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!
Chelsea is a copywriter, editor, publicist, and content creator at Books Forward, an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers. Interested in what’s possible for your book sales and building readership? Check out our services, tell us your goals, and get a customized publicity campaign tailored just for you.