Bookish Posts

Favorite Non-Fiction Books

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I’m in a reflective mood, even though there’s still close to two weeks left in the year. At the start of the year, I made a promise to myself that I’d read some more nonfiction books, and I actually stuck to that one. Each month, I chose at least one nonfiction book, often more than one. Listening to them in audiobook format seemed to make it easier for me for some reason, and there were some that really stuck with me. And while I’m not leaving my beloved fiction books by a long shot, I think I’m going to stick with reading at least one nonfiction book each month.

At first, I would let various heritage months inform my decisions, and learn about different cultural groups through nonfiction books, and chose OwnVoices authors whenever possible. But as the year went on, I would also check out books about random topics that interested me, and also occasionally read some memoirs to learn about people who had an intriguing story to tell, or people I wanted to learn more about. Here’s some of the nonfiction books I read this year that really stood out to me:

  1. The Redhead of Auschwitz by Nechama Birnbaum — each Holocaust survivor has a unique story, and Rosie’s perspective towards her experiences was incredible.
  2. Sister Outsider by Audre Lord — I haven’t read much feminist literature, and learning more about the birth of intersectional feminism was so eye-opening. I also loved Lord’s writing style, and found it so relatable and powerful.
  3. The Dark Queens by Shelley Puhak — this book turned medieval history into something that read like the most fantastic fiction, yet it was all factually based. Puhak researched this incredibly well, and highlighted these early female bosses so well, bringing out their strengths and weaknesses while portraying them as complete people.
  4. Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine 1921-1933 by Anne Applebaum — the Holodomor is one of those catastrophic historical events that has been actively brushed under the rug, and Applebaum’s meticulous research brings it to the forefront. I read this just as the invasion of Ukraine was starting, and it helped me to understand the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people, and why they continue to fight so hard against Russia.
  5. The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang — another event that is actively being hidden, but after reading R.F. Kuang’s portrayal of these events in The Poppy War, I decided to give this a read. After rating this highly, a horde came after me on Twitter, denying that it had ever happened despite mountains of proof (including photos).
  6. Blood Orange Night: My Journey to the Edge of Madness by Melissa Bond — so many people don’t realize how addictive benzodiazepines are, and this author was one of them. As she followed medical advice, she descended into a physical dependence that was hellish to get out of, and she chronicled the painful process in this immensely powerful book.
  7. REDACTED in support of the Harper Collins Workers Union Strike.
  8. You’re the Only One I’ve Told: Untold Stories of Abortion by Dr. Meera Shah — this one was obviously read in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision, and it really puts things into perspective about the various reasons why women choose to terminate a pregnancy, whether it is because they aren’t ready to care for a baby, they can’t financially manage a child (or another child), because they are in a dangerous or abusive situation, they are forced into it, or because of horrendous issues with the baby that are incompatible with life.
  9. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan — a fascinating story about a rare brain disorder, this one was made into a movie, and could easily have been overlooked if not for the support and insistence of the author’s supportive family.
  10. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy — this one blew up everywhere, and it’s the story of a child star who was pushed into show business by an overbearing, abusive mother, and the complicated relationship that Jennette had with her. The name is a shocker, but after reading this one, I dare you not to empathize with her.
  11. Know My Name by Chanel Miller — this was the bombshell memoir by the nameless survivor of the rape by Brock Turner. I was amazed by her outlook, the way she was able to eloquently write about such sensitive and painful events, and the way that she managed to keep her head high and still maintain her values with everything going on in her life.
  12. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold — this challenged the common view that we hold that idolizes killers in the media without ever considering the victims outside of their deaths. Rubenhold really delves into the women and their entire lives, culminating in what led to them being in the situation that caused them to cross paths with Jack the Ripper. It’ll change how I look at murder victims forever.
  13. Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich — after reading a few books on Chernobyl, this one was the most powerful. It shared so many different perspectives, from people who were directly affected by the tragedy: first responders and their families, those living in the affected areas, and liquidators, all of whom were just regular people just trying to live in a world that was falling apart around them. There are passages that are indescribably difficult to read, and I’ll never forget the pain in this book.
  14. Seven Fallen Feathers: Stories of Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga — this exploration of the way in which systemic racism and poverty has continued to kill young Indigenous people, and the massive amount of work that still needs to be done was heartbreaking, but important. It offered someone outside of the community an insight into what these communities face, and provides actual steps that need to be taken to correct these inequities.
  15. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot — historically in the US, medical advances were made at the cost of Black lives. And there was no informed consent, no consent at all. That’s the basis of this book, and the cells that were taken without Henrietta Lacks’ knowledge are STILL being used in medical research. Not only does this explore the impact it had on the Lacks family, but it made me think about the consent that we give when we have surgery or when we send out spit in tubes to analyze our DNA. It brings up a great question about consent and medical ethics, and I definitely recommend this one.

What are some of the best nonfiction books you’ve read?

16 replies »

  1. The Voices from Chernobyl book piqued my interested! Yes to The Dark Queens and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I couldn’t believe how archaic with bodily autonomy doctors were when I read the latter book. I know it’s not perfect now, by my goodness. You’re absolutely right it brings up a lot of questions about ethics–it’s why I refuse to voluntarily participate in all of these DNA kits people do to research their genetic heritage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! That book will stay with me forever, but so will Voices from Chernobyl. Parts were so difficult, but it was incredible to see how the government handled it and how the people were affected without even knowing what was going on.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Where to start- considering I am not much of a nonfiction fan or how far back to go on when I read it

    1. Personal Librarian
    2. Same Kind of Different As Me
    3. The Hundred Story Home
    4. Man Who Invented Christmas- perfect for A Christmas Carol fans

    *Just a few*

    Liked by 1 person

      • Man Who Invented Christmas- aka origin story of A Christmas Carol

        Personal Librarian- story of how “a colored” woman became J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian; got interested in it due to my love of books and sociology

        One Hundred Story Home- inspiring story of making an apartment for the chronic homeless; Same Kind of Different as Me is connected to this book

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post Leah !!! So many amazing books here that I wanna add to my tbr ….
    I read a lot of nonfiction this year too and had so much fun writing my own favorites post 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

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