Better Than Fiction
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Better Than Fiction

Admit it:  when you're looking for a literary escape, most tend to make a beeline for the fiction shelves.  But you can be missing out on plenty of books that also have compelling plots and complex characters, which are all the more interesting...because they're true.  Here are a few nonfiction books that read just like fiction.

 
ripperRipper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert - Patricia Cornwell
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Vain and charismatic Walter Sickert made a name for himself as a painter in Victorian London. But the ghoulish nature of his art--as well as extensive evidence--points to another name, one that's left its bloody mark on the pages of history: Jack the Ripper. Cornwell has collected never-before-seen archival material--including a rare mortuary photo, personal correspondence and a will with a mysterious autopsy clause--and applied cutting-edge forensic science to open an old crime to new scrutiny.




year of magical thinkingThe Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion
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Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later--the night before New Year's Eve--the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma. This powerful book is Didion's attempt to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself ."

princess diaristThe Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher
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When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars  movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved--plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naivete, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford. With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher's intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time--and what developed behind the scenes.  Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.

hungerHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body - Roxane Gay
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New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as "wildly undisciplined," Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she casts an insightful and critical eye on her childhood, teens, and twenties--including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life--and brings readers into the present and the realities, pains, and joys of her daily life. With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and authority that have made her one of the most admired voices of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to be overweight in a time when the bigger you are, the less you are seen. Hunger is a deeply personal memoir from one of our finest writers, and tells a story that hasn't yet been told but needs to be.

talking as fast as i canTalking As Fast As I Can - Lauren Graham
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In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, "Did you, um, make it?" She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood ("Strangers were worried about me; that's how long I was single!"), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway ("It's like I had a fashion-induced blackout"). In "What It Was Like, Part One," Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay "What It Was Like, Part Two" reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her. Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she's aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls ("If you're meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you've already set the bar too high"), and she's a card-carrying REI shopper ("My bungee cords now earn points!").

into thin airInto Thin Air - Jon Krakauer
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A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more--including Krakauer's--in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air , Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster. By writing Into Thin Air , Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. He also avoids blasting easy targets such as Sandy Pittman, the wealthy socialite who brought an espresso maker along on the expedition. Krakauer's highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber's death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates a number of incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others' actions, he reserves a full measure of vitriol for himself.

my mother was nutsMy Mother Was Nuts - Penny Marshall
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Most people know Penny Marshall as the director of Big and A League of Their Own . What they don't know is her trailblazing career was a happy accident. In this funny and intimate memoir, Penny takes us from the stage of The Jackie Gleason Show in 1955 to Hollywood's star-studded sets, offering up some hilarious detours along the way. My Mother Was Nuts is an intimate backstage pass to Penny's personal life, her breakout role on The Odd Couple , her exploits with Cindy Williams and John Belushi, and her travels across Europe with Art Garfunkel on the back of a motorcycle. We see Penny get married. And divorced. And married again (the second time to Rob Reiner). We meet a young Carrie Fisher, whose close friendship with Penny has spanned decades. And we see Penny at work with Tom Hanks, Mark Wahlberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert De Niro, and Whitney Houston. Throughout it all, from her childhood spent tap dancing in the Bronx, to her rise as the star of Laverne & Shirley , Penny lived by simple rules: "try hard, help your friends, don't get too crazy, and have fun." With humor and heart, My Mother Was Nuts reveals there's no one else quite like Penny Marshall.

love warriorLove Warrior - Glennon Doyle Melton
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The highly anticipated new memoir by bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton tells the story of her journey of self-discovery after the implosion of her marriage. Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out--three happy children, a doting spouse, and a writing career so successful that her first book catapulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. A recovering alcoholic and bulimic, Glennon found that rock bottom was a familiar place. In the midst of crisis, she knew to hold on to what she discovered in recovery: that her deepest pain has always held within it an invitation to a richer life. Love Warrior is the story of one marriage, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. This astonishing memoir reveals how our ideals of masculinity and femininity can make it impossible for a man and a woman to truly know one another - and it captures the beauty that unfolds when one couple commits to unlearning everything they've been taught so that they can finally, after thirteen years of marriage, fall in love. Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life.

coming cleanComing Clean - Kimberly Rae Miller
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Kim Miller is an immaculately put-together woman with a great career, a loving boyfriend, and a tidy apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. You would never guess that Kim grew up behind the closed doors of her family's idyllic Long Island house, navigating between teetering stacks of aging newspapers, broken computers, and boxes upon boxes of unused junk festering in every room--the product of her father's painful and unending struggle with hoarding. In this moving coming-of-age story, Kim brings to life her rat-infested home, her childhood consumed by concealing her father's shameful secret from friends, and the emotional burden that ultimately led to an attempt to take her own life. And in beautiful prose, Miller sheds light on her complicated yet loving relationship with her parents that has thrived in spite of the odds.


you can't touch my hairYou Can't Touch My Hair - Phoebe Robinson
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Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, which means that comedic fodder runs through her everyday life. And as a black woman in America, she asserts, sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the nonsense you are handed every day. And Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years, not lest the people who ask her whether they can touch her hair. All. The. Time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page. As personal as it is political, You Can't Touch My Hair is an utterly modern essay collection: one that examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases.




happiness projectThe Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin
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Award-winning author Gretchen Rubin is back with a bang, with The Happiness Project. The author of the bestselling 40 Ways to Look at Winston Churchill has produced a work that is "a cross between the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love." (Sonya Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want) In the vein of Julie and Julia, The Happiness Project describes one person's year-long attempt to discover what leads to true contentment. Drawing at once on cutting-edge science, classical philosophy, and real-world applicability, Rubin has written an engaging, eminently relatable chronicle of transformation.



option bOption B - Sheryl Sandberg
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After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. "I was in 'the void,'" she writes, "a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe." Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build. Option B combines Sheryl's personal insights with Adam's eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity. Beginning with the gut-wrenching moment when she finds her husband, Dave Goldberg, collapsed on a gym floor, Sheryl opens up her heart--and her journal--to describe the acute grief and isolation she felt in the wake of his death. But Option B goes beyond Sheryl's loss to explore how a broad range of people have overcome hardships including illness, job loss, sexual assault, natural disasters, and the violence of war. Their stories reveal the capacity of the human spirit to persevere . . . and to rediscover joy. Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us. Even after the most devastating events, it is possible to grow by finding deeper meaning and gaining greater appreciation in our lives. Option B illuminates how to help others in crisis, develop compassion for ourselves, raise strong children, and create resilient families, communities, and workplaces. Many of these lessons can be applied to everyday struggles, allowing us to brave whatever lies ahead. Two weeks after losing her husband, Sheryl was preparing for a father-child activity. "I want Dave," she cried. Her friend replied, "Option A is not available," and then promised to help her make the most of Option B. We all live some form of Option B. This book will help us all make the most of it.

wildWild - Cheryl Strayed
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At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State--and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than "an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise." But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

astrophysics for people in a hurryAstrophysics for People in a Hurry - Neil deGrasse Tyson
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What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There's no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.