My Top 10 Best Nonfiction Books list is here!
I often get asked, “What do you like to read?” “What are your favorite books? My mind totally draws a blank when I get asked and so I it was about time I sit down and make a comprehensive list. I’ve started with nonfiction, because it has very easily become my favorite genre. The below are the ten books that have drastically changed my life and its course.
10. The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan
Like most young women, I imagine, I was introduced to The Feminine Mystique while I was in college –a budding feminist weighed down with the sinful pleasures of freedom (does Sex, Drugs, and Rock N’ Roll sound cliche here?) At first “the problem with no name” felt far away from my world of free Plan B and condoms. But I quickly realized that the problem hadn’t really gone anywhere, it just had new names and new challenges to overcome. Friedan made me seriously contemplate what it means to be a woman, at a time when I wasn’t very serious.
9. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
While I can’t say if it is factually true, I believe this diary to be the first real piece of nonfiction I ever read. It prompted me to maintain detailed journals for many years and made me believe that, even as a young girl, my opinions, feelings, and notions were all valid. I didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of a love affair with nonfiction texts.
8. Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 – Hunter S. Thompson
Despite, well, everything that is wrong with the man, his writing is some of my favorite. Again, a college introduction was made when I picked up Fear and Loathing as research for a class project. I wound up reading the book for leisure over the summer and into my senior year. I had never fallen in love the Depp flick of a similar title, and had only studied Gonzo journalism lightly in class. Once I read him, I went nuts, devouring all of his books. The fine blend of journalism and personal memoir is enticing, flavorful, and my favorite way to write.
7. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
I read this for the first time when I was way too young. But I wanted to be a reader and I wanted to be smart and I wanted to understand adult things. So I read it in middle school. While I think most of the complex themes went right over my head and into the sky. The emotion, the perfect words, and the glimpse into a non-white life was an important step for me. I was breaking out of my little Massachusetts town and trying to grapple real problems.
6. Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
This book moved my restless little brother. It changed him and he suggested I read it. Knowing this going in, I was already expecting great things, but I too was blown away by the power of this story. As a reader, I could not help but put myself in McCandless’ place, imagining what it would take for me to break away. As a writer, I dreamed of finding a topic as beautiful as McCandless.
5. A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
I might be a romantic when it comes to Paris in the twenties. You can judge me, it’s ok. But it really doesn’t get any better than Hemingway and Stein and the Fitzgeralds and the whole goddamn crew having a blast. I know I shouldn’t want for a time when I would basically have no rights but I want to, ok? I want to! This is my version of a fairy tale. (I like aggressive drunks and French food.)
4. Notes from No Man’s Land – Eula Biss
Biss’ near perfect collection of essays was another book on my journey to understanding power dynamics and institutional racism. In the simplest of words, what do I have as a white woman that others do not? How can I change things? How can I change myself? Scary and powerful ideas tied with beautiful writing and some damn near perfect structure. (Biss is what I read when I want to learn about creating essays.)
3. Maus I & II – Art Spiegelman
These books are truly spectacular. If you have never read a graphic novel before, I highly suggest you start here. Spiegelman’s re-telling of of his parents time in Nazi Germany woven together with present day interviews with his father, is downright brilliant. You’ll find that I love self-reflective writers and Spiegelman is one of my favorites. He breaks occasionally to reflect on the writing process of such a sensitive piece. The drawings are stunning, the story compelling, and is overwhelming in its skill.
2. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City – Nick Flynn
This book (along with the very different The Great Gatsby) has saved my life multiple times. Flynn’s honesty hits me hard with every reading and makes me think about how rarely I am honest with myself. I am reminded that he comes out of dark places to build a life with a woman he loves and their beautiful daughter. I am forced to think about family beyond the bloodline and how simple storytelling can get so damn complicated. And I am forced to realize that humans are infallible.
1. Here is New York – E.B. White
A classic. Every time I read this piece I notice something new– much like walking down familiar streets in New York City. When your heart is ready to see something, it will. On the outside, White’s essay is about rambling, exploring, going for a walk. But in it he captures a city that, despite its changes and complications, still grips us all in the same way. It does what all great art does– stands the test of time.