Celebrate Your Nonfiction Books So Far
Nonfiction November - Week 1

If you’re a nonfiction reader like me, the month of November is our time to celebrate! Nonfiction November is a fun blogging challenge to share about our favorite and upcoming nonfiction books.

I’m answering Heather’s questions for Week 1.

1. What books have you read?

Here are the nonfiction books I’ve read so far in 2023, as pictured on my Goodreads account (I blocked out the fiction titles).

2. What were your favorites?

Looking over the ratings I’ve given these books, I gave 5 stars to 31 of them. Yikes—maybe I’ve been too generous. (But I also was generous with 2 and 3 stars to other books; I abandon reading anything lower than that, once I discover it).

Here is a random hodgepodge of 8 titles of those 31 favorite books (I’ll wait for December to decide my official top favorites of 2023).

  • Why We’re Polarized
  • The Science of Stuck: Breaking Through Inertia to Find Your Path Forward
  • The Art of Nonviolent Communication: Turning Conflict into Connection
  • Uncultured: A Memoir
  • I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times
  • My Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church
  • Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World
  • The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland

3. Have you had a favorite topic?

Humans. Since Human has been my 2023 One Word of the Year, I’ve intentionally read a lot of books about our humanity and how humans communicate and relate with each other.

4. Is there a topic you want to read about more?

Climate. I joined a local non-partisan climate group this year (truly both red and blue participants!) about how we can better impact our environment for all humans present and future. There is a learning curve for me, but it’s an important issue for all of us so I want to continue reading, learning, and doing more.

Heather hosted a linkup the first week of November to share what we’ve read so far. It’s closed to new entries, but you can still check out others’ posts to get ideas for your own to-be-read list.

What’s a favorite nonfiction book you’ve read so far in 2023? Share your thoughts here.

Read more:

What’s Your Favorite Nonfiction Category?
Nonfiction November - Week 2

It’s already Week 2 of Nonfiction November? This week we’re talking about how we choose nonfiction books.

Link up your own post November 6-10 with Frances at Volatile Rune.

Choosing Nonfiction

Here are my answers about CHOOSING NONFICTION, one of my favorite topics.

1. What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book?

Bottom line, I want to learn something new from every nonfiction book I read. My favorites also give solid advice on how to put the new knowledge into practice.

It’s a bonus if the material is also entertaining, witty, or poignant, depending on the topic, but those aren’t required if the content is fresh.

2. Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to?

I like to keep an eclectic mix on my nightstand. It chases away any boredom with reading.

I find I return to these themes again and again.

  • Communication/Relationships
  • Spirituality
  • Politics/Social justice
  • Science
  • Psychology/Philosophy
  • Memoirs
  • Writing
  • Productivity

3. Do you have a particular writing style that works best?

I prefer a mix of theory, real-life stories, and practical suggestions. I can take a bit of academic writing if the payoff is worth it. But otherwise, keep it simple and clean. Pertinent charts, graphics, and photos are all worth at least a thousand words each.

I also want the book to stay on the advertised topic. I get frustrated with rabbit trails and tangents.

4. When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you?

Title? Definitely (including the subtitle). It’s everything.

Cover? Not so much. I read a lot of ebooks, so I rarely see the covers. And with paper books, I remove the dust jackets before I read them. (I do put them back on when I’m finished though.)

A bad cover can turn me away more than a good cover can lure me in.

5. If so, share a title or cover which you find striking.

Here are four clever covers of books I’ve recently read.

What nonfiction topics do you most prefer? Does a book’s cover matter to you? Share in the comments.

Read more:

Are You Sure?


Guess what I just saw?

Not the green of a mallard
Or the mottles of a muscovy
Or the black & white of a Canada goose
(Yes, I saw them too)

I just saw a white duck swimming in our lake

Are your sure?
It’s been years

I’m sure

It wasn’t the neighbor’s white chicken?
It was a white duck swimming in our lake
I think . . .

Was it?

Maybe I presumed it was in the water
But it really stood on the shore
Maybe I glanced too short a moment
But I didn’t stop to stare

Perhaps it was a white chicken in the grass

Assuredly no white duck was swimming in our lake


Hello, white chicken in the grass


Hello, white chicken in the grass


Hello, white chicken in the grass


A flash of white out the window
Glistens off the water
Must be the white chicken in the grass

I’ll leer instead of look
I’ll step outside instead of in
I’ll use binoculars instead of 20/20

The head? Rounded
The feathers? White
The location? In the water

Guess what I just saw?
A white duck swimming in our lake

Are you sure?

Hello, white duck in our lake

Have you ever doubted your certainty? Share in the comments.

Read more about uncertainty:

If It’s Only Temporary, Is It Worth It?

The Second Idea

I’d signed up for this session with Kia for a quiet get-away, a personal time of meditation in a small room with a few others before the bustle of the busy day ahead. It was listed as Flower Meditation. I had no idea what that would be. But sure, I’d try it.

The experience turned out to be as relaxing as advertised. (Read about it here: Dead Flowers Can Be Arranged, Too.)

But now it’s over. We’re finished. It’s almost 9 a.m. and I’m ready to dart out to my first scheduled class of the morning.

Yet something holds me back.

It’s Kia’s second idea. I linger to hear more.

Will This Look Weird?

When Kia had originally signed up to lead Flower Meditation as a bonus activity for the conference, she’d imagined offering it in the conference center itself. She’d hoped it would be in a convenient space where people could make a quick escape for an intentional break to catch their breath throughout the day, not in this tiny meeting room we were assigned in an obscure corner of the adjacent hotel at an early hour.

Nonetheless, she’d made it work.

And yet . . . she’s now sharing her larger vision with us. She thinks it might still work. She longs to offer respite to more people throughout the day.

She’s suggesting we pick up the leftover flowers, walk together to the conference center, and build a mandala in the middle of the lobby.

Hold on a minute, Kia. It’s one thing to sit quietly in a small room with a few other contemplatives like myself and construct our personal flower mandalas.

But to step uninvited into a huge space with people all around and do it there? What will people think? Won’t we draw too much unwanted attention? Won’t this seem weird?

It’s too late to say no.

Take a Seat on the Floor

The five of us gather the flowers into our arms. We walk through the hallway, down the elevator, and into the main lobby of McCormick Place, the largest conference center in Chicago and in the U.S.

Kia picks a spot in the center of the floor. We lay down our flowers. Then we sit on the floor together.

We start picking off the petals, then watch as Kia begins to reconfigure them artistically into a small circle, starting a collective mandala for us all to add on to.

I feel torn.

Part of me wants to participate in this spontaneous act of creating beauty on this early Saturday morning. But another part of me wants to step away from this spotlight and hurry away to my first class of the day.

I sit and participate for a few minutes, watching the time.

The lure of the classroom eventually wins me over. I thank Kia for introducing me to flower meditation, but I must leave. She and one other woman remain behind on the floor, building the mandala, as other participants rush to their next classes, too.

Look at the Mandala Now

After my class is over, I walk back through the lobby. But I have trouble finding Kia.

I finally see her, but just barely. She is still seated on the floor.

She is surrounded by people. A crowd has gathered. New people are now seated on the floor beside her, people that hadn’t been in our early-morning Flower Meditation session.

They, too, are tearing flower petals off the stems. They, too, are adding them to the larger and larger mandala that is growing in the middle of McCormick Place.

Kia has set up a box holding more petals. She written a note on it:

“You are welcome to add to this. It is dedicated to all of us.”

Some of the cleaning staff have even placed orange cones around the mandala to better protect it.

Those who don’t have time to sit and create still make time to stop and gaze in awe at the beautiful piece of art coming to life in this unexpected place in this unexpected way.

Kia explains to the passersby that this practice is soothing and healing. That anybody can do it. That it’s something they can recreate when they return home in their own spaces.

It’s not how Kia had planned it.

But she is getting to live out her greater vision for Flower Meditation after all. One flower petal at a time. One passerby at a time. She is providing rest, offering a space to breathe, even in the middle of a crowded mass of people, far removed from the tiny space we began in early this morning.

I pass by the mandala several more times as the day goes on. When time allows, I sit and add a few more petals myself.

And breathe a little deeper each time.

And the Next Day?

The next day, I pass through the lobby as I walk to my final class in the conference center. I look again for the mandala.

But of course it is gone. All the flower petals were swept away overnight. As we knew they would be. As we knew they had to be.

The flower mandala had been temporary. Investing in humanity—with our humanity—often feels temporary, especially when our efforts are uncertain, small, spontaneous.

But the memories and impacts from creating the mandala, from investing our humanity? They can live on and on and on.

Never underestimate the permanency of investing your humanity.

Invest your humanity - Albert Schweitzer

How do you invest your humanity? Share in the comments.

Read more:

One Word 2023 Human

When People Make Choices for You

“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”
– John C. Maxwell

Go to the Back!

It had been a long morning of learning and conversations and classes at the conference center. But now it was time for lunch.

We walked into the ballroom. On the left side of the room was a long line of tables piled with boxed lunches. Each table offered the same three options: turkey sandwich, a vegetable wrap, or a sub sandwich. We were told to pick up a box, then find any other table in the ballroom to sit and eat.

With one caveat.

The catering woman in charge of herding us through the line told us, “Don’t pick up a box from the first few tables.” She wanted everyone to start at the back table.

And she was having a hard time making that happen.

Yet she tried. As we entered the room, she yelled, “Go to the back of the room to get your box! Go to the back of the room!”

Of those who heard her, we did what she said. The food was all the same, and what’s a few more steps?

But one woman in front of me missed hearing the direction. I saw her pick up a boxed turkey sandwich from the first table.

And the catering woman became furious. She yelled at the woman with the box,

Put that back! Put that back! Don’t take that! Go to the back of the room to get your box!”

I was in shock as I watched and listened. You don’t usually hear people yelling like this at friendly volunteers in a food line at a nice conference.

It lit something inside me. How did I want to respond?

First, I wanted to give the poor woman in front of me a hug as she was getting yelled at. But second, I wanted to grab a boxed lunch from the first table myself.

Pidgeon’s Lack of Choice

Something inside us doesn’t like to be bossed around. We want to make our own decisions when possible. We don’t like arbitrary rules that artificially take away our possibilities.

We have an innate human desire for choice and autonomy.

Maybe that’s one reason that the memoir Nobody Needs to Know struck a chord with me. It’s a newly published book by Pidgeon Pagonis. In it, Pidgeon tells how their life’s trajectory was changed when doctors made body-altering choices for them when they were young.

Nobody Needs to Know

When Pidgeon was born, they had genitalia that was neither clearly all-male nor all-female. So the doctors chose female as the assigned gender. Over time, they performed a series of cosmetic surgeries on Pidgeon, unbeknownst to them.

As Pidgeon aged, they were given female hormones yet told they would never have a period or be able to bear children because of a previous childhood cancer. But it wasn’t true; Pidgeon had not had childhood cancer. Pidgeon had been born intersex.

Pidgeon’s book is the story of how the story unraveled, bit by bit, truth by truth, as they began to understand the implications of the choices that had been made for them, without their consent.

Pidgeon now works to encourage doctors to hold off on cosmetic surgeries for intersex babies, allowing everyone time to adjust to their bodies and make informed decisions for themselves as they get older instead of having those decisions made for them when they’re too young to understand.

In reading Pidgeon’s story, I’m like the older white gentleman Pidgeon writes about in the book:

“An older white gentleman who looked like he was someone’s father, asked if he could shake my hand. ‘Thank you so much for sharing your story,’ he said. ‘I never knew about what intersex people endured before today. You opened my eyes.'”

Pidgeon opened my eyes, too.

Recognize Whose Choice It Is

Back at the ballroom-turned-cafeteria that day at lunch, while I wanted to rebel and pick up a box from the first table, I resisted. I did as I was told; I walked to the back of the room to get my meal. I didn’t want to break the rules or make anybody’s job any harder that day for absolutely no reason.

I still got to choose between the three options for lunch, after all. It was a very, very minor thing.

But not all decisions are that minor. And not everyone is given a choice.

One lesson I learned from Pidgeon’s story in Nobody Has to Know is this:

When possible and appropriate, allow people to make their own choices.

Let them have autonomy in their lives, just as I want autonomy in my life.

Granted, when we humans are allowed to make our own choices, we may occasionally make some bad ones. But even then, we’re more likely to learn and grow from those bad choices than if we had been enslaved to have no choice at all.

Recognize what choices are yours to make, and what choices are others to make.

Let’s not mix up the two.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley for the
review copy of Nobody Has to Know

On the Blog—October 2023

Here are brief summaries and links to posts on the blog, Lisa notes, in October 2023.

See previous months’ archives here