From Category: Nonfiction
By Johann Hari. This meticulously researched history book reads like a thriller, with vivid characters and political intrigue. British journalist Hari unearths the junk science and racist panic behind the criminalization of addictive substances, exposes the brutality of American prisons, and profiles communities from Vancouver to Portugal where legalization is working. His takeaway findings: Drugs don't cause addiction, trauma and isolation do. Prescribing maintenance doses to addicts in safe medical settings not only cuts crime dramatically, it even reduces addiction over the long term.
This extraordinary collection of personal essays by inmates of a maximum-security women's prison in Connecticut was edited by bestselling novelist Wally Lamb, who teaches a writing class there. Poignant, humorous, lively and unique, these narratives challenge us to reform a system that treats the authors as less than human.
By Amanda Leduc. A hybrid of memoir and literary criticism, this important and engaging book challenges us, as writers, readers, and myth-makers, to resist the habitual misuse of disability as a symbol of tragedy or villainy. Canadian novelist Leduc interweaves her thesis with personal memories of growing up with cerebral palsy and interviews with modern disability activists.
By Charles M. Blow. The New York Times op-ed columnist's gorgeously written and introspective memoir is a case study in overcoming patriarchy and healing from abuse. Brought up in rural Louisiana by a devoted but stern and overworked single mother and their extended family, young Charles yearned for more tenderness and attention than a boy was supposed to need. An older male cousin preyed on his isolation, giving him a new secret to add to his fears of being not-quite-straight in a culture where this was taboo. Channeling his need for connection into school achievement and community leadership, Blow found himself on both the giving and the receiving end of violent hyper-masculinity as a fraternity brother. In the end, he recognized that self-acceptance, not repression, was the best way to become an honorable man. Blow writes like a poet, in witty, image-rich, sensitive lines that flow like a mighty river.
This book by a journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer inspired the hit movie and TV series. The Permian Panthers' season-long battle to reach the 1988 state high school football championships becomes a microcosm of racial and economic tensions in a West Texas town where the boom-and-bust of oil wealth has left many without a clear vision for their future.
This outstanding memoir, written as a graphic novel, intertwines the author's coming of age as a lesbian with her memories of her brilliant, enigmatic, repressed father, who died in an accident that she suspects was suicide. Drawing parallels to sources as diverse as Joyce, Colette, Proust, classical mythology, and The Wind in the Willows, she shows how their shared love of literature substituted for the intimacy they could never express in more personal terms. Bechdel is the author of the long-running "Dykes to Watch Out For" comic strip.
By Maia Kobabe. Playful, emotionally vulnerable, and even cozy, this graphic narrative is a coming-of-age memoir centered on Kobabe's discovery of eir nonbinary and asexual identity. Gentle, accessible artwork with a sophisticated color palette gives the story an intimate feel, as if a friend or family member was sharing confidences with you. As well as being entertaining, this book is a good educational resource for teens and adult allies as well as queer folks looking to understand themselves.
Personal and philosophical meditations on the paradoxes of help—why we offer it, why we need it, and what makes it effective (or not). A former Episcopal priest and English teacher, Keizer has a sparkling aphoristic prose style worthy of G.K. Chesterton, but also a winsome humility that prefers a balance of opposites rather than a neat solution. Everyone should read this book.
By Jarrett Krosoczka. This graphic narrative memoir intertwines the author's tumultuous relationship with his heroin-addicted mother and his discovery of his vocation as a professional cartoonist. The result is a lovingly detailed scrapbook of working-class family life in Worcester, MA, with sepia-tinted artwork supplemented by original documents and childhood drawings. Krosoczka was raised by his maternal grandparents, who come across as well-rounded and beloved characters, often gruff and no stranger to alcohol indulgence, but with steady devotion and an unglamorous and patient work ethic that he learns to emulate. Krosoczka's popular graphic novels for kids include the Lunch Lady and Star Wars: Jedi Academy series.
By Roxane Gay. In this starkly honest and courageous memoir, the bestselling fiction writer and feminist commentator shares her complex and ongoing story of childhood trauma, eating disorders, and navigating prejudice against fat bodies. After being gang-raped at age 12, Gay self-medicated her emotional pain with food and became obese as armor against the world. She offers no easy answers or tales of miracle diets, but rather something more valuable: a role model for learning to cherish and nourish yourself in a genuine way despite society's cruelty toward "unruly" bodies.
When her first daughter was born deaf, memories of feeling unheard by her own mother led Rosner to trace the history of deafness in her family and imagine how love might bridge the communications gap between parents and children. This beautifully constructed memoir from Feminist Press touches on themes of assimilation, identity formation, and healing. Interwoven with Rosner's tender and humorous memories of her children's early years are vivid fictionalized scenes of her Jewish immigrant ancestors, whom she imagines wrestling with the same challenges in a very different cultural setting. The technology and politics of deafness may keep changing, this book suggests, but the need to connect with the ones we love is universal.
This insightful, compassionate memoir tells of growing up within a breakaway fundamentalist Mormon sect that considered plural marriage a holy obligation. A theology of eternal family bonds, combined with the need to hide from persecution, drew her father's many wives and children closer together but also stifled their self-development. Amid the upheaval of social roles in the 1960s and '70s, the author strives to discover her own connection to God without rejecting her people. Personal narrative is well-balanced with historical background. First written in 1984, this book was reissued in 2009 by Texas Tech University Press.
By Joseph Osmundson. This daring flash memoir, which can also be classified as a prose-poem collection, looks from multiple angles at the arc of an emotionally abusive relationship between the white author and his African-American ex-lover. Like a mosaic of broken mirror fragments, each sliver of memory reflects larger themes of exclusion, power exchange, personal and collective trauma, and the nature of intimacy, raising as many questions as it answers.
Part memoir, part religious history, this compelling, controversial book by a Harvard-educated sociologist describes the fallout from her recovered memories of sexual abuse by her father, a leading Mormon scholar. Her anger is leavened by compassion as she delves into the complicity of a secretive church culture in creating and shielding abusers with split personalities. Though the topic is a dark one, readers who accompany Beck on her healing journey will be rewarded with her account of her strengthened connection to God's love and her own inner truth.
Bold, original study of the invention of courtly love and its echoes in high and low culture through the centuries. Themes include the tension between romance and marriage, romantic ecstasy as substitute for religion, and the craving for union with the beloved as a disguised longing for self-annihilation. Nonscholars may skim some of the historical passages, but poets and fiction writers alike will benefit from reexamining the origins and implications of the romantic values we take for granted.
In this profound, witty memoir of spiritual transformation, an intense, high-achieving, activist intellectual goes to Thailand to research the unequal status of women in Buddhist religious life, but unexpectedly finds inner peace during her stint as a member of an ascetic order of nuns. The elegantly designed book pairs her current reminiscences with excerpts from her journals, side by side on the page like a Talmudic commentary.
There's more to this teen memoir than meets the eye. Beautiful, blonde Cheryl has a wise old head on her shoulders, which helps her survive encounters with all sorts of human predators as she tenaciously builds a career as a fashion model in New York City. She's also a sharp, funny writer.
This anthology of oral histories by senior citizens in British Columbia, Canada, paints a collective portrait of resourceful working-class women who survived poverty, sexism, and the failure of their illusions about marriage and family security.
By Darnell L. Moore. This passionate, eye-opening memoir chronicles the author's coming of age as a black gay man in Camden, NJ, his activism with the Movement for Black Lives, and his maturing understanding of his parents' troubled marriage. Moore places his personal story in the context of structural oppression in Camden's history, and shows the extraordinary resilience and devotion of black families under pressure.
This selection of autobiographical and critical essays by an award-winning poet eloquently explores how the poetic imagination fruitfully problematizes the self, potentially liberating us from fixed identities based on race, class, sexual orientation and personal history.
This compendium of brief, lively biographical sketches of 19th and 20th century American innovators showcases the unsung contributions of their same-sex partners. In addition to well-known duos like Stein and Toklas, the book gives "the rest of the story" for luminaries such as the president of Bryn Mawr and the founder of the field of interior design. Some of the profiles could have benefited from more discussion of how the unconventional relationship passed muster in an era when homosexuality was not only stigmatized but illegal. Overall, the anthology is an entertaining and upbeat read that whets the appetite for reading longer biographies of these notable figures.
By Toni Morrison. This slim volume of three essays is adapted from lectures that the celebrated novelist delivered at Harvard in 1990. She asks an incisive question that will turn your traditional high school and college reading material on its head: how was the presence of a subjugated Black population a necessary foil for the development of an American literary identity of innocence, rugged individualism, and white masculinity? Rather than debating whether Twain and Hemingway should be "cancelled", so to speak, Morrison is more interested in what all texts can tell us about whiteness as a self-concept. In that way, even (or especially) problematic representation of Black characters is valuable to illuminate occluded power relations, for a key feature of whiteness is that it positions itself as universal, as the absence of race.
This Naxos Audiobooks abridgment dramatizes key episodes in the Roman Republic's transition to dictatorship, with lessons about pride, honor, and worldly vanity that are still relevant today. Plutarch pioneered the genre of biography in the West with his lives of Greek and Roman leaders.
This memoir of mental illness stands out for its lyricism, humility, tenderness, and deeply sane sense of humor about how the author and his family have romanticized their affliction. Lovelace is a poet and the son of a notable evangelical theologian. Both of his parents are bipolar, as are the author and his brother. With refreshing honesty, he traces mania's connection to spiritual and artistic creativity, yet concludes that the private ecstasies of madness lead to incoherence, not a deeper truth.
This witty and eye-opening memoir describes one person's experience of being transgender. James Finney Boylan was a published novelist and English professor who had tried all his life to suppress his feeling that he was female inside. Finally, at age 40, he began the process of transition, leading to an upheaval and rearrangement of his family life, depicted here in anecdotes both comical and sad. Some will feel that the real hero of the tale is the author's wife, who lovingly supported Boylan's transition despite her pain and anger at losing the man she married. Boylan's hilarious narrative voice is the book's chief strength; its weakness is an absence of in-depth reflection on where our ideas of "male" and "female" identity come from.
By Don Mitchell. In this compelling hybrid memoir and true-crime account, Mitchell recounts how the cold-case murder of his friend Jane Britton, a fellow graduate student in the Harvard anthropology department, was solved after 49 years. Shibai, a Japanese word for a stage play, also means "gaslighting" or "bullshit" in the slang of Mitchell's native Hawai'i. As an anthropologist among the Nagovisi people of Bougainville, Mitchell learned early that truth is always filtered through the stories we tell ourselves and the roles in which our culture casts us. When Becky Cooper, a journalist for the New Yorker, contacts him for a book she is writing about Jane's case, he discovers, in retelling the story to a stranger, that his long-held assumptions about the murder don't hold up. With him, the reader relives the Kafka-esque terror of being suspected by the police, the frustration when the investigation is stonewalled or misled by people he once loved, and the sorrow and relief of finally filling in the gaps about Jane's last moments. The resulting saga is a profound and subtle meditation on memory, aging, and our responsibility to the dead. Like a shadow that provides contrast in a photograph, Jane's unlived life stands as a counterpart to Mitchell's honest and self-aware journey through the milestones of his 77 years, from the triumphs and disappointments of his academic career to his deep relationship with the Hawaiian landscape and people.
By Ijeoma Oluo. This manual on contemporary race relations by an up-and-coming black woman journalist should be required reading in high schools and colleges, and is also invaluable for writers to recognize prejudiced tropes in their characters and plots. Using personal anecdotes and examples from everyday life, Oluo liberates essential concepts like privilege, structural racism, and intersectionality from the academic jargon and toxic call-out culture where conversations about racism often get stuck. She neither condescends to, nor coddles the reader, showing vulnerability with stories about her family's experiences with poverty and racism, while maintaining strength and clarity in her demands for justice. Reading this book will make you feel like you've made a new friend who respects you enough to give you constructive criticism.
Provocative, elegant memoir explores gay male desire, the mythic allure of doomed love, and the creative tensions of a life divided between incompatible worlds. Mendelsohn is a classics professor at Princeton, and some of his most interesting reflections involve the application of Greek myths to modern homosexual culture, and the contrast with his family-oriented Jewish heritage.
Engaging history of cultural and philosophical prescriptions for a happy life, which have differed widely from one era to the next. Hecht suggests that historical perspective itself brings happiness by giving us self-awareness and the ability to try new options outside our culture's standards of value. The wit and geniality she displayed in her prizewinning poetry collection The Next Ancient World lend credibility to her advice on the good life (or rather, lives).
This hard-hitting memoir by a young veteran of the 2003 Iraq war portrays a failed system of military leadership that exposed infantrymen to pointless risks as their mission became increasingly unclear. Crawford joined the Florida National Guard before 9/11 for the tuition benefits, then found himself unexpectedly shipped to Kuwait. Scarcity of men and materials meant that his unit's tour of duty was continually being extended, yet they were not given the tools to do the job. Crawford's writing captures the brusque camaraderie and profanity-laced talk of soldiers, while his literary prose brings these harsh scenes to life.
Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, & Max King Cap, eds. An essential anthology of poetics and politics in the 21st century, this essay collection from Fence Books grew out of Rankine's "Open Letter" blog that solicited personal meditations on race and the creative imagination. Contributors include poets Francisco Aragón, Dan Beachy-Quick, Jericho Brown, Dawn Lundy Martin, Danielle Pafunda, Evie Shockley, Ronaldo V. Wilson, and many more, plus contemporary artwork selected by Max King Cap. The writers span a variety of ethnic backgrounds, points of view, and aesthetics, united by honest self-examination and political insightfulness.
No one understands the American alpha male like Wolfe, who brings his boisterous journalistic voice to the story of the first astronauts. Published in 1979, this book has aged well, and reads now as a commentary on the brevity of fame as well as an incomparable glimpse into the Cold War zeitgeist.
By Sarah Kornfeld. A darkly humorous cautionary tale for the post-truth era, this work of narrative nonfiction recounts Kornfeld's quest to comprehend the life and death of her former lover and mentor, renowned Romanian theatre director Alexandru Darie. Passionate and enigmatic, Darie was generous with his attention but secretive about the alcohol abuse and political trauma that fatally affected his health. Visiting Romania shortly after his death in 2019, Kornfeld falls under the sway of a volatile young woman who claims to have been his girlfriend. The onset of COVID in early 2020 adds another layer of distance and mystification to their correspondence, as Kornfeld, back in America, becomes enmeshed in elaborate online negotiations to produce a book and TV series about Darie. When the whole enterprise is revealed to be a hoax, Kornfeld must face how grief led her to search for answers where there were none—a parallel to her country's plunge into simplistic conspiracy theories and quick-fix politics.
By Tiffany Jewell. This social justice handbook for middle-grade and young adult readers offers tools for understanding your identity and social position, unlearning myths of American history, affirming yourself in a prejudiced world, and using your privileges to disrupt racism. Upbeat, energetic illustrations by Aurelia Durand create a mood of hope and momentum for dealing with tough truths. Jewell's background in Montessori education is reflected in her trusting and empowering young people to make mature moral choices.
Contributors to this profound and heartfelt anthology of spiritual memoirs include Mark Doty, Andrew Holleran, Alfred Corn, Fenton Johnson, and Lev Raphael. The authors touch on such topics as the connection between spiritual and erotic ecstasy, family secrets and reconciliations, and AIDS as a modern crucible of faith.