It's time for my annual book roundup! Here are the best nonfiction books I read in 2016. These are the ones I couldn't stop thinking about, that I referenced in conversation and begged other people to read so we could discuss them. If you've read them, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
To see the other books meriting a 4 or 5 star review from me, head over to my Pinterest board.
When Breath Becomes Air- Paul Kalanithi
A wonderful addition to the end-of-life canon. I wish he would have delved into his palliative care team but that is one of the limitations of writing a book while dying. There is much more he could have explored and yet the material he did give us is rich, impressive, and necessary. What a gift he gave us.
Necessary Trouble: Americans In Revolt- Sarah Jaffe
If you asked me what the Tea Party and Black Lives Matter have in common before I read this book, I would have said, "nothing." But after reading Necessary Trouble, I can now point to any number of post-2008 movements and see the common threads. Whether Walmart employees or environmental activists, Jaffe shows how the deep dissatisfaction with and anger over the present state of affairs has been channeled into action and change. It's no longer business as usual. People are risking arrest and starting movements to disrupt the system and it is often working. (Glory be!) Jaffe shows each movement's strengths and struggles and I was particularly impressed by how she delved into the racism of certain segments of the Tea Party. I also loved the emphasis on intersectionality and the way class was highlighted as a common bond. Well researched and incredibly engaging, I underlined and asterisked my way through this book. It's a game-changer. If you read it, let's discuss. (Disclosure: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Between The World And Me- Ta-Nehisi Coates
I am a huge fan of TNC's writing and this is no exception. There is so much in it that is ripe for discussion that I really think we'd move forward collectively as a country if everyone read it and took its message to heart. Not to be missed.
(If you are someone who doesn't understand why people are upset about Trump's election, please add this to your reading list.)
This is a remarkable undertaking, not only because of the scope of Traister's research and interviews but because of how well it's compiled together. She manages to validate a number of singles' experiences, while also acknowledging her shortcomings, namely the bulk of her examples are white women in their 30s and 40s in NYC. However, she does feature stories from Women Of Color, as well as drawing from research and other works. What I loved is how validated I felt as a single woman. There was good food for thought- I especially loved the chapters about cities and friendship. There's also pointed critiques of society and religion, which is much needed in this age of marginalization. You don't need to be single to gain insights from this book- in fact, I'd encourage everyone to read it. But if you are single, you'll walk away feeling heard and seen and maybe even inspired.
Generation Chef: Risking It All For A New American Dream- Karen Stabiner
This is a must-read for people who love food memoir or who dream about opening a restaurant some day. Stabiner's writing style is reminiscent of Laura Hillenbrand. Her research and access to Jonah Miller and the staff at Huertas makes for one compelling narrative. I loved getting to see everything that goes into starting a restaurant in NYC, from finding the right space to hiring to what goes into creating a menu. Miller is an interesting figure, everything you'd expect a 26 year old chef-owner to be. The sacrifices he made and all of his hard work and dedication ultimately led him to opening Huertas and through the course of the book, we find out whether the restaurant will prevail through the ups and downs. This would have been interesting as it stands but Stabiner also features other chefs' experiences and what went into the successes and failures of their respective restaurants. She also sprinkles in anecdotes from restaurant critics and Culinary Institute of America teachers, along with statistics and insights about the restaurant industry. Absolutely fascinating. (Disclosure: I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
I am so grateful McCleneghan decided to write this book. I appreciate her care with language, definitions, and applications as she lays out her theology, particularly the chapters on desire and singleness. I wish this book had been around 15 years ago! I would have framed some of my experiences- and lack thereof- in such a different light. The last few years my thinking has evolved toward much of what McCleneghan lays out but I couldn't have explained why. There is so much I want to say about how liberated and affirmed I feel after reading this. McCleneghan makes space for us to go beyond purity culture and examine how we truly respect and love our potential romantic partners before and/or after marriage. This isn't anything I've seen discussed before in church but it's the discussion I've longed for, especially in my "advanced" single state. I'm sure there are plenty who will question her approach but I for one find it to be a refreshing call for grace and freedom. It is a call to lay down any shame. It is a call for joy and self-acceptance. It is beautiful. (Disclosure: I received an ARC from HarperOne in exchange for an honest review.)
Come As You Are - Emily Nagoski
I'm joining the chorus to say every woman should read this, whether single, married, virgin, lackluster or on fire sex life. I learned so much from Nagoski (her fact checking about the hymen blew my mind) and truly appreciated her resounding exhortation, "you are normal." Her insights will go a long way toward undoing the misinformation so many of us have been fed and even patriarchal oppression. I feel incredibly empowered!
Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin- Nicole Hardy
As much as I've been marginalized in the evangelical Christian church, it pales in comparison to what LDS singles face. Still, I related to so much of Hardy's story. Well-written and thoughtful, I had a hard time putting it down. In the end, her marginalization and doubts about her faith led her to leave the church. I appreciated her honesty and her candor as she made that decision. It spoke so much to me.
When In French: Love In A Second Language- Lauren Collins
I do not often engage in my language geek tendencies but based on how I swooned my way through this book, I should do so more often. Collins's book is part memoir and part ode to the intricacies of language. She delves into the history and meaning, the particular dance of learning another language, and how we use words to both build and divide. Many of the stories she shares, whether personal or research, could have been expanded into long-form essays at the very least for how fascinating they are and they will stick with me for some time. It is lyrical and lovely. It also made me want to get over to Europe asap. (Disclosure: I won a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway but it did not influence my opinion.)
A rich exploration of expat life in Paris. Her reflections on building community, especially while apart from her husband, resonated with me and I loved seeing where her culinary whims led her as the book progressed.
What were your favorite nonfiction reads of 2016?
Disclosure : Affiliate links included in this post.