Tag Archives: nonfiction

Best of 2020: Nonfiction Books

It’s time to talk about the things we loved this year! This was not a huge year of TV for me so my friends at Marvelous Geeks and Nerdy Girl Notes teamed up to do a a couple podcast episodes together instead of writing our own lists! You can list to us talk about our favorite performances, characters, and platonic relationships in part one and our favorite romantic relationships and episodes (plus a quick bonus discussion on the shows that made us happiest this year) in part two. It was a lot of fun to collaborate with both of them for the first time in this format and I hope you’ll go listen if you’re mostly here for TV content and let us know your thoughts! And for more year end content, be sure to check out the rest of the great content at Marvelous Geeks.

I may have watched much less TV than usual this year but it was a terrific year for books. I have no explanation for why my brain couldn’t focus on a 25-minute episode of TV but could sit down and read a book but it’s 2020 and we had to roll with the things we could enjoy wherever possible. This is the first of four book lists and potentially a couple other lists of things I loved depending on time so if nonfiction isn’t your favorite, stay tuned for other things you may enjoy more.

As I’ve mentioned in previous years, my academic area of interest was social psychology and sociology and I’m a big fan of understanding systems and the way things operate. I love the way it allows me to get a better understanding of the world around me and to incorporate new knowledge into a broader and more thorough mental image of society and all that entails. Which is terrific for me, there are a lot of books designed to talk about exactly those things. However, it does mean that I choose things on the heavier side or things that are likely to make me mad while I’m reading them because we live in a society that has deeply rooted systemic problems. I know these books aren’t going to be the kind of reading that everyone wants to do in their limited free time but if the mood strikes for one, they can be so rewarding. They can take a lot out of you and make you examine your own thought patterns or weaker areas (which is not always the most comfortable) but they can also help make you better to your fellow humans and more determined to build a society that works for everyone, which is a reward I can always get behind.

1. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall This is the nonfiction book I have thought about more than any other since I read it in April because it shifted my framing of feminism and what it should be. It’s a book I want everyone to read and learn from and then take the ideas found within and remake the world. In the introduction, Kendall writes “For a movement that’s meant to represent all women, it often centers on those who already have most of their needs met” and she’s right, yet that’s not what our conversations look like. It’s a dichotomy that had never fully occurred to me before because I have been privileged enough that it’s never needed to and I’m grateful it exposed that gap in my thinking and understanding of the world. It challenges each of us to really examine what we can do to truly show up and consider the needs of all women in all areas of life, from housing and education access to the environment, because they are all feminist issues. What would it look like to build a world that was actually concerned with meeting the needs of the most marginalized and trusting in the work those communities are already doing to support themselves? It’s an exciting thought and one I look forward to keep with me as I continue to learn and grow. (Add to Goodreads)

2. How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong I have no idea how I discovered this book but I am so grateful that I did. In a year with a lot of physical isolation, this book’s focus on how we build communities within our lives and how we live out those connections spoke so deeply to me. It was the same feeling I got while reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, that idea of finding a way to describe the values you hold most dear but didn’t have the words to vocalize. I love the intentionality behind Birdsong’s writing and life and the excitement in building something outside the model we’ve been given all our lives. There is joy and reflection and a deep sense of commitment to the work of nurturing the connections in our lives. It is beautiful and inspiring and a balm for my soul this year and I hope more people discover this book and get as much from it as I did. (Add to Goodreads)

3. March trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell I can struggle with graphic novels, my brain hasn’t quite figured out how to absorb both the words and the pictures and use them together to tell a story. That being said, I think the choice to tell John Lewis’s story in this way was a smart one. The juxtaposition that was possible between his fight in the civil rights movement and President Obama’s inauguration was extremely powerful and there are a couple jumps between time periods that took my breath away. It also allowed readers to experience the violence and hatred of the time in a more visceral way than just words on a page would have fully conveyed. It makes it a tough trilogy to get through but it’s no less worthwhile for it. You will be moved and feel such deep admiration for this man who fought so strongly, not just on the front lines in the South during Jim Crow but continued that fight in Congress until his death. He was a remarkable man and we are all better off because of him.  (Add to Goodreads)

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Best of 2019: Nonfiction Books

I love nonfiction and seem to read a little more of it each year. I love the new ideas and new perspectives it gives me and the chance to learn about something I may have been less aware of. That said, I definitely have a strong preference for feminist nonfiction as you will see below. It ties into what I loved learning about most in school and getting a variety of opinions and understandings feels critical to me in order to be more comprehensive and inclusive with my own feminism. Not all of these books are recent but many have come out in the past couple years and while some of the topics discussed overlap, there is so much to gain by reading more than one.

As always, I want to hear your thoughts! Do you enjoy nonfiction? What did you read and love this year? What books should I add to my list to read next year?

1. Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly This was so extremely right up my alley and sure enough, I loved it. This book was often rage-inducing to read as it highlights all the ways our anger has traditionally been suppressed but also affirming in its understanding of anger as a tool for change, much like Rebecca Traister’s “Good and Mad” and Brittney Cooper’s “Eloquent Rage” and I strongly recommend that you read all three. This book in particular delves into the sociological forces that influence the expression of women’s anger. There is a lot of discussion of how emotion management (both our own emotions and those of the people around us) is tied to gender roles and the role violation that occurs when women are outwardly angry that is pivotal to understanding how this suppression occurs and how those role violations intersect with other aspects of our identity to create a multifaceted societal response. But it reminds us that our anger has power. Our anger is the reclamation of voices that many would prefer to stay silent and that demands a better world. We can use it as fuel when it is turned outward to push for change and there is strength to be found there, alongside others who have fought, are fighting, and will continue to fight. 

2. Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper In a similar vein to Traister’s “Good and Mad” and Chemaly’s “Rage Becomes Her”, Dr. Cooper reminds us of the virtues of anger and the importance of not settling for what’s been given to us. She writes exclusively about Black female anger and is a much needed voice in this area. The ways in which the anger of Black women is policed differs from the anger of white women and we cannot truly proceed and move forward until we acknowledge that along with the ways white women have been accomplices to this policing. It’s a phenomenal collection of essays that blend the personal and academic to create an incisive and powerful whole that ends in a beautiful benediction that’s stayed with me since reading this early in the year. “May you have joy. May you have gut-busting belly laughter every day. May you ask more and better questions. May your curiosity be unceasing. May your rage be a force for good.”

3. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde How many books, essays, and other internet articles have included Lorde’s quote about anger (“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being.”) in some form? This collection of essays is a classic and for good reason. Lorde’s writing is stunning and powerful as she discusses the way her particular intersections of gender, race, and sexuality have touched her life and how to build a world where we can recognize and celebrate both our similarities and our differences instead of trying to move closer to the idea of a universal experience that can never exist. It’s about sitting with ourselves and our feelings, the good and the bad and learning how to use those feelings and what we can learn from them to create something better. It’s a stunning book that I really can’t recommend enough. 

4. Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom I love books that make me feel challenged to expand my thinking and that’s exactly what this essay collection did for me. It pushed me to think deeper about socioeconomic status and how capitalism works with and exploits existing hierarchies of race and gender. It unapologetically centers black women in its analysis and asks its readers to consider all the ways we and society have failed to do the same. It is an incredibly strong collection that introduced me to a writer I had been missing out on and I’m excited to dive into her other work. 

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Best of 2018: Non-fiction Books

It’s that time of year again! I always love taking December to reflect on the things I’ve loved most throughout the year and sharing them with you all. It’s an excellent way for me to see what I needed and connected with in the past year and use that knowledge to better understand myself and my growth and it gives you something to look back on in the future and remember the person you were. As always, these are just the things that stuck out to me the most. It’s a blend of what I thought was exceptional and things that resonated with me. This year, I read a lot more books than usual and watched a little less TV, so I’m doing more book posts and fewer TV posts. My book lists will go up on Sundays, TV lists on Thursdays and I hope you’ll join me in sharing some of your own favorites from the year – I’m always looking for recommendations.

It was a fantastic year of nonfiction for me. I definitely have strong preferences on the types of books I’m likely to pick up – typically memoirs/biographies or anything that examines societal systems – and that shows in this list. I loved reading about so many incredible women, some familiar and some unfamiliar to me, and am excited to continue that trend in 2019.

1. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor Regardless of your interest in the law or Supreme Court, you should read this memoir. I didn’t know anything about Justice Sotomayor before reading this and now I’m hoping she writes a follow up after she retires (which will hopefully not be for many years). I love her measured but still approachable writing style, it suits someone in her position and with her predisposition to look at systems and the world holistically. I love the sense of community that fills this book, from her biological family to the extended network of people she has come to know and count as her own. We see the people who helped shape her and the value she places in human connection. Her comfort with complexities and contradictions in people and understanding that success and mistakes need not be exclusive make her an extraordinary judge and seemingly a terrific person to know and have in your corner. It is a beautiful look at an extraordinary life that has lead to extraordinary achievement.  

2. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister Realistically, I was always going to like this book. Rebecca Traister’s previous book All the Single Ladies was one of my favorite nonfiction books last year and the subject matter of this book immediately appealed to me. Even with high expectations, this book managed to surpass them. It was exactly what I needed to read at this particular moment in time. I am always going to be interested in historical and sociological looks at the construction of culture and the world we’ve built and Traister’s writing consistently draws me in. But I also appreciated the commitment to intersectionality and the impact race makes on the expression and perceived acceptability of anger (and the way it can mitigate anger if you’re closer to power).  Overall, It inspired me and made me feel hopeful for a future in which more women embrace their anger and use it to fuel change. We don’t have a shortage of things to be mad about these days but we do have plenty we can do to use that anger to better ourselves and bring about the future we want, even if we’re not the ones who directly benefit.

3. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine My degree is in social psychology with a focus on gender and sexuality, this book is just about perfectly tailored to my academic interests. So take that as a declaration of all the bias and external knowledge that I brought to my reading of this book. It is smartly researched, easy to follow and understand, and a wonderful look at the complicated ways biology and society contribute to our understanding of gender and upholding of gender roles and rules big and small. Most excitingly to me, she talks about some of the failures of science in the way we research gender. We cannot separate the work we do from the world in which we live. As researchers, we bring our own set of biases to our experiments and reporting, and that is something that is absolutely critical to keep in mind when talking about something like gender that affects the real experiences of people outside of a laboratory setting. It fit so well with my worldview that I can’t be at all objective about its merits but if this is an interest of yours, I would wholeheartedly recommend giving it a try.  

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