Photoshopped cat sitting on a couch in front of a bookshelf in the background, with a girl reading a book in the foreground.

Nonfiction Titles That Read Like Fiction

As someone who finds comfort in fiction, nonfiction can be a difficult genre to tackle. As a reader, I get nervous when someone mentions a nonfiction title because I associate the genre with the need to provide an overwhelming amount of information. After years of insisting that nonfiction “simply doesn’t resonate with me,” I stumbled upon a certain memoir that changed the game. These are the four titles I found myself thinking about long after I had finished them. Please check for trigger warnings on these titles as they all have serious and/or graphic content.

  • I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
  • This book inspired the making of this list! Like many of her readers, I grew up watching Jennette McCurdy and only picked up the book to learn more about her time on TV. I didn’t expect to feel like I was standing right next to her through it all, because that had never really happened for me with a nonfiction title before. McCurdy shows readers the horrific reality of being a child star and the effects it has had on her mental health to this day. This book covers some extremely sensitive content and McCurdy somehow manages to make it hilarious. This was my favorite release of 2022 because it introduced a brand-new genre and got me reading titles I wouldn’t normally gravitate towards.

  • Wasted by Marya Hornbacher
  • This title is not for the weak of heart. Wasted follows Hornbacher through her life as she struggles through various traumatic events and eating disorders. I initially picked this up as an educational resource on mental health and honestly didn’t expect it to be a page turner. But alas, I was wrong. Hornbacher’s emotional yet blunt language puts you directly into her head during some of the worst times of her life.

  • Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
  • If the stories above are a little too intense, but you still want something that pulls at the same heart strings, Everything I Know About Love is your next read. Journalist Dolly Alderton gives us an all-telling glimpse into her life as she navigates work, friendship, and love through the ages. With each age, comes a new curated list about what she’s learned.

    If you like the book, there’s also a TV show that was released in 2022 based on it!

  • Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd by Melissa Crandall
  • For readers not looking for a coming-of-age title but a heartwarming read instead, Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd should make its way on your TBR. An educational, but also riveting account of senior elephant keeper Roger Henneous and the thirty years he spent at the Oregon Zoo. Crandall met Roger while volunteering at the zoo and stated in her author’s note that,”His devotion to the elephants in his care, and their obvious love for him, affected me so profoundly that twenty years later I searched him out and asked to write his life’s story.”

    Two women on a picnic blanket, one reading, on a fall day

    5 Books about Strong Women, by Women

    On June 24, 2022, Roe v. Wade—the legislation that allowed women’s access to abortion as a right in healthcare—was overturned. Since then, communities of women—with and without uteruses—have been scrambling for ways to support one another during these bleak times. For some, especially for those who feel the impact of the overturn in our personal lives, a good story with a strong woman protagonist to ignite the fire within and remind us of the strength that we possess is just what we need. Strength comes in many forms and this book list explores many of them.

    For this list, I am presenting to you five books about women, by women, so that as we explore these forms of strength, we too are supporting fellow women.

      1. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

    This beautiful creative nonfiction book is written by writer and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer who is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In this breathtaking book, Kimmerer’s ethereal prose braids stories of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the science that surrounds us in our everyday lives, and the never ending offerings that plants have within their medicinal properties. A delicious treat.

      2. Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

    This autobiography takes us back to the 1970s when political activist and Black Panther Assata Shakur—godmother of Tupac Shakur—finds herself in custody after a tantalizing battle with the FBI and local police. She was incarcerated for four years before flimsy evidence led to her conviction. Assata’s story is unlike anyone else’s and her personal account of the Black Liberation movement of the 1970s will teach you the strength of Black womanhood and motherhood and the reason to fight for police abolition.

      3. Heartbroke by Chelsea Bieker

    Bieker is Portland State’s very own MFA graduate who debuted with her book Godshot last year. While her debut had a very strong female protagonist, I’m recommending her short story collection, Heartbroke, in this article. Why? Because this story collection hosts a variety of strong women who come in all shapes and sizes. From a houseless mother in a shelter to teen girls in an online game that plays on their fate, and even a sex phone operator who chases around a cowboy in the pursuit of a better life, this is an enthralling collection.

      4. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

    In The Poet X, Dominican American poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo introduces Xiomara Batista into the world—and I must say, my life has been better ever since. In this novel written entirely in profound poetic prose, Xiomara finds refuge in her own poetry while navigating through a tough teenagehood where the church is law and her Mami’s word is God. Xiomara encompasses all the strength I strive for in life.

      5. The Dragons, the Giants, the Women: A Memoir by Wayétu Moore

    Last but not least, Moore’s creative memoir The Dragons, the Giants, the Women shares the gripping details of when the First Liberian Civil War broke out and how she and her family escaped. This book leads up to the life she has built for herself here in the United States and shares intimate details of the strife that she overcame in between. If you are ever second-guessing the power to behold in a woman who faces crisis, this book will convince you that Moore, and women like her, can achieve anything that is possible in a show of true resilience.

    Photo of a full bookshelf. white arched text box reads "Inside Ooligan Press:", centered white box with fishhook logo, white text box across bottom of photo reads "The Project Team II"

    Inside Ooligan Press: The Beginning Stages of a Manuscript with Ooligan

    The dust has settled. The Where We Call Home launch party went off without a hitch (unless you consider a random man offering Ramon, the illustrator, some homemade chocolate drink in the middle of the book talk a “hitch”). Josephine and Ramon continue to participate in book events and sell the book. I am a proud project manager.

    Now we get to do the whole book production process all over again!

    My project team is sticking to the nonfiction category, but we’re moving away from the natural sciences; our next manuscript, A Family, Maybe, is a memoir by Lane Igoudin about his and his husband’s struggle to form a family in the mid-2000s. It’s got drama. It’s got humor. It’s got love. My team and I are having a great time working on it.

    Much has been happening this term for A Family, Maybe. The acquisitions team wrapped up the developmental edit, we’re working on the copyedit now, and we are about to start on the cover design. For my team specifically, the main focus this term has been on generating the inward-facing documents that will help us market the book. The two main documents that we’ve had our hands on so far are the persona exercise and the marketing plan. The persona exercise is an activity that my team and I did together to make up characters who we think would be interested in the book. We make up a primary audience member and secondary audience member from the ground up, identifying everything from their demographics to their family lives to their favorite foods. Being familiar with these characters’ lives helps us figure out how they would find A Family, Maybe. Would they see posts about it on social media? Would people in their lives recommend it? Would they purposely, directly seek it out?

    The marketing plan is similar in the sense that we are creating the backbone of the manuscript. We include the “demographics” of the book (title, ISBN, BISAC codes, etc.) along with comparative titles, hook, back cover copy, and much more. This document serves as the foundation from which all subsequent documents stem. Soon it will be finalized, and then we’ll be moving onto generating a contact sheet. Once we reach that stage, I’ll have come full circle as a member of Ooligan; when I joined the press back in January 2022, the team I was on was in the contact stage.

    It’s bittersweet, the thought that I’ve almost arrived at the same place that I started. Professionally, I’ve come so far in the past year. I have so many invaluable skills and experiences that I will take with me into my career. Yet my time at Ooligan is approaching its end. I’ll be training up a new manager in spring who will take over my role when I graduate in June. Although I am looking forward to imparting my knowledge to my successor, I’m finally starting to feel like I’ve really got the hang of this whole Ooligan thing.

    But so it goes. I’m going to give my last few months, and the A Family, Maybe manuscript, my all, and I can’t wait to help it be the best it can be. There are some strong contenders for project manager after me, and I know that the next cohort is going to do a fantastic job!

    a stack of vintage black and white photographs showing children of various ages

    How I Helped Publish My Grandparents’ Memoirs

    I grew up hearing my grandparents’ stories in bits and pieces. Often they’d mention their families or their lives growing up, and even if it was something I’d heard before, I still found it interesting. Occasionally they’d tell me something I hadn’t heard before, in which case I was even more intrigued. As a young adult, it began to occur to me that they wouldn’t always be around to tell me their stories or answer my questions. I wanted a tangible way to remember my grandparents and their stories so that future generations that wouldn’t have the pleasure of meeting them would still have the opportunity to get to know and love my grandparents as I did.

    In January 2020, I began working with each of my dad’s parents to formally document their lives and stories via a subscription publishing service. Each week, I sent them a question or prompt through the service’s website. Examples include “What is one of your fondest childhood memories?” “Tell me about an adventure you’ve been on . . .” and “What advice would you give your grandchildren/great-grandchildren?” By the end of the year, I had fifty-two stories from each grandparent, neatly organized and formatted on the website.

    Once my grandparents had written all their stories, I got to work editing them. I cross-referenced and fact-checked names, dates, locations, and other details to ensure accuracy, and I edited for grammar and clarity. Then my grandparents and I spent a day sifting through boxes in their attic to find photographs to accompany some of the stories. With my dad’s help, I scanned and formatted the photos, then attached them to the stories on the website. When the interiors of the books were finished, my grandparents and I designed their covers. This whole process took about four additional months to complete.

    Included in the initial subscription price for each book was one finished, hardcover copy. Receiving those first copies in the mail after all the time and effort we put into creating them was unreal. Little did we know when we started the project that it would become a way for us to connect and bond when we weren’t otherwise able to due to COVID-19. The initial months of isolation were difficult, especially for my grandparents. Having such a meaningful project to work on kept us sane. It provided my grandparents with a chance to reflect on and take a dive deep into their lives and legacies, and it provided me with the chance to get to know each of them in a much more intimate way.

    Later that year, in December 2021, we had one of our first family gatherings in almost two years. Every family member received copies of my grandparents’ books, complete with personalized, handwritten notes in the front covers. It was extremely special to share them with everyone and to see their reactions. I won’t soon forget how interesting and fulfilling the process of publishing the books was, and I’m so grateful to my grandparents for their willingness to share their time and stories with me in a forever way.

    Simplified map of the world in shades of blue with the silhouettes of people walking from left to right

    Immigrant Narratives

    Immigration has been an important component of US society since its beginning, and it has been a topic of discussion in the political sphere for some time now. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, in the second quarter of 2022 there have been around 96,000 new admissions to the US. These are people who have moved to live in this country for a variety of reasons, and not just because of tourism. There have also been over 124,000 people who have readjusted their migratory status to stay in the country. This shows that immigration is a dynamic and growing phenomenon that is at the core of the US, and if you are interested in narratives that focus on this topic (and not just related to this country), here is a list of books that might interest you.

    Starting with nonfiction, I recommend Black American Refugee by Tiffanie Drayton, a writer and journalist from Trinidad and Tobago who moved to the US at the age of four. In this memoir the author recounts her experience with migrating to the states at such a young age and experiencing the disillusion of understanding that the “American dream” is unattainable for people of color due to the systemic racism ingrained in this country, which eventually cemented her decision of leaving as an adult. It’s a great book for anyone interested in learning about how an outsider confronts this problem that is so prevalent in the US.

    Another nonfiction recommendation is Home in the World: A Memoir by Amartya Sen. This winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics has been a professor at various universities including England, the US, and his home country of India, amongst others. In this book he returns to his roots and narrates his experiences through the partition of India and the fragmentation in identity that this meant for his people, and he also covers his formative years, his participation in student movements, and his search to perfect his education, which turned him into a global citizen. This is a memoir that stems from a turbulent past, and I recommended it for people interested in learning about foreign history, as this is a phenomenon that resonates through the twentieth century and that has had similar manifestations in the last decades as well.

    For fiction, I recommend What Strange Paradise by Egyptian author and journalist Omar El Akkad, winner of the 2021 Giller Prize. As part of his work, he has covered topics such as the war on Afghanistan and the 2010 protests in Egypt, and he brings that experience to this story. In the book, a boat carrying refugees from Syria crashes near a small island leaving only one of its passengers alive, a nine-year-old boy named Amir who is forced to go on the run in order to escape being left stranded in a refugee camp. The author brings attention to the racism the refugees face in their quest to find a better tomorrow. It is an essential read for those interested in a story that brings forth the reality that refugees face, yet offers a hopeful outlook for them, even if in a small amount.

    You should also check some of the titles here at Ooligan Press that include immigrant narratives. If you are interested in short stories Short, Vigorous Roots is the book for you. This anthology, edited by Mark Budman and Susan O’Neill, contains a collection of stories from authors that come from different parts of the world. You will surely find something that grabs you in the diverse experiences that are collected in this book.

    And finally, be on the lookout for Extreme Vetting, one of our upcoming titles. In this thriller, Laura Holban, an immigrant and immigration lawyer in Seattle, works tirelessly to save her client Emilio Ramirez from being deported and separated from his family in the US. But she is going up against a corrupt government institution that profits from the misery of those they prosecute. Don’t miss out on this engaging story when it arrives this February!

    hands hovering over typewriter

    Tips and Tricks for Writing Memoirs

    A memoir weaves together stories from the author’s life, but including every detail and event is impossible. So how do you narrow someone’s entire life to fit into one book? Here are three tips and tricks for writing and editing memoirs.

    Trim the Timeline

    A lifetime of unique experiences and events can make for an exciting read. When sitting down to write a memoir, many feel that they need to go from their birth all the way through the present, detailing everything that has happened from start to finish. While some memoirs do encompass the entirety of the author’s life, most should focus on particular events and periods in the author’s life.

    The reality is that a book can only hold so much, and in order to build a cohesive, engaging narrative, the memoirist should trim the timeline of their life, only keeping what is truly helpful in showing their story.

    But how do you determine what is worth including?

    Think Thematically

    A theme is an idea that runs throughout a work, such as love, friendship, overcoming adversity, etc. It’s important to decide what themes are important in telling your story because these will serve as a guide for what people, places, and events to include. Within the book itself, these themes can guide the reader in making meaning of your life experiences.

    For example, if one of your themes is overcoming adversity in a creative way, then include the story of how you started a business from scratch after suddenly losing your long-time job. If loving and helping animals is an essential part of your life story, then include the story of the time you saved a baby bird from a hungry neighborhood cat and nursed it back to health.

    Selecting scenes to support the book’s themes involves combing through your memories and selecting the gems that will immerse readers in your life experiences.

    Mine Memories

    Dig through your memories for moments that truly embody the themes you chose. An important part of making a moment stick in a reader’s mind is the prose itself, but being selective about which memories you include is also key. You may have saved countless stray puppies and sickly kittens, but which of these rescues had the biggest impact on you and your life? You may have endured many moments of adversity over the course of your life, but which ones have contributed the most to making you who you are today?

    There may be many gems in your mine of memories, but the ones that sparkle and shine the brightest are the ones that readers are most likely to remember long after closing the book.

    Writing a memoir can be an incredibly fulfilling and empowering experience, and editing one can be just as rewarding. Trimming the timeline, thinking thematically, and mining through memories can help the writing and editing of the memoir manuscript run smoother while making a more memorable and engaging experience for readers.