Here are my top two favorite nonfiction reads from 2019. Last week I posted my fifth, fourth and third favorite nonfiction reads, which you can check out here.
2. Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears And Unleash Creativity
by Felicia Day
What It’s About:
This book of creative exercises is like the quirky, more whimsical cousin of The Artist’s Way. The goal of Embrace Your Weird is to help you become less critical of yourself so you can creative the projects you want— whether that be writing, painting, or making sculptures in toothpicks.
The exercises start out with the intent of proving to you why you should totally embrace your creativity, move on to building up your “hero self”, arm you with techniques to face your demons, then help you brainstorm allies for your journey.
Felicia Day is the writer/ producer of the Netflix series, The Guild, as well as the creator of many online endeavors. I reviewed and loved her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), which tells the story her unique upbringing being homeschooled (for “hippy reasons”), going to college at sixteen, majoring in mathematics and violin at the University of Texas, then becoming an actor and writer in Los Angeles. She’s also known for playing quirky roles like Vi in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Codex in The Guild, Penny in Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Charlie in Supernatural, and Poppy in The Magicians.
What I Liked:
There’s so much to like here. Felicia Day is whimsical and fun, yet also thorough and organized. It took me three months to do all the exercises, and at the end I felt more playful about my writing.
What I Learned:
I came away from this book with a better understanding the need for play and creativity in my life.
I listened to the audiobook version and used the PDF for the exercises because I love Felicia Day’s quirky style of narrating.
1. Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties
by Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman
What It’s About:
This is the story of the “Manson Family” from the point of view of Dianne Lake— who joined the Manson family when she was just fourteen years old. She was not present at any of the murders but was still able to testify against the family at the trials.
What I Liked About It:
I had always avoided books about Charles Manson because I am tired of focusing on supposed “genius” sociopathic men, so I was delighted to find this story told from the youngest woman in the family.
The first half of the book is about Dianne’s life growing up and the second half is about her time in the Manson family. While I chose the book for the second half, the first half where she explains how her family went from a white-bread middle class family in suburban Minnesota to counterculture hippies living on a commune in California was just as fascinating.
Dianne paints a vivid picture of her father’s growing dissatisfaction with the repression of the 1950s, and how his fascination with Jack Kerouac (and other Beat Generation writers) were the catalyst for her family’s slow absorption into the 1960s counterculture. Her description of 1960s counterculture shows both the advantages and disadvantages of their utopian beliefs. I felt like I had time traveled to the 1960s and was living right along with her.
What I Learned:
Lake describes Manson as someone who was a master at manipulating people. Despite being basically illiterate, he had used his prison time to educated himself. Manson took classes in prison on Dale Carenigie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People techniques, as well as getting an education from fellow inmates on how to be a highly successful pimp. He also used his time in prison to learn to move every muscle on his face independently so he had full control over his facial expressions and could change the sound of his voice and dialect, too, in order to mirror whoever he was talking with.
However, Dianne’s story makes clear that while Manson did have exceptional people skills— that he used for self-serving purposes— the main reason that he was able to gain the loyalty from the women in his self-made family was because of the misogynist elements of the 1960s that caused so many women to have no one else to count on. Manson’s family welcomed Dianne Lake with open arms, which was far more than her own family did. By the time the Manson family got darker— after Manson became more and more obsessed with his racist fantasies about the end of the world— Diane was trapped with no one else to turn to.
The audio version is narrated by Dianne herself. Some Audible reviewers complained about Dianne’s narration but I thought it worked well. She comes across as an earnest, authentic teller of her own story.