Despite my love for learning new things and understanding complex issues our world faces, nonfiction hasn’t been a genre I’ve actively sought out to read. And I definitely read my fill this year. I’m so glad my to-read list got me out of my reading comfort zone and opened my eyes to the wonders of this genre.
Nonfiction in your mind might be the biographies of presidents your dad reads or the dry texts of your college years. But there’s also tons of extremely accessible and interesting nonfiction to pick up.
These books all gave me something interesting to talk about at the dinner table and consider as I read news headlines and engage with different people.
How to Ruin Everything: Essays by George Watsky: I love George Watsky, whether he’s rapping, reciting slam poetry, or writing some crazy essays. This is the perfect gift for a millennial who’d rather read essays and advice through Pineapple Express-esque narratives than a Chicken Soup style story. My favorite essay involves fly fishing and a hook-up during a commercial airplane flight.
Fun Science by Charlie McDonnell: Whether you’re a fan of YouTuber charlieissocoollike or you just want to rekindle your relationship with science post-grad, this is a fun and easy to understand book that hits on a variety of science topics.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: Okay, who hasn’t read or seen the movie by this point??? But forreal, the film adaptation is great for humanizing the work these women did at NASA Langley, while the book spends more time getting into the nitty gritty of the science, math, and engineering they did (no wonder my dad loved it so much!). Still, it’s the kind of story that’s worth sitting down with.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer: If you’re wondering what led us to this moment in political history, this book is a stunning, in-depth examination of the historical and political events from the eighties onward that brought us to the trashcan fire of now. Best of all, it’s easy to read, and Packer does an outstanding job of adopting each person’s voice and making them exist as more than a stereotype for the reader.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance: I had my fears that this books was selling like hotcakes at my local Walmart because it sympathized with the plight of lower class whites, but this novel delivers its fair share of criticisms. A wonderful mix of personal narrative and broader sociological findings, this gives great insight into Trump’s biggest demographic of supporters.
The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us by Thomas W. Pennebaker: For your word nerds, psychology buffs, and sociolinguistics fanatics, this book reveals what a person’s pronoun usage reveals about themselves. Taking examples from everyday conversations, books, film, politics, and so much more, there’s something of interest for everyone.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: How have you not read this book yet? For real, put it in your figurative or literal shopping cart right this minute. Stash it in your bigoted relatives’ stockings! These essays demand everyone’s eyeballs. And you won’t be sorry.
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild: A Berkeley sociology professor tries to climb the empathy wall to better understand the Tea Party supporters in Louisiana who are suffering along with their environment due to their beloved politicians’ legislation. Prepare to have your mind boggled as you meet these Louisiana residents.
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater: Written by the journalist who followed the unfolding of this story several years ago, it explores issues like race, socioeconomics, and gender identity through the story of a black teen who set a genderqueer teen on fire on a bus.
Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay: I was way late to the train on this one, but holy hell, was it good. Perfect for sparking discourse and shaping your perspective on media among other topics.
They Can’t Kill Us All: The Story of the Struggle for Black Lives by Wesley Lowery: Written by the Washington Post journalist who on-the-ground covered the protests and unrest that began in Ferguson and continued throughout the U.S. in 2013 and after in response to police brutality toward African Americans. Lowery provides an easily digestible recounting of these early moments in the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown: Whether you’re a fan of The Moth or just enjoy crazy stories from real people, this is a great anthology of heart-wrenching, never before told true life stories.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: My public education definitely didn’t do a great job of hitting home how awful Jim Crow and lynchings were. I also don’t recall spending much time on the Great Migration. Regardless, this novel does a great job of filling in those gaps through a narrative driven recounting of the lives of three different African Americans who participated in the Great Migration at different times and relocated to different areas of the U.S.
What nonfiction books did you absolutely love this year?
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