Reading Challenge

A Look Back at My Year in Nonfiction

This week’s Nonfiction November prompt encourages us to think of all the nonfiction we’ve read this year. And since I’ve read 30 nonfiction books so far in 2019 (the most I have ever read in a single year), that’s proven to be a hard thing to do!

Week 1: October 28 to November 1 — Your Year in Nonfiction (Julz @ Julz Reads): Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions — What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Best Nonfiction of the Year

How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr: This was one of the best surprises of the year. It looks at American foreign policies and pieces together an image of the United States as a new imperial power. It’s so interesting, well written, and analyses history in a unique, alternative way. I couldn’t put it down and I still think of it even though it’s been nine months since I finished it.

Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer: If you like books about (good) writing, you’ll love this one. The author is the chief copy-editor at Penguin Random House and shares, in a series of chapters, advice to newby writers. Words that don’t mean what we think they mean, avoiding repetition, sharpening our writing—you can find it all here. Plus, he coats everything in a dry, sarcastic sense of humor that had me cackling in public.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Aleksievitch: In this book, the Nobel prize-winning author collects dozens of oral histories. She sat down with people who lived the fall of the Soviet Union, be it from Russia or from satellite states, and records what they feel about that “lost” era. It’s one of the most delightful and innovative books I’ve ever read. There are so many points of view, all vastly different, and unique perspectives on life and history. I can’t recommend it more highly.

Favorite Topics in Nonfiction?

Most of the nonfiction I’ve read deals with “social sciences, current affairs, and political issues” according to my reading spreadsheet. Usually, I pick up books about history and politics. Those are the topics I’m most interested in general, so I gravitate toward them the most.

But another sub-genre I’ve been getting more into has been memoirs. Curiously enough, I tend to read female contemporary memoirs. Luckily, I’ve been picking up a lot more WOC memoirs, which has made me super happy.

Hunger by Roxane Gay: In this memoir, the author writes of her (painful) relationship with her own body. As a plus-sized woman, Gay has faced discrimination based on her size and has also harbored negative feelings about her body. She describes the time when she started gaining weight and where she’s at with the body-acceptance movement. Needless to say every chapter is heartfelt and hard to read. Roxane Gay puts so much emotion into her prose and it touched me deeply.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: I’d never heard of Walls, but this memoir broke my heart into a million pieces. She writes about her childhood as the daughter of alcoholics who had a hard time settling down in one place and refused to conform. When their money ran out, when the gas was shut off, when the parents stole from Walls, she always kept such an upbeat and forgiving attitude to it all. It blew my mind and stayed with me.

The Wrong End of the Table by Ayser Salman: The writer was a child when her parents moved the family from Iraq to Ohio. She had a “foreign” name, ate “weird” food, and looked different from everyone else. In this book, she describes some episodes of her childhood, teenage years, and more recent days of her life. She’s always funny without ever dwelling on negative moments (which would have made sense).

Most-Recommended Nonfiction Books

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: This is by far one of the most endearing, rich, and impactful books I’ve read in 2019, so of course, I have to recommend it all the time. This is a letter the author has written to his son. It reflects on today’s America and, especially, on racial identity and politics. It’s such a beautifully heartbreaking read—and so important, too.

Dopesick by Beth Macy: If you don’t know much about the opioid crisis in the United States, it’s time to pick up this thorough book. Macy is a journalist and you can clearly see that in her writing. She dives deep into the topic from different points of view: the market, the doctors, the pharmaceutical companies, the victims, and the activists turning the tide on the crisis. I can’t stress how well-researched, well-written, and well-structured Dopesick is.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Trans by Brynn Tannehill: I picked this one up at the beginning of January—and I haven’t gotten it out of my mind ever since. It goes over a dozen of misconceptions about the transgender community and dispels myths. And it does everything in such an easy-to-follow and impassioned way. I couldn’t be happier with this book and need to recommend it to anyone who asks for nonfiction recommendations, especially now that transgender rights are being debated in the Supreme Court.

Nonfiction November 2019…

I’m hoping to come back to the blogging community in full force now that this challenge I love has started. Even if that doesn’t work, I know I’ll get amazing recommendations this month!

5 thoughts on “A Look Back at My Year in Nonfiction

  1. I loved the Glass Castle and Hunger, two of my favorites. I read Secondhand Time this year too, and although I really liked it, I felt so depleted from it. It was just so affecting and bleaker than I expected (I wasn’t expecting anything sunny with that one, but maybe I shouldn’t have read it in the middle of winter, I guess). Dreyer’s English had me cackling too!!


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