Stranger Than Fiction for #NonFicNov

This week as part of Nonfiction November, the prompt is Stranger Than Fiction.

Hosted by Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks, it is a look at those nonfiction books that almost don’t seem real!

Here are a few of my favourites:

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

On Goodreads, there are several comments under the listing for The Men Who Stare at Goats from people asking if the book is a spoof or not. As weird as it sounds, this exploration of the U.S. Army’s foray into New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal is 100% true. Named the First Earth Battalion, these officers researched bizarre tactics such as using the theme tune from Barney as a form of torture, attempts to create an invisibility cloak, the use of subliminal messaging to take down cults and, as the title suggests, staring at goats until their hearts stopped. You literally could not make this stuff up.

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell

In 2003, an independent film called The Room—written, produced, directed, and starring a very rich social outsider of indeterminate age and unexplainable wealth named Tommy Wiseau—made its disastrous debut in Los Angeles. Described by one reviewer as “like getting stabbed in the head,” the film cost $6 million film to make and took $1,800 at the box office, closing after two weeks. Now twenty years on, The Room is a cult phenomenon in the vein of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with late night screenings playing to thousands of fans who turn up in costume.  This book is written by Greg Sestero, one of the stars of The Room, who details how Tommy Wiseau, with no experience, no links to the film industry and no shortage of money, made a film that only he could love.

Sestero’s book has spawned another movie – The Disaster Artist – starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau, which is fantastically entertaining. Moreover, if you are feeling very brave, you can watch The Room on YouTube. I’ve done it. It is as terrible as they say.

Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn

True Crime books are ten a penny, but not many come stranger than Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn. If you think Becoming Anna was unbelievable, this memoir by journalist/novelist Walter Kirn of his relationship with ‘Clark Rockefeller’ defies all sense.  Clark hit the national news in 2008 by kidnapping his daughter. The big story was that the abductor was a descendant of J.D. Rockefeller, except, it turned out he wasn’t.  He was actually Francis Chichester, a person of interest in California murder, except, you’ve guessed it, he wasn’t Chichester either. He was ultimately identified as Christian Gerhartsreiterer, a German exchange student who came to the U.S., studied American snobbism, and became a very successful con man.

Kirn met ‘Clark’ completely by chance and they were friends for fifteen years. In this fascinating book, which could pass easily for a Patricia Highsmith novel, he explores both Gerhartsreiterer’s crimes and his own culpability in believing the lies that were spun. As he asks in the book, “How could my clever self fall for a reptilian poser?”

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

Hidden Valley Road is a fascinating exploration into the world of schizophrenia, through the story of the Galvin family where six of twelve siblings were all diagnosed with schizophrenia. How could half of a set of siblings all end up suffering from the same mental illness? Was there something in their genetic makeup or in their childhood upbringing to create such an environment? The Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health and through their story, Kolker explores the history of the science of schizophrenia. While I found that the book became a bit bogged down in the science at times, the story of this family was both heart breaking and astonishing.

Hellfire by Nick Tosches

Nick Tosches is one of the all-time great biographers and this is one of the all-time great biographies of the recently deceased Jerry Lee Lewis. What makes it stranger than fiction is the detail of Lewis’s dramatic and tormented life, which is perfectly matched by Tosches’ semi-fictional, baroque style.

Jerry Lee Lewis, raised in the Deep South on a diet of the Old Testament and childhood abuse, became a world-famous performer pursued by his personal demons. From shooting his own bass player, to ramming the gates of Graceland in his Lincoln continental and marrying his underage cousin, Lewis was plagued by drug abuse (he shared Elvis’s pharmacist), violence and incarcerations. Not for nothing was his nickname The Killer. In 2006, the Guardian gave Hellfire the top spot in its 50 Greatest Music Books of All-Time and Rolling Stone called it the ‘best rock and roll biography’. A fascinating account of a hell-raising life.

Sybil Exposed by Debbie Nathan

In 1973, the book Sybil was published, pertaining to tell the true story of Sybil, a woman with sixteen individual personalities. The book was a massive critical and commercial success, spawned a film adaptation starring Sally Field and played a major role in having multiple personality disorder added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In Debbie Nathan’s 2012 book, she takes this story, which would be strange enough in its own right and debunks the myth of Sybil, proving that her illness was largely fabricated by Sybil herself, her doctor and a journalist.  I haven’t read the original 1973 book, but I have this one in the 746 and am very much looking forward to reading about Nathan’s investigation into one of the most contentious mental illness diagnoses of our time.

So what do you think? Do any of these take your fancy?


Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

17 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I’m adding HELLFIRE BY NICK TOSCHES to my TBR.

    That’s interesting about Sybil! I’m not sure if I read the book or not but I remember watching the Sally Field mini series. It was really good.

    Might be interesting to read Sybil and Sybil Exposed back to back!


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