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2020 was not the year for me and nonfiction. With so much upheaval caused by COVID, learning to teach remotely, and the election, I simply was not drawn to nonfiction. I’ve read 114 books as of today and only 14 of those have been nonfiction. That’s only 12% of my reading versus 18% of my reading being nonfiction in 2019. I didn’t participate in Nonfiction November because I knew I couldn’t stick with a month of the genre. Still, I liked most of the nonfiction I read, including the seven 2020 releases I’m sharing today, plus a few backlist nonfictions that I’ll be covering in an upcoming post, Backlist Books – My Favorites Read in 2020. You’re going to find some overlap here with last week’s post, AUDIOBOOKS – My Favorites of 2020, since I tend to like to listen to nonfiction. And now, let’s go! (In order of publication.)
Open Book by Jessica Simpson (2/4) – I’m too old to have been a serious Jessica Simpson fan. Sure, I knew who she was and the basic outline of her career path, but that was it. Despite that, I found it a pleasure spending time with and getting to know Jessica. She felt very real and honest, willing to bare her flaws and her mistakes, taking responsibility along the way. At times, Jessica’s story both touched and inspired me and her own narration made me feel like I was sitting in her living room with two of us chatting. Always a good sign, I’ve recommended this book to many. (my review)
Smacked by Eilene Zimmerman (2/4) – Smacked is the sad story of Zimmerman’s ex-husband and his descent into hard-core drug use over the course of many years including most of their marriage. Even though all the signs were there, she couldn’t really see the extent of her ex’s addictions until after she found him dead on his bathroom floor. Looking back, the puzzle began to take shape. I loved that also included in Zimmerman’s memoir was a look at the extent of drug abuse in high-level corporate America, and especially in Big Law. (my review)
Stamped: Racism, Anitracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (3/10) – I was a little overwhelmed by the length of Ibram X. Kendi’s full length book, Stamped From the Beginning, so decided to start with this YA version on audio. I was immediately drawn in by all the history of racism that I NEVER learned in school and my kids never learned in school and the students I teach aren’t learning in school. I don’t teach social studies, but sent links to Stamped to some of my friends who do. It would be a great book for schools to use. (my review)
Untamed by Glennon Doyle (3/10) – Sometimes you stumble onto the right book at just the right time and that was Untamed for me. I listened to this book in early April, when things felt so out of control, and hearing Glennon speak was SO inspiring, SO uplifting. The way she looked at the challenges in her own life, dealt with them, and built a new life for herself felt like and blueprint for the journey we were all embarking on. Her words, “WE CAN DO HARD THINGS,” became my mantra last spring and it’s a book I’ve both recommended to and given to many! (my review)
Stray by Stephanie Danler (5/19) – Danler wrote this memoir during the time around the publication of her debut, Sweetbitter (my review). She was writing to try to come to terms with the train-wreck that had been her youth. Both her parents were alcoholics/addicts. It was both absolutely amazing and incredibly tragic the neglect Danler and her sister suffered throughout their childhoods, leading Danler down dark paths in her own life. Stray was her brave attempt to understand and ultimately forgive her parents and herself, while never forgetting where she’d been. (my review)
Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami – I feel like I’m the only one who has read this insightful memoir/essay collection by the author of one of my favorite books from last year, The Other Americans. In it Lalami examines the many ways citizenship in this country is not equal, be it because of race, gender, class, or country of birth. She juxtaposes citizenship in other countries with here and deftly explores social structure and the historically white, male-dominated hierarchy that has tended to marginalize so many others in our country. (my review)
A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett (9/8) – This is Barnett’s remarkable story of how she came to be a powerful force in trying to right the many wrongs caused by the “war on drugs.” Both her life and her writing simply awed me. She had lived her entire life with what drug use combined with the legal system had done to her own mother. When she gained her footing as a young attorney, Barnett set out to try to right some of the wrongs caused by our legal system, deliberately skewed toward keeping Black and poor people in prison. (my review)
What great nonfiction have I missed this year?
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Open Book would also be near the top of my nonfiction “best of” list. I feel like I grew up with Jessica Simpson (we’re roughly the same age), so I’ve heard a lot of these stories through the news, and it was interesting to get her perspective on them.
Your picks look like an interesting assortment and variety.. The Danler book looked a bit too disturbing or hard for me to pick … I’m sad when kids have to grow up with 2 addicts for parents. I’ll be curious what she puts out next. Happy holidays.
My best non-fiction of the year (by far) wasn’t a new book but Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns, which was published in 2010. An excellent book. And much better than her new one: Caste, which I DNF’d.
The Splendid and the Vile was OK but certainly not Erik Larson’s best. A Knock at Midnight was very, very good.