6 Books for Staying Home and Reading—Non-Fiction Edition

By Lisa Hayes

January 30, 2023

Have you ever opened a book and just…smelled it? If so, you’re in the right place.

Even if you’ve never nerded out over the smell of books, you’re still amongst friends here. (I promise, we won’t make you sniff our shelves.) What lies ahead is a list of books to read this month. They’re not all new, they’re not all trending—the theme that binds them is that I read them each winter, and I can vouch for their companionship when it’s cold outside.

This list below is entirely non-fiction with subgenres noted, so you can scroll to find your favorite topic or simply browse the lot of them. Prefer fiction? I love it, too. I’ve got you covered right here.

And send me the titles of your favorite books at [email protected]. I definitely want to know.

Subgenres: Memoir, Food

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, by Ruth Reichl

Note: I read this back in 2006, as a new mom trying to rejoin society through a book club. I read it again last month, and it holds up.

P.S. Hey Hollywood, instead of another season of Is It Cake?, how about making this into a show?

Quick description:

You’re the new New York Times restaurant critic—and everyone loved the last one. You’re hell-bent on getting rid of elitist food reviews—but you find out that all the restaurants in town have tacked up your photo in their kitchens, so they’ll be sure to give you the best food and service. What do you do? You hire a makeup artist and prosthetics maker and head out in disguise. By the way: You piss a lot of people off.

Buy Garlic and Sapphires here.

Subgenres: History, Military

The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War, by Malcolm Gladwell

Note: Gladwell has recently been writing books for audio first, print second, and it’s a whole thing that makes so much sense. Like a great podcast (he has a few, so he should know), the audiobook version is filled with source interviews, b-roll sounds, and news reports. The print version is great, too—but don’t discount audio if you’re into that kind of thing.

Quick description from the publisher:

Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists, the “Bomber Mafia,” asked: What if precision bombing could cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal?

In The Bomber Mafia, Malcolm Gladwell weaves together the stories of a Dutch genius and his homemade computer, a band of brothers in central Alabama, a British psychopath, and pyromaniacal chemists at Harvard to examine one of the greatest moral challenges in modern American history.

Buy it here. Give the audiobook a shot here.

Subgenres: Science, Cognitive Psychology, Cool Stuff About Your Brain

Dark and Magical Places: The Neuroscience of Navigation, by Christopher Kemp

Note: The premise of the book—how we navigate an endlessly unfolding world—came from Kemp’s spatial shortcomings (and his wife’s spatial strengths). That’s also cool. Are you someone who likes to wander and wonder? Lose yourself in this book.

P.S. Speaking of losing yourself, Kemp’s book The Lost Species: Great Expeditions in the Collections of Natural History Museums has been on a bunch of “best of” lists, and is currently $2.99 on Amazon.

Quick description, edited from the publisher:

How did Neanderthals navigate? Why do even seasoned hikers stray from the trail? What spatial skills do we inherit from our parents? How can smartphones and our reliance on GPS devices impact our brains? In engaging, engrossing language, Kemp unravels the mysteries of navigating and links the brain’s complex functions to the effects that diseases like Alzheimer’s, types of amnesia, and traumatic brain injuries have on our perception of the world around us.

Buy a copy here.

Subgenres: Civics, Citizenship, Empowerment, Problem-Solving

We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal At A Time, By José Andrés

With Richard Wolffe, and foreword by Lin-Manuel Miranda & Luis A. Miranda, Jr.

Quick description edited from the back of the book:

Chef José Andrés arrived in Puerto Rico four days after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island. The economy was destroyed and for most people there was no clean water, no food, no power, no gas, and no way to communicate with the outside world. Andrés addressed the humanitarian crisis the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time.

“When disaster hit Puerto Rico, José Andrés didn’t wait. His big heart and boundless energy could not be restrained by red tape. People were hungry, and José Andrés didn’t wait. His big heart and boundless energy could not be restrained by red tape. Chefs feed people. He is a leader, an innovator, and a true hero.”  – Anthony Bourdain

Order We Fed An Island for yourself and all the people you know who do good in the world—or make delicious food—right here.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder

Note: As of this writing, I’ve bought 17 copies of this book. It’s cheap, it fits in your back pocket, it’s easy to glance through, and it makes an excellent gift. Wondering how to handle a situation? Want to fight the power? Feeling like whatever is happening in the news is unsolvable? Each chapter of On Tyranny tells you what tyranny looks like, where you’ve seen it before, and how it can be dealt with.

Bonus: There’s an illustrated edition. Personally, I prefer the little pocket guide, but I’m also for whatever motivates you.

Quick description from the publisher:

We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. On Tyranny is a call to arms and a guide to resistance, with invaluable ideas for how we can preserve our freedoms in the uncertain years to come.

Buy one or 17 copies here. (As of this writing, it was $6.38.)

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, by Michael Lewis

Note: I know, the pandemic is a drag to rehash. But what if I told you there is a whole other story to the pandemic—the story of people who saw it coming? The Premonition is like a thriller and a science story had a baby. I took it on vacation with me in the beginning of winter, and it’s now warped and crinkled because I didn’t put it down even while I was in the pool.

Quick description, edited from the publisher:

The characters you will meet in these pages are as fascinating as they are unexpected. A thirteen-year-old girl’s science project on transmission of an airborne pathogen develops into a very grown-up model of disease control. A local public-health officer uses her worm’s-eye view to see what the CDC misses, and reveals great truths about American society. A secret team of dissenting doctors, nicknamed the Wolverines, has everything necessary to fight the pandemic: brilliant backgrounds, world-class labs, prior experience with the pandemic scares of bird flu and swine flu…everything, that is, except official permission to implement their work.

Buy The Premonition here.


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