Last but not least, here are the best nonfiction books I read in 2017. I didn't read as much nonfiction this year but the ones on this list really held my attention. 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.
They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement - Wesley Lowery
Like many, I first remember encountering Washington Post journalist Wesley Lowery in the days after Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. I was glued to Twitter, hungry for information to counter the helplessness and anger I felt. He was one of the first journalists on the ground and his observations and insights were immeasurable. And that was before he and fellow journalist Ryan Reilly were arrested by the Ferguson police in an act of intimidation.
I could not put this book down. It's incredibly engaging and riveting. We learn more about Lowery's background, as well as how his journalism career began. We see the string of events that sent him to Ferguson and how coverage there- combined with Twitter- changed everything. We see how his coverage of Mike Brown then led to covering the many other senseless killings since by those sworn to protect us. (Read my full review.)
This absolutely blew me away. It's about how we can best navigate life's ups and downs. Emotionally agile people are able to adapt to whatever life throws at them and stay true to their values, as well as grow stronger and healthier. It's a wonderful blend of story, research, and practical advice. David really gets into our motivations and the habits that trip us up and how small changes can change everything. Some of the concepts were empowering, others confirmed what I've already been doing. If you like Brene Brown or you know your Enneagram type, this book is completely up your alley. Even if you aren't into Brene or the Enneagram, you should still read this book. It's truly helpful and clarifying. Highly recommended.
My Glory Was I Had Such Friends - Amy Silverstein
It is rare to read a book and feel grateful to have read it. Not in the "that was a great book!" sense but in a "this book is changing me for the better" way. I don't know if I've ever read a memoir that details the dynamics of a group of friends. Often friendship memoirs focus on one friend or if they mention more, those friends are not connected to one another. Amy's friends come from different parts of her life- childhood to law school to where she lives- and most have met before or are even close friends themselves. I loved seeing how they related to one another and how their bond grew as they supported Amy through her second heart transplant. This is an honest and unflinching portrayal of friendship and end of life issues but there's also a lot of light and life in this book. I laughed out loud and I truly loved Amy's friends and husband. The sacrifices they made (that they do not view as sacrifices) inspired me. (Read my full review.)
What Happened - Hillary Rodham Clinton
I started this at the end of September. I thought I was ready to handle it. Then I cried my way through the introduction and first chapter. I had to take frequent breaks because it made me so sad. And then I would get even more angry about Trump. Then I would read HRC's policy ideas and imagine how wonderful it would have been, especially in contrast to what we're currently dealing with, and get sad all over again.
The 2016 election was no ordinary election. Clinton owns her mistakes- sometimes owning things that she shouldn't have to and certainly things male candidates would never apologize for or be expected to. She also looks at the outside forces that influenced the election, whether insidious like the white supremacist undertones of Trump's campaign or overt like Russia.
On Being A Woman In Politics was a fascinating chapter, all the more fascinating to read in the context of #metoo. I wonder how this chapter might have evolved if HRC wrote it now. It would have been more powerful if she'd grappled with her husband's abuses of power, especially since she mentioned Trump bringing Bill's accusers to the debate. But I can understand how she wants to keep some aspects of her marriage private.
Clinton is a great writer and it was a treat to experience her words again, no matter the emotional response they evoked. This was a hard but powerful book to read. I appreciated how she encouraged us to choose love and kindness and used the last chapter to discuss activism and what we can do as a country. We need to stay involved and resist and enlist where we can. It's hard to think about what might have been but I'm grateful to have read this book and thankful for her example. I'm still with her.
In the course of Nunn's memoir, we see her do the good and hard work of becoming sober, of processing her complicated and often toxic family dynamics, of grieving, of figuring out just who she is. It is not always neat or pretty but it is an honest account of someone taking stock of their life and doing their best to become healthier and stronger. It's worth reading for that alone. It also made me think about the role of comfort food in such unexpected ways, going beyond my go-to choices. It was interesting to consider what we cook for people when they're in distress and how it's formed by our own ideas of comfort.
The Comfort Food Diaries is beautifully written. I'm adding it to my list of favorite food memoirs. Nunn thoughtfully weaves in recipes from her travels and there are many I can't wait to try. The food and her history complement one another and I was truly impressed with her ability to unspool her story in such a seamless way. More than that, I'm glad I read a story about someone who doesn't have it all together, who is still figuring things out. That's where I find myself these days and I am grateful whenever I encounter someone who doesn't have the next chapter of their life thoroughly outlined and annotated. (Read my full review.)
This is a chilling tale told well. I learned so much about the Osage tribe, as well as Oklahoma's origins. I'd never heard of the Reign of Terror before this but it's something that should be taught in history classes at the very least. It's hard to understand how white people could look at Native Americans and think they were less than. It's harder still to understand how their greed could lead to widespread murder in order to control the Osage wealth. We have treated First Nation tribes in shameful ways and while there might not be mass murder plots currently (at least I hope not), the United States still does not treat tribes in a way that honors and respects them. Just look at the Dakota Access Pipeline as an example. I'm glad Grann was able to write this book, not only to raise awareness of what happened to the Osage but also to give answers to those whose families were affected by the killings.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander
This is one of the most important books I've ever read. I read it slower than usual, reading a few pages here or there, setting it aside for a few months before reading half a chapter. There was so much to digest and it brought up complicated emotions, mostly anger over the plight of people of color and hopelessness over how it can ever change and then sadness because I'm a white woman who benefits from this nation's systems. But it's imperative for us to lean into this conversation. We can't afford not to. Reading at a slower pace allowed me to internalize Alexander's points. Much of the information wasn't new to me- I used to be a social worker and we discussed this regularly in grad school- but the way Alexander established her case is impressive. She laid it out clearly and succinctly. I was particularly impressed by her points about affirmative action. She doesn't have all the answers of how we move forward but I thought the suggestions she had and the questions she asked were fair. Now it's up to us to do something about it. This is a must-read for everyone, especially politicians, teachers, and prison wardens/guards.
The Cooking Gene - Michael Twitty
After reading Michael Twitty's blog a few years ago, I had a feeling he would eventually get a book deal and I'm so glad he did. He effortlessly blends the history of Southern food with his own family genealogy and the result is both instructive and illuminating. Twitty knows how to tell a story and I was impressed with the way he wove together genetic testing, plantation reenactments, racism, and the origins of beloved recipes. His perspective is well worth your attention, especially as he illustrates the difficulty people of color face in researching their ancestry. At times he loses the narrative thread or perhaps the book could have been structured differently to accommodate the meandering lanes he goes down but the content is stellar. I'm looking forward to whatever culinary history Twitty serves us next.
We Need To Talk: How To Have Conversations That Matter - Celeste Headlee
Celeste Headlee believes conversation can change the world and after reading her book, I heartily agree. We've all made mistakes when it comes to conversation. We've said things we wish we hadn't, we've spaced out, our words have hurt the people we love and strangers alike. At a time when we're growing more divided and disconnected, we can't afford not to think about how to converse better. We Need To Talk offers practical, insightful advice on how to improve our conversations. It's well-written and easy to read. In fact, it mimics Headlee's advice on how to have better conversations. It's focused and to the point. It's engaging. It asks good questions. It invites us to learn about ourselves and the world around us. (Read my full review.)
Heating And Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs - Beth Ann Fennelly
This was incredibly charming. The micro-memoirs ranged from laugh out loud funny to sobering or thought-provoking. Fennelly is an incredible writer.
What were your favorite nonfiction reads of 2017?
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