Mini Reviews: Non-Fiction Inspired

I’ve read very little non-fiction this year (as in many years) but I did read a lot of books inspired by real events! Here are some non-fiction-like reads if you’re in the mood for something vaguely historical.

Book cover for Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg. Illustration of 4 women wearing red with their backs to the reader, looking at a house in the distance. An inverted house is in the sky above them.

Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës by Isabel Greenberg
Genre: Graphic Novel | Historical Fiction

A graphic novel about the Brontë siblings, and the strange and marvelous imaginary worlds they invented during their childhood.

I’ve only read one of the Brontë sisters’ books (didn’t know they had a brother!) and knew nothing about their childhood or personal lives so I loved this as an introduction to all of that and as a cute little story.

Seeing the imaginary worlds and characters that the siblings created through written stories brought to life by Greenberg’s drawings feels a bit like a rare chance to experience what the Brontës experienced. Some of the characters we’re introduced to may be more notable if you’re very familiar with the Brontës’s works but I still enjoyed this as its own separate story, and can certainly see why the siblings escaped here with all that was facing them in their real life.

It’s not quite a happy read but it’s a loving story about a family and the wondrous worlds they created.

Book cover for The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. Photo of two women holding nets and standing on rocks beside water. One holds a stick and points out to the water.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
Genre: Historical Fiction

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a unique and unforgettable culture, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children.

One of my favourite reads of the year but also one of the hardest books to read. I felt devastated by the end but I don’t regret reading it.

I read this with my book club earlier in the year and it follows two female divers, haenyeo, on the island of Jeju, from their childhood and first dive in the 1930s through to the 21st century. Along with being a story about these fictional characters, the author also follows Korea’s brutal and painful history in the hands of different colonial powers.

I realized through reading this one how little I knew of Korean history, basically nothing, so one of my reading resolutions for the new year is to read more about and from Korean perspectives, both fiction and non-fiction.

Many, many CWs for this one including death, torture, and sexual assault (check out my StoryGraph review for a full list). The descriptions here are incredibly violent and gory but I’d still highly recommend if you want to learn more about Korean history and read a beautiful story about sisterhood.

Book cover for Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon. Cover features an abstract painting with an orange sky and green and red at the bottom.

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón
Genre: Poetry

Bright Dead Things examines the chaos that is life, the dangerous thrill of living in a world you know you have to leave one day, and the search to find something that is ultimately “disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.”

Poetry always seems to be a bit autobiographical and this one very much so. I hadn’t heard of this poet until some friends recommended this collection and I think this may be my favourite book of poetry ever.

It’s another sad one that follows the author processing her grief, particularly over the loss of a parent, but also past relationships and former homes as she adjusts to life in a rural neighbourhood.

It’s such beautiful writing and I can feel just what the author is feeling through her poems. I hope to get a copy for myself (I read a library copy) so I can save all the poems I loved and make notes. One of my favourites was “Someplace Like Montana”.

Book cover for Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. Cover has photograph of two Asian women sitting beside a young boy. The title text blocks out their eyes.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Genre: Poetry | LGBTQ2IA+

Ocean Vuong’s first full-length collection aims straight for the perennial “big”—and very human—subjects of romance, family, memory, grief, war, and melancholia.

Another poetry collection that feels very autobiographical, though I’d had this one on my TBR for a while and unfortunately did not enjoy this as much.

I think it’s really just not my style of poetry. The poems didn’t grab me and I do like a little less mystery in trying to figure them out, so some poems left me feeling lost. I could easily tell that Vuong writes of his Vietnamese heritage and there’s a lot of pain and history in here, as well as love. I’m sure others would enjoy this one as there have been many, many positive reviews, but it wasn’t for me, though I did really enjoy “Notebook Fragments”.

What historical events do you like to read about?

Cover images and blurbs from Goodreads.

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