Nonfiction used to be my preferred reading material. There was a time in my life where I read nonfiction almost exclusively. It was after I left school; I had a customer service job and spent a lot of my free time watching The Office and Man vs Wild, silly public access shows and ridiculous Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. So it makes sense that when I picked up a book I wanted to learn something concrete. Since I started going back to school a few years ago and working more difficult jobs, most of my reading material has been novels. When my brain is already saturated with mandatory (and usually fairly dry) nonfiction, I want more stories.
This year, I’ve finished fifteen nonfiction books (four of them memoirs–I’m never quite sure those are nonfiction), I’m in the middle of another two. I also bailed on three partway through. Also there was a cookbookesque kind of thing I’m not counting anywhere because part of it was nonfictiony and the other part was recipes, and you don’t really read recipes, you know?
Anyway, here are my nonfiction highlights of 2015…
Most fun: Hyperbole and a Half
See, I don’t even know if this should count as nonfiction because it’s just so funny–and also, cartoons. But it’s basically a graphic memoir, so it stays.
Best written: My Body Is a Book of Rules
The language in this memoir is very poetic; Washuta definitely has writing talent. I have some mixed feelings about this book, but it was very powerful, honest, and raw, and I am very thankful to the author for sharing in beautiful language things most of us would probably be ashamed to say out loud.
Most fascinating: The Black Count
This book really made me want to learn more about the French Revolution, a subject I really only know the bare minimum about. There was so much information in here on many different subjects, all woven together to give context to one man’s life–without really seeming like a biography of that man, either.
Most informative: The Oracle
Not that this book wasn’t also fascinating, or that The Black Count wasn’t informative, but this book took a single subject (The Oracle of Delphi) and stuck to it. It was more in depth information on a focused subject and without getting “dry,” uninteresting, or to the level of detail where you’re like “come on who cares.”
Most important: tie between Racism without Racists and The Myth of Mars and Venus
Social inequalities are obviously prevalent, and these two books address the two axes that seem to loom largest in the society I live in–gender and race. Racism without Racists is the beefier of the two books and is definitely more academic as well. It is very well-argued and probably deserves to have this category to itself; however, I also want to encourage people to read The Myth of Mars and Venus since it is such an easy read and the way the author handily debunks gendered communication myths and talks about their very wide-ranging effects is, well, important.
Most discuss-able: Communion and When the Chickenheads Come Home to Roost
These were both books my friends and I read with an eye on discussing them, so maybe it’s not a surprise that I found them the “most discuss-able.” But the format in both is also essays, which I feel like has a lot more room for dialogue than a history book, especially when the subjects are very relevant to today. When my book group met to talk about Chickenheads, we chose just one essay…and we still had to wrap it up the next meeting because we couldn’t fit it all in. Discuss-able indeed 🙂
Also notable: 1491, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? & Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992
1491 was also chock full of interesting information and comes recommended–the story of the continent I live on (as well as the one below it) before contact with the Europeans who would, intentionally and unintentionally, essentially destroy all the people and cultures who lived there. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a graphic novel about caring for aging parents, which is funny, honest, and heartfelt. Twilight: Los Angeles was, honestly, not the best read, because it is meant to be performed. Things that are confusing in the book–because she has interviewed people and transcribed what they’ve said verbatim, including all the ums, ahs, repeated words, and all the incoherence of casual spoken words–become immediately clear when performed. It is astonishing to see Anna Deavere Smith take her characters on. It gets a mention here because the performed work is so powerful, and the book does have its moments even if the meanings aren’t as clear when an actual person is breathing life into them.