7 Nonfiction Reads That Are (Almost) Too Crazy to Be True

You know that wide-eyed, jaw-drop feeling you get when you hear a story that’s so outrageous, so out-of-the-park bonkers you think there’s no way it can be true? Followed by that alarming (yet bizarrely satisfying) feeling you get when you Google or fact check said outrageous story and discover it is, in fact, facts? That’s exactly the sensation we had when we dove into these bizarre nonfiction reads. These books had us shaking our heads, gasping for air, exclaiming out loud–and then left us super eager to share with everyone we know. Here are seven nonfiction books that are (almost) too crazy to be true: 

I’ll admit, anything in the healthcare/technology fields confuse me, so I was surprised when I got sucked in by Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. For Elizabeth Holmes to finesse and fraud her way into a multibillion-dollar startup speaks to a lot of different privileges. If you’re hooked on true crime of the white collar variety, this one’s a must-read. (Jennifer Vance, Publicist)

Educated by Tara Westover is one of the craziest coming of age memoirs that I’ve ever read. The author was raised by a survivalist father, and her family went along with his whims — often endangering their own lives. Tara and her siblings didn’t receive a formal education, so she taught herself, and eventually went on to study at schools like Harvard and Cambridge. (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist) 

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson sounds like something straight out of the speculative fantasy and thriller books that I love. With a surprisingly gripping and engaging narrative, this historical nonfiction tells the story of two architects: Daniel H. Burnham, a young man tasked with designing the famous “White City” exhibition of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and H. H. Holmes, widely regarded as America’s first serial killer and the mastermind behind the infamous “Murder Hotel,” where he lured unspecting fairgoers to their deaths in ingeniously macabre ways. The story of these two men — Holmes in particular — is so shocking and incredible that it’s hard to believe this really happened! (Chelsea Apple, Content Creator).

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell is a memoir of sorts in short stories, but each of those stories explores a near-death experience from the author. Each account is a reflection on life and what it means to live in this world. O’Farrell’s alarmingly frequent encounters with multiple types of danger gives her writing a sense of wisdom and melancholy, but also seems to prepare her to be the perfect mother to a child with a life-threatening immune disorder. I read this book as a love letter to her daughter — “See? Look what I survived. And you will too.” (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist) 

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz tells the story of a game-changing surgeon. Before he stepped on the scene, there was no bedside manner, there were no sterile operating rooms, and there was no anesthesia. The picture the author paints of the medical world in the early 1800s is cringeworthy and ghastly, and will make you thankful Mütter was around. (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist) 

I was upset most of the time reading Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan because I wanted more than anything for the people in her life to believe and support her. Suffering from an extremely rare disease, it was fascinating seeing how she not only found her way to a correct diagnosis and recovery but also how she leaned on the people around her to help research and reconstruct the narrative of her own life. (Jennifer Vance, Publicist)

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore is about the girls who worked to paint the illuminated numbers on watch faces around the same time as the first world war. The only problem is that they were using radium, and they soon began to get sick. The way the workers and the people in charge reacted and covered up what was going on still echoes today. (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist)

Books & Binge: Nonfiction Addiction

The “real life” TV and nonfiction books we can’t get enough of

Like many of you, our to-watch lists have gotten pretty long this year. Whether you’re addicted to Netflix docuseries or you can’t get enough of A-lister dramas on Hulu and HBO, there’s no way to deny it: we are in a golden age of quality TV. But how do we stay on top of our to-read lists while indulging our streaming habits?

Welcome to Books & Binge, a blog series where we talk about what we’re watching and reading. After all, who doesn’t love a great reading and TV recommendation? This week we’re talking about our favorite nonfiction, so whether you’re a true crime junkie, a food documentary enthusiast, or a self-improvement seeker, we’ve got a book and a show recommendation for you — read on!

Jennifer Vance, Publicist
I’m one of those true crime junkies, so I was very happy when the book club I’m a part of took my suggestion to read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. As a former journalist, I admired the way McNamara spent years investigating the Golden State Killer as an amateur detective, her dogged determination to find justice for his victims. The writing is simply beautiful, unlike typical true crime books, and is a must-read for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre.

Or, you can turn on the new HBO series of the same name! The six-episode docuseries is a short, but addicting, ride into one of the United States’ most infamous serial killers — and the woman who refused to forget about him or his victims.

Jackie Karneth, Publicist
Director Halina Dryschka’s documentary Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint wants you to forget everything you thought you knew about art history. Welcome to the dazzling world of forgotten artist Hilma af Klint, who began creating abstract art in 1906, before there was any terminology for the style – and before Wassily Kandinsky, who is universally credited as the first abstract painter, began creating his truly abstract works. “Beyond the Visible” reveals how patriarchal and capitalist influences have shaped art history, while at the same time honoring the life of a gifted painter and showcasing the greatest works of art you’ve never seen before.

For a great nonfiction read, I’d recommend Being Here is Everything: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, by Marie Darrieussecq, translated by Penny Hueston. Darrieussecq’s small-but-mighty book imitates the life of its subject, the short-lived, yet prolific German expressionist painter, Paula Modersohn-Becker. A significant figure in modernism, Modersohn-Becker, when mentioned at all by scholars, is often drawn up as the friend of poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Yet, despite working alongside such names you already know — Picasso, Matisse — Modersohn-Becker remained, until now, an anonymous pioneer of early expressionism. Part feminist manifesto, part well-researched biography, Being Here is Everything is a luminous examination of the lone female artist.

Marissa Decuir, President
I just finished the period drama Pose, and it’s really sitting with me in a powerful way. An utterly fantastic visual display of New York’s underground ballroom culture — the clothes, the trophies, the VOGUING! — with a compelling cast which has inspired me like no other. It’s a true shame none of the women have been nominated for an Emmy.

I’m also diving into director and executive producer Janet Mock’s memoir Redefining Realness. “Femininity in general is seen as frivolous. People often say feminine people are doing “the most,” meaning that to don a dress, heels, lipstick and big hair is artifice, fake, and a distraction. But I knew even as a teenager that my femininity was more than just adornments, they were extensions of me, enabling me to express myself and my identity. My body, my clothes and my makeup are on purpose, just as I am on purpose.”

Ellen Whitfield, Senior Publicist
Years ago, I read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and absolutely fell in love. The star writes about his experiences in restaurant kitchens and the debauchery that takes place behind the scenes. I don’t remember why I initially picked it up, but it sparked a love of food memoirs and documentaries.

One of the most recent food documentaries I’ve enjoyed is Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix. Phil Rosenthal, whose producing credits include Everybody Loves Raymond, travels around the world and explores different cuisines. I love it because he’s not some famous chef or expert critic — he’s just a guy who really loves food and has a lot of enthusiasm for it!

Angelle Barbarzon, Lead Publicist
The last documentary series I binged was Wild Wild Country on Netflix, and it’s, well … wild! This six-part series follows the beginnings of a cult created by an Indian guru that later expanded to the U.S., building their own city in Oregon and causing an uproar among all the people who originally lived in the area. Wild Wild Country dives deep into the community’s beliefs, the abuse of power within its leadership and the complicated dynamics that led to the group’s evolution and the people who held the reigns behind the scenes. This series is so intriguing!

My recommended read would be Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who’s Been There by Tara Schuster. This book came into my life at exactly the right moment, a time when I felt like I needed to refocus and make some positive changes. Reading Tara Schuster’s book was like having a conversation with a good friend. It’s brimming with thoughtful advice for self care that you can easily put into practice. If you feel like your life is a bit (or 100%) messy, pick up this book!

Brittany Kennell, Digital Marketing Strategist
The last nonfiction book I really enjoyed was A House In The Sky by Amanda Lindhout. While traveling at a young age — Amanda set out to explore, photograph and journal countries most of us will never travel in our lifetimes, not even in a group. Yet she set out to take on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria *alone* (just to name a few) making friends along the way. On her fourth day in Somalia, Amanda and her friend Nigel are abducted and held for ransom by Islamist insurgents. I could not put this book down until I knew Amanda and her friend Nigel were home safe and free of being held captive. This book is survival, strength and bravery — Amanda’s story gave me a whole new perspective on life.

I’m a big fan of sports docuseries. I’m just finishing up The Last Dance, which is fantastic! I also loved watching Last Chance U and I think mainly because I love hearing different backgrounds and stories that fuel passion. I love rooting for the underdogs, and watching dreams come true.

What “true life” show do you want us to binge, and what nonfiction books do you recommend? Tell us Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and we’ll spotlight your suggestions in our next post!

5 Hilarious and Irreverent Picture Books For Adults

Picture books transport us with their sweet illustrations and wholesome stories–that is, unless you stumble on the sub genre of picture books aimed at adults. The illustrations may be equally sweet, yet the stories are anything but. The result is an irreverent, ironic, and downright irresistible contrast that is perfect for unpretentious parents, novelty gifters, and readers with a sardonic sense of humor. So if you’re looking for something a little less saccharine and a little more sacreligious, buckle up for this list of hilarious picture books that are not meant for kids!

All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John
Sometimes things are going swell and life is full of friends, and sometimes all your friends are dead. From a sock whose only friend has gone missing to a tree whose friends have all become end tables (except that guy) here is a darkly funny and brilliantly simple take on life’s inevitable setbacks and peculiar friendships (or lack thereof).

Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes
Exhausted parents of the world, rejoice: this book is for you. This bestseller is pretty well-known (particularly thanks to Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous reading), and perfectly captures the not-so-zen side of bedtime. Anyone who has spent significant time putting kids to bed can relate to this cozily illustrated–and increasingly frustrated–journey of trying to lull little munchkins off to dreamland. It’s no Goodnight Moon, that’s for sure!

P is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter and Maria Beddia
There are books that teach kids how to read, and there are books that teach kids the truth about how nonsensical English spelling vs pronunciation can be. This one is the latter.

Someday a Bird Will Poop On You: A Life Lesson by Sue Salvi and Megan Kellie
Ok, so kids may enjoy this one, but adults will probably enjoy it a little more. This book tells that someday a bird will poop on all of us. But that’s okay. In a world of bad news, fake news, delays, disappointments, trash talk, and tweets, things are bound to get a little poopy. This modern parable about life hitting us with the unexpected says that “what matters is not how big the mess is, but how well you react to it.” Sounds like the perfect book for 2020.

Slothilda: Living the Sloth Life by Dante Fabiero
This is the book I wrote during lockdown. Just kidding–this is just an accurate representation of my life during lockdown. Here’s an adorably illustrated book for anyone who is feeling a little overwhelmed by their to-do lists, a little anxious about their habits, or a little procrastinator-y about their deadlines. I didn’t choose the sloth life. It chose me.

How Bookstores are Innovating Due to Covid-19

Independent bookstores had their fair share of hurdles before coronavirus, but thanks to the quote-unquote “new normal” of Covid-19 and social distancing, indie booksellers have had to dramatically reimagine their businesses.

When Seattle’s “Shelter in Place” order went into effect on March 24, Third Place Books had to close their physical stores, temporarily furlough some staff (with healthcare maintained), and essentially “learn how to run a bookstore remotely overnight,” said events manager Sam Kaas.

“It was like opening a whole new business,” he said. After six weeks of operating remotely, the store was able to offer curbside pickup. “That has been like opening another totally new business,” said Kaas. “We’ve fundamentally altered most of the basic framework of our jobs the past two months.”

Virtual events have been one of the most widespread transformations, with booksellers having to work creatively — and quickly — to transition to online programming.

Third Place Books experimented with multiple platforms (Facebook Live, Instagram, Zoom and Webinar) and are now trying Crowdcast. Initially their event attendance was higher than average (70-80 online, vs. 20 in-store) while sales were lower. Over time, Kaas says attendance has “settled into a more normal pattern” and sales have increased, with variation from event to event.

Shakespeare & Co has also transitioned to virtual programming. In addition to book launches and author events, they are hosting virtual creative writing workshops, online book clubs with author participation, and partnered events with other authors and organizations. Françoise Brodsky, Director of Community Outreach and Events, said that Zoom has been their preferred platform. Sales have varied, but “participation has increased, because it is not linked geographically anymore,” Brodsky said.

Doloris Vest at Book No Further said their store has also been working on virtual programming via Zoom. Although attendance fluctuates, their event pre-sales have been comparable to in-store events. Book No Further is trying other new strategies as well, such as offering small-group browsing and browsing-by-appointment, and improving store layout to ensure everything is clean, sales-friendly and easily accessible.

Some changes have been surprisingly positive. “We did more online sales in the first two months of the shut down than we had done in the previous/first eight months of our website,” Vest said.
Kaas said that the pandemic has presented new challenges, and also fresh innovations. “While booksellers have to be nimble every day to survive, our industry is also one where it’s easy to get into a rut, and to stick with what works until we’re forced to think of something new. This has forced us to think outside the box, which is crucial.”

All three bookstores confirmed that they intend to host virtual programming for the long-term. For many, pre-pandemic-style (dare we say “normal?”) business operations are not expected to resume before 2021. Even then, the book industry is writing a new chapter. It’s very likely that some changes — such as “hybrid” schedules of virtual and in-person events — are here to stay.