I have been talking about this a lot lately, but I am truly grateful that 2018 has been the year that I rediscovered my love of non-fiction! I have read 28 non-fiction novels this year, and I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight a few of my favourites. I can not wait to see what 2019 brings for non-fiction!
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell
I Am, I Am, I Am is the first non-fiction book that I read this year, and as I was reading it, I remember thinking that I love non-fiction and questioning why I had neglected it for the last few years! This memoir is beautifully written and extremely interesting. It is about the author’s seventeen brushes with death- which range in intensity and seriousness. The last chapter, which O’Farrell writes to her daughter, is truly powerful!
We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall.
Educated by Tara Westover
Educated has been on so many end of the year lists, and for good reason! Westover’s resilience and dedication is truly inspiring; she is also a brilliant writer. I am honoured that she would share her story with the world. Her childhood was challenging to say the least and it is amazing how she is able to reflect on it with such honesty and strength. This is one of those books that I think everyone should read, whether you are a fan or non-fiction or not!
My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Bad Blood is probably the most entertaining and jaw-dropping book that I read this year! The story is just so wild! It is unbelievable that Elizabeth Holmes was able to deceive so many people for so long. I knew absolutely nothing about Theranos when I picked up this book and I think that made me enjoy the story all the more! John Carreyrou is a journalist so his writing style was perfect for this type of story. I hope he continues to release books about wild stories like this one!
Hyping your product to get funding while concealing your true progress and hoping that reality will eventually catch up to the hype continues to be tolerated in the tech industry.
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
At first glance, The Invention of Nature might sound boring, but trust me- it is far from it! Alexander von Humboldt was such an interesting and progressive scientist and it is such a shame that he does not get the recognition today that I think he deserves. He was very forward thinking and inspired many famous scientists, such as Charles Darwin, as well as poets, like William Wordsworth. Andrea Wulf did so much research and shared the story of Humboldt’s life that does him justice and he would be happy with!
Knowledge, Humboldt believed, had to be shared, exchanged and made available to everybody.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
If you are interested in Born a Crime, I highly suggest the audiobook. Hearing Trevor Noah tell his own story truly added to the experience. He had a difficult childhood, but I loved that he was able to reflect back on in an honest way and with a sense of humour. It really feels like you are having a deep conversation with a friend.His relationship with his mother was the true highlight for me- that woman is an absolute bad ass!
People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
I have never read a book that is so important and powerful, but yet so frustrating! Reading about the injustices that Anthony Ray Hinton faced truly made my blood boil. The fact that he was able to remain compassionate and hopeful while on death row for a crime he did not commit was truly inspiring and humbling. There are few people who inspire me more than he does. He even started a book club while on death row- which was a reminder of the power that books can have. This book brought me to tears from frustration, sadness, and ultimately, hope!
Despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice. I still had choices, and that knowledge rocked me. I may not have had as many Lester had, but I still had some choices. I could choose to give up or to hang on. Hope was a choice. Faith was a choice. And more than anything else, love was a choice. Compassion was a choice.
The Victorian and the Romantic: A Memoir, a Love Story, & a Friendship Across Time by Nell Stevens
I have raved about The Victorian and the Romantic ever since I read it! There is something so relatable about the author and her experience as a single women in her late twenties. It was really interesting to see how she is inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell and how their lives parallel one another, even though they lived almost 200 years apart! It is simply a fascinating balance between a memoir and a biography- I have never read anything quite like it!
I’m not cut out to be an academic. I don’t think I care enough about the sorts of things academics care about. I like reading the writing of writers I love, and I like reading about writers I love. But I’m not sure I have anything additional to say about them. I think I’m more of an appreciative fan than a critic.
Calypso by David Sedaris
Calypso was my first David Sedaris’ book and I freaking loved it! I completely understand why his work is so well-loved! I completely click with his sense of humour and there were many moments where I caught myself laughing out loud. I loved hearing his perspective on life, love, and family. His family is complicated, which is something I am sure a lot of us can relate to.
I felt betrayed, the way you do when you discover that your cat has a secret secondary life and is being fed by neighbors who call him something stupid like Calypso. Worse is that he loves them as much as he loves you, which is to say not at all, really. The entire relationship has been your own invention.
Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller
I have watched shows like Hoarders and have had fleeting thoughts about how horrible those conditions are for the children, but I had never truly stopped to considered the affects that growing up with extreme hoarders can have on a person. Kimberley Rae Miller grew up with hoarders and she is honest about what that was like and how it continues to affect her life. It was an eye-opening memoir for me and gave me a greater understand of hoarding and it’s affects on family.
No one questions the home life of quiet girls with good grades and kickline practice after school. My need to be seen as perfect was as compulsive as my father’s need to surround himself with paper.
North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both by Cea Sunshine Person
If you read and enjoyed Educated by Tara Westover, I would highly recommend that you pick up North of Normal. It is similar in that it is a story of resilience and overcoming a difficult childhood. Cea was raised in the wilderness with no electricity or access to running water, which gave her a perspective on life that is very different from my own. Her childhood was far from conventional and she does not hold back in sharing her experience. She also has a follow-up book called Nearly Normal, which I am very much looking forward to reading!
Sometimes I feel like I’m defined by what I’ve survived, and I’m not sure if I like that.
It was such an amazing year for me when it comes to non-fiction! I am hoping to read even more in 2019, so please any recommendations in the comments!