Nonfiction November: Best Nonfiction Books of 2020

Nonficiton November is back! Thank you to the hosts, Katie @ Doing Dewey, Julie @ Julz Reads,  Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction, and Leann @ Shelf Aware, for their hard work in putting it all together!

I love participating in Nonfiction November because it’s one of my favorite genres and it’s always fun to look back over my reads for the year and see what I was drawn to.

From November 2019 to October 2020, I read 46 nonfiction books (out of 145 total books). That’s just over ⅓ of my reading (32%) and I’m happy with that statistic.

What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year?

Not only are these the two most important books I read this past year, they also belong in a category I call “Required Reading for Humankind”.

  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller
    • It’s been almost a year since I’ve read this book and when I think about it, it’s just as impactful today as it was then. Miller’s voice is strong and powerful and so dang important to take note of when we talk about rape culture, white privilege and the flaws of our justice system. This book should be added to high school and college curriculums everywhere and every parent (of girls AND boys) also needs to read it!
  • A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett
    • As Barnett was working toward a career in corporate law, she came across a story of an incarcerated woman who had fallen victim to drugs. Reminicient of her own mother’s stint in prison, Barnett was motivated to help this woman gain back her freedom. It was a misison that would change her life, and she would eventually work pro bono to free seven people who had been harshly sentenced under a system full of unfairness.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I’m always drawn to a good memoir – there’s something to say about hearing someone’s story through their own words.

This year, books about social justice and antiracism were at the top of my TBR. I still have a lot of reading to do in this particular sub-genre, but I’ve really enjoyed delving into white privilege, systemic racism, and how to be a better ally to the Black community.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Almost every single person alive in the world on that day can answer that question in minute detail. It’s a day that will live on in infamy. Nothing will erase the images of those towers falling from my memory, nor the way the world felt like it just stopped moving entirely. This oral history book details every part of that day – from the only human not on Earth that day to the President to the incredibly selfless heroes who risked their lives in order to try and save another’s.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

As always, I’m here for the recommendations and new accounts to follow!!

For those of you interested, below are all the books I read in the past year, broke down into categories to make them a little easier to see at a glance. I’ve included a quick synopsis and if you click on the title, it’ll take you to my original post!

Memoir

  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller
    • Such a powerful memoir that all parents should read…not only if you have a daughter, but also if you have a son!
  • Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
    • Whoa! Whaaat?! I can’t imagine the emotional roller coaster this must have been for Shapiro. I think my jaw was on the ground the whole time I was reading it!
  • In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
    • I constantly catch myself thinking back to this incredible memoir about a queer relationship that was also abusive…something that doesn’t seem to be talked about. Not only was the story powerful, but the set up of the book was so incredibly raw and unique.
  • Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur
    • This wasn’t my favorite memoir but it was incredibly upsetting to think of a mother putting her daughter in this impossible situation. I kept thinking how screwed up some families can be!
  • All That You Leave Behind by Erin Lee Carr
    • I loved Carr’s incredibly close relationship with her father, and found his advice so relevant to all people. I wasn’t super enamored by the story though and find it a little on the boring side.
  • Me by Elton John
    • I must admit: I am a huge fan of Elton John and his memoir did not disappoint. He spills all the juicy gossip on some big names and I was in awe of his amazing career and, more importantly, his advocacy of AIDS awareness and funding.
  • Open Book by Jessica Simpson
    • I was surprised to see that Simpson isn’t quite so ditzy as she’s always portrayed to be. This was smart and engaging and she’s built one heck of an empire. I also loved her vulnerability in sharing about her alcohol addiction.
  • From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke
    • I could smell the food simmering on the stove as I read this book! I was on the streets of Italy. It’as an incredibly descriptive memoir and the ultimate love story. I really, really loved this story!
  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
    • I was a little angry reading this one and more than likely it’s because it hit closer to home than I’d like to admit. Therefore, I felt dismissive of a lot of Vance’s claims, but I suppose it’s an important book if you’re not familiar with the destitution of the middle of the country.
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
    • Admittedly, this one doesn’t sound like it’d be that interesting if you’re not a scientist or have a great love of trees…but Jahren is an incredible story and she wrote a book that was fascinating and that taught me so much! This was definitely a surprise read and I’m so glad it made its way into my world!
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle
    • Like all of Doyle’s books, I was immediately sucked in. But after finishing it and sitting with it for awhile, I realize it’s really not that revolutionary to what she’s already said, and it honestly felt like recycled blog posts.
  • The Book of Rosy: A Mother’s Story of Separation at the Border by Rosayra Pablo Cruz & Julie Schwietert Collazo
    • This has all the makings of being an incredible story, but it definitely fell short for me. While it’s a compelling read, the second half turned to a whole new voice, and while equalling compelling, the two didn’t mash into a story that impacted me beyond reading the last page.
  • Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz
    • Díaz is open and honest and vulnerable – so much so that I almost felt like I was feeling her pain myself. It’s amazing to me the resiliency so many people seem to have to make it out of less-than-ideal childhoods and then become such inspirations just from sharing their story.
  • The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper
    • What surprised me the most about this book was the open discrimination an emergency doctor who is Black still has to deal with. Wouldn’t you think if your life is on the line, the color of the skin of the doctor trying to help you would be the least of your concerns? Harper gives the reader and interesting insight into what it’s like to work in the highly emotional and fast-paced environment of an ER.
  • Stray by Stephanie Danler
    • I’m blaming coronavirus brain for this, but I don’t remember a single thing about this story. It’s highly recommended by others, so search out other reviews!!
  • Coreography by Corey Feldman
    • As a child of the 80s, I liked the pop culture references throughout this one. The strange world of Hollywood has become quite fascinating to me this year, and Feldman has been one of the earliest whistleblowers about what’s really going on.
  • Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey
    • I’m sorry to say (and I’m totally in the minority here) but this felt more like a first draft than an actual book. I just wanted more from this book, and I don’t mean that in a way that dismisses how incredibly difficult this must have been for Trethewey to have to write. I can’t necessarily put a finger on where this one fell short for me, but I felt like there were missing pages at the end of the story…like it wasn’t quite finished with its own story.

Nonfiction

  • The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
    • If you like random facts that will totally blow your mind, this is the book for you! I was absolutely intrigued with this book and found myself reading it outloud to my kids too! I have a new appreciation for the work my body does every single second of the day…stuff that I can’t even wrap my nonscientific brain around!
  • So You Want to Start a Podcast: Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Story, and Building a Community That Will Listen by Kristen Meinzer
    • For a nanosecond, I thought a podcast would be fun, but then I realized that it’s way too much technology for me. Reading this book is the closest I’ll ever get…and I’m ok with that! (However, if you’re interested in starting one for yourself, this would be an amazing resource!)
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
    • Literally everyone raves about this book and I’m not sure what I missed. Did it have some interesting information about the library system? Yes. Was it worth my time? The jury is still out.
  • Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily & Amelia Nagoski
    • I wanted so much more from this book, but the information is recycled and stuff I’ve already tried since I’ve been trying to figure out my fatigue for years now!
  • The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World by Jeff Goodell
    • Holy cow! This book was so good! It definitely paints a bleak picture of our future due to global warming, but Goodell totally wrote this in an interesting and relatable way. It’s been out for a few years so I’m not sure about the accuracy to date, but even for someone not even remotely interested in environmental issues, this book held my attention!
  • Running With Sherman by Christopher McDougall
    • I love the stories McDougall writes and reading about Sherman was the ultimate feel-good experience! Timed perfectly to read during coronavirus lockdown when the world felt dark and bleak, this book gave me all the feels – the most important ones being hope and happiness!
  • Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison
    • This was my first experience with Jamison and I took the audiobook route (in which she narrorates) and I enjoyed every minute of this experience. More journalistic than pure memoir, Jamison has some incredible insights and she definitely held my attention! I’m looking forward to her other works.
  • The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
    • Lindy West is my hero! Another book I listened to on audio, I was engaged and totally invested. Even though West is more feminist than I am, she is relatable and funny and truthful! I love everything she writes!
  • Decoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising Sons by Cara Natterson
    • Admittedly, I probably would have gotten more out of this book if my son were younger, but the information in this book was old news to me or no longer relevant. If you’ve got young boys, I think it would be worth checking out.
  • Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
    • An incredibly deep and honest look at grief (loss of a mother) that I can (unfortunately) totally relate to.
  • Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow
    • My brain cannot wrap around the intense web of atrocities presented in this book. Incredibly astounding, this is a must read if you are remotely interested in the Harvey Weinstein case, the #metoo movement, or the absurd ways that Hollywood completely abuses their power.
  • Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill
    • If you are a conspiratist in the slightest way, this book will blow your mind. It delves into MK Ultra and explores the rise of Charles Manson…let’s just say, he may not have been who you thought he was.
  • The Second Life of Tiger Woods by Michael Bamberger
    • I love golf, and I love Tiger Woods, and I love a good comeback story more than anything…but this wasn’t that. Tiger Woods had no part of this biography so it was very straightforward without a lot of nuance and I was so disappointed.
  • Craigslist Confessional: A Collection of Secrets from Anonymous Strangers by Helena Dea Bala
    • This one fell super short of my expectations. WIth everyone else (seemingly) raving about it, I had high hopes, but I found the stories to be too similar and repetitive.
  • Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America by Conor Dougherty
    • Add a housing crisis to the list of things that are wrong with America. But seriously, it was a problem before coronavirus hit and with the massive job loss we’re currently experiencing, I can only imagine that this book is just a precursor of what’s to come.
  • The Aftergrief: Finding Your Way Along the Long Arc of Loss by Hope Edelman
    • Books about grief are important to me (I lost my mama seven years ago), and Edelman has proven herself to be an expert in the field.
  • I’m So Effing Tired: A Proven Plan to Beat Burnout, Boost Your Energy, and Reclaim Your Life by Amy Shah
    • I don’t know a lot about intermittant fasting, so I was super curious about this one (it won’t be released until March 2021). I’m not sure I want to tackle a new way of eating right before the holiday season, but I may play around a little bit with it. If it increases my energy (as Shah claims it will – among other benefits), it’d be worth it!

Antiracist

  • How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
    • Jones’ essays are an examination of what it means to be a young gay Black man living in the South and as a poet, Jones has a way with words that are powerful, eloquent, and impactful. He ruminates on national headline stories and dissects his difficult relationships with his mother and grandmother. I loved Jones’ honesty and vulnerability. (This one is excellent on audio!)
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
    • This is a must read, especially if you’re a white and don’t believe you’re racist and that you don’t perpetuate racist stereotypes and behaviors. It’s uncomfortable – in a good way – and helped me see where some of my blindspots are. I want to keep reading books that help open my eyes and continue to make me a better person. (The audiobook is great, but the book is good to have as well because the contents are presented in a workbook format.)
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
    • As the elections still hang in the balance with the closest race in history, it’s apparent that white people still have a lot of work to do in examining the ways they benefit from white privilege and how they participate in conversations about race. While there has been some criticism about this book because the author is a white woman, I believe it opens up the conversation nicely and may be an easy entry for white people unaware of their blind spots. It certainly shouldn’t be the ONLY book you add to your antiracist reading, but I definitely think it’s worth your time.
  • My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education by Jennine Capó Crucet
    • This is a collection of essays that address the “American Dream” and the whiteness that permeates our society. As a first generation college graduate, Crucet was pushed by her parents to get an education and to excel, but she explores what that means within the context of our nation’s complicity in furthering the white narrative while largely disregarding the immigrant and people of color.
  • How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
    • There isn’t a single doubt in my mind that every single person should read this book. Not just white people, but all races, all cultures, all of humanity. It’s important and it’s educational and it could really be the spark the world needs for change for the betterment of humankind. At the very least, this should be a part of every single high school curriculum across the United States.
  • Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
    • For me, this one wasn’t as assessable as How To Be An Antiracist. The information is dense and long and almost reads more like a history textbook. This is not to say there isn’t value in picking this one up; it’s to let you know that the right frame of mind would be helpful in dissecting the information. I learned A LOT…and I’m glad I read it.
  • A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett
    • I absolutely adored this book. Barnett’s ultimate belief in humanity is inspiring and I know the world is a better place because of her commitment to reversing unfair and harsh drug sentences for so many people currently sitting in prison for life. I’m very interested to see what Barnett does next because she just seems destined to be a world changer!

Addiction

  • Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol by Holly Whitaker
    • This memoir is about a women who had an addiction to alcohol (as well as other things) and makes the courageous decision to stop drinking. AA wasn’t the plan for her, and through her own experience she created a company, Tempest, that helps women stop drinking. While I am not an alcoholic, this book still gave relevant and interesting information regarding drinking and our culture’s obsession with alcohol. I really enjoyed the straight-forward, no-holds-bar way that Whitaker presents her personal story and the facts surrounding addiction.
  • Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls: A Memoir of Women, Addiction, and Love by Nina Renata Aron
    • While focused on drug and alcohol addiction, this book also tackles the complicated topic of codependency which feels relevant to lots of people whether they love a person struggling with addiction or not. There is also a rich history about the founding and beliefs of AA and Al-Anon which I enjoyed, but not nearly as much as I did Aron’s personal reflections.
  • Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene Zimmerman
    • Zimmerman’s ex-husband died of a drug overdose and in this book, she examines some of the problematic issues within the law profession that can lead lawyers down the path of addiction. It’s a sad story and it introduced me to things I’ve never known or thought about regarding the relentless profession of lawyers.

Politics

  • Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College by Jesse Wegman
    • I picked this book up at the perfect time as Colorado (my home state) had this very issue on its ballot this year. Wegman examines the issues behind the Electoral College and presents a case for abolising it. Instead, every single vote cast would count and the candidate with the popular vote would win the election. (As we sit here days past Election Tuesday without an official call for Biden or Trump, I can’t help but realize this particular problem of waiting would be more easily resolved.)
  • Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
    • Like him or hate him, the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016 was unprecedented. A man with no political background, who was a businessman-turned-reality-tv-star had won the highest position in America. It became clear very quickly that our country and our politics are intensely divided and Klein does an incredible job of dissecting how we got here. This book totally held my attention and I learned a lot. Clearly, our division is not over yet, but I sure hope we can find a way to bridge the gap sooner than later – for the betterment of us all!

Whew! That was quite the list…thanks for hanging with me this long!

If you’re interested in checking out other Nonfiction November posts, you can find them here:

19 thoughts on “Nonfiction November: Best Nonfiction Books of 2020

  1. What an impressive nonfiction year you had! I love memoir too. I enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy…at the time I was teaching at a Title 1 school and I could see a few interesting parallels between his culture and my school population. Library Book was a DNF for me. Only Plane was an extremely emotional read! Inheritance was interesting because my hubs has searched ancestry dna for his bio father. There are several on your list that I want to add to my TBR. Here’s my post for week 1 https://readingladies.com/2020/11/02/my-year-in-nonfiction-2020-nonficnov/

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  2. When you put it like this–Required Reading for Humankind–I must add these two books to my list! 🙂 I’ve been reading tons of social justice and antiracism books this year too. I just finished How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning. I’m reading White Fragility now. Trying to soak it all in. I’ll also add The Body by Bill Bryson too from your list. (And if I can get up the energy, I’d also like to add Why We’re Polarized, but for now, I’m worn out.) Great suggestions! Thanks for this fantastic list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I especially enjoyed reading Why We’re Polarized right before the election…it’s quite interesting how we find ourselves here. I’d love to find a companion book that helps us understand where to go from here and how to get to a more unified place.

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