. Who solves mysteries. Steve Spill’s career has been a little more rock ‘n’ roll than that (literally, in fact), but with less of a body count. (Psst.  I know this is #NonFicNov, but the 4th Eli Mark book is out soon and I’m excited!)

Nonfiction November 2017 – My Year in Nonfiction

Nonfiction November 2017 Info

Week 1: (Oct 30 to Nov 3) – Julie @ JulzReads: Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

My Year

I’ve been having a pretty slumpy year, reading-wise. Out of only 30 books, I’ve read 7 nonfiction titles.

Two of what I’ll call “Pop Culture”:

Three Celebrity Bios:

Two about Magic:


Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz ChickensI’ve been a fan of Eddie Izzard since sometime in the early 2000s after his special Dressed to Kill was aired on HBO. I had followed his career and some of his marathon-running odyssey, but there was a lot I didn’t know about Izzard. His journey to stardom is a long one. I also enjoyed reading about his philosophy: that belief in self and those around you can be a very powerful thing.


Adelaide Herrmann Queen of MagicMy favorite is different from my recommended because magic history is a bit of a niche subject. But, if you’re interested in magic or showbiz during the late 19th/early 20th century, this is a great book. Adelaide Herrmann was one heck of a lady, becoming one of the most famous female magicians after the death of her husband.

Looking Forward

I can’t read enough books about magic, but mostly it would be nice to eventually get through the nonfiction books I’ve acquired this year:

  • Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington
  • The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
  • Lizzie: The Letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk, 1864-1893, edited by Rex C. Meyers
  • The Science of Illusion by Jacques Ninio
  • Here is Real Magic by Nate Staniforth

Alas, Nonfiction November always increases my want-to-read list. Not that I’m complaining. 🙂