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What do you think of when I write "non-fiction book"? Maybe it's comedic essays bound together in a pop-art cover with Tina Fey staring expectantly back at you. It could be the books you'd read in school, meant to teach you about the cosmos, the environment, and history. Or perhaps it's self-help books that promise to make you more beautiful, more happy, and more successful just by willing it into existence. Our list has all of this and more because, honestly, I don't know you or your problems, so I really just took a wild swing at anything I could think might help. After all, these helped me, and I'm a mess.
Ah, the age-old question. It’s not that guys today suck more than they used to, it’s just that they suck in new and inventive ways. Maybe you actually hate men but still happened to be born a heterosexual female. Maybe you don’t hate men at all, but it would be nice if you knew whether that date you went on was actually a date or if somehow you’re still just “talking.” Blythe Roberson’s How To Date Men When You Hate Men takes her signature observational humor and applies it to an actual how-to guide on dating in a post #MeToo world. Thanks, Blythe, for helping us not die alone.
If you still only know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Beyoncé’s “Flawless,” we need to have a talk. Really, not even from her uber-famous “We should all be feminists” TEDx talk? I'm disappointed. This nearly five-year-old essay is only sixty-four pages long, but it delves into sexual politics and the need for ~inclusive~ feminism in the twenty-first century to remind us which cultural norms are, inherently, just gender segregation and that women’s equality uplifts us all. Oh, and once you finish We Should All Be Feminists, which should really take about an hour, do yourself a favor and pick up her full-length novel Americanah, a Barack Obama-approved summer reading pick about two young Nigerians in love who are separated during their move to the West and reunited fifteen years later in a newly-democratic Nigeria.
It would be nice to imagine that we lived in a world where I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ended up on all middle and high school reading lists, but some US schools are really out here teaching that the Trail of Tears was just a really, really long hike, so I’m not going to give credit where credit isn’t due. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir about being sent to live with their grandmother in a small Southern town, where the poor white trash constantly attack them for being black and Maya struggles with the aftermath of an attack by an older man from back in St. Louis when she was only eight years old. It’s not all pain. Maya’s pages seem to breathe with life-giving air whether she’s recounting pain or learning to find joy in a story that might really make its readers better people by the end.
Crown Publishing Group
There is a myriad of comedienne essay books to choose from. Between your Amy Poehlers and your Tina Feys, why choose Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)? For one, the New York Times described Mindy as the next Nora Ephron. Then there are the juicy tidbits about her climb to the top from The Office that will leave the B.J. Novak/Mindy shippers absolutely frothing and pithy throwaway lines about becoming the “funniest paralegal in her law firm” in a former life that will weirdly stick with you for years. Mostly, though, it’s because Mindy’s novel paints a portrait of hope that anyone could benefit from hearing, especially women in artistic fields.
I am shallow. I prefer to read books based on Bella Thorne television shows than books with heroes that don’t resemble myself. I cried just reading the *blurb* for this memoir, a book I’d never choose for myself that I wish I had found sooner. This posthumously published work chronicles Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s life and death in his own words in his journey from medical student to doctor, and from doctor to patient. Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer as a new father, Paul’s delicate exploration of mortality provides a new perspective on life and death from a uniquely qualified point of view.
On a somewhat lighter note, Zadie Smith tackles questions we’ve all had about social media, explaining global warning to our grandchildren, and why libraries are so godd*mn amazing (among many, many other topics) with her signature verve and panache amongst her classic essays “Joy” and “Find Your Beach” and previously unpublished works. Straddling the line between high and low brow art, Zadie’s book blurb describes Feel Free as “literary journalism at its zenith.” We can guarantee you that the road to the top is f-u-n, but you might learn a little bit about yourself on the way.
If you went to a decent high school that wasn’t too involved in overt religious brainwashing, right-wing politics, or common core testing, A People’s History of the United States was probably on your AP United States History syllabus. This time, consider actually reading it. Howard Zinn’s immediately-recognizable book is considered required reading for a reason, and with America in the state that it’s in, knowledge is the only tool we have to bring us out of this horrible pit of darkness we’ve fallen into. Prevent history from repeating itself (Gee, could Al Gore in 2000 predict anything about Bernie Sanders's independent run?) by learning the exhaustive truth of that history in about 700 easy pages. Yeah, it's f*cking long, but the next four years will be even longer if we keep electing Cheetos into public office.
William Morrow Paperbacks
Mandated (or, should we say, “strongly recommended”) reading for all communications majors at UCLA, You Just Don’t Understand is more than an item on an "Intro to Comms 101" reading list. The novel about differences between male and female communication styles may seem like an opportunity for pandering, vaguely sexist generalizations amongst pseudo-science, but the New York Times bestseller was a list-topper for eight months, due in no small part to the fact that Prof. Deborah Tannen knows what she’s talking about. After those eight months, You Just Don’t Understand stayed on the best sellers list for almost four years because of its insightful, easy-to-grasp discussion of genuine conversational differences not just between men and women, but between people at odds ~in general~. Why pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition when you can learn everything you need to know about communication from this ten dollar paperback?
Grand Central Publishing
If you ran in certain circles in 2016 (people that like books, people that think they’re comedians, college students), You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein was virtually inescapable. A People’s Best Book of the Year and a New York Times’ Notable Book of 2016, the stand up comic and Inside Amy Schumer producer’s book of essays is advertised as a book for the outsiders and late bloomers, but its universal appeal kind of proves that we’re all just outsiders and late bloomers at heart. This is #RelatableContent at its finest.
Hill and Wang
This recommendation is functioning off of the assumption that we’ve all already read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Or seen the play. Or, at the very least, watched the movie. Night: A Memoir was written by Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel, and this account of his time in the Nazi death camps won the Nobel Peace Prize. The words “emotionally devastating” are commonly thrown around when describing Elie’s tragedy, but the man who Barack Obama called “the conscience of the world” wrote his story so those of us who are still living could learn. In only 176 pages, it’s hard to imagine any reading Night and leaving unchanged.
Mark Manson describes his Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck as a “counterintuitive approach” to happiness, and describing the hyper-popular ode against positivity is bound to ruffle a few feathers. This method can’t work for ~everybody~, but hearing the massive buzz around Subtle Art and its many disciples make it sounds like it actually might work for everybody. Profane humor, logic, and crass truths pepper a book meant to help us embrace what we’re running from, whether it’s fears of mediocrity or the simple truth that by buying this book you’re kind of admitting to being unhappy, so we can grow up, get past them, and be content in the real world instead of worrying in an invented one.
You can’t talk about essay books without recommending something by the late, great Nora Ephron, who I wholeheartedly (though, probably mistakenly) believe invented the genre. But what, exactly, do you choose to highlight from Nora’s four-decade career? With The Most of Nora Ephron, you get her journalism, her films, her plays, her books, and her essays all in one place, so they only choice you have to make is which of the many, many dogeared pages you’d like to star with today. Now, it’s not *all* of her work — 576 pages couldn’t possibly hold that much greatness — but it’s a nice sampling so you know where to start. The Hometown Buffet of prestige writing.
Voted the Book Least Likely To Get Adapted Into A Movie Or Mini-Series (by me), Marie Kondo’s follow-up to 2014’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up became super popular after Netflix made the KonMari Method into a hit television show — who knew? Take a deep dive into the mind of the most organized woman in the world, and ask yourself what items in your home bring you joy. In our busy, hectic lives, a clean and decluttered living space is rarely at the top of our priority list, but Marie makes it easy to find fun in cleaning up your messes (and, by extension, cleaning up your life).
One more time, louder for the people in the back: I miss the Obamas. I miss Barack singing to Al Green. I miss Michelle reminding us to eat carrots. I miss watching Sasha and Malia grow from vaguely bemused tweens into vaguely bemused adults. But, mostly, I miss having a President that didn’t set the country back about sixty years. Did this just get political? Anyway, Becoming won’t bring the Obamas back into the White House (no matter how many times we beg Michelle to run), but it will offer a deeply personal look into the triumphs and disappointments of the Obama Years through the eyes of America’s role model while offering practical insight and personal empowerment to anyone who’s open to receiving its wisdom.
Princeton University Press
So few people can actually get into Princeton, and a good chunk of the lucky few can’t afford it anyway. Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour, based on Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richard Gott’s insanely popular introductory astronomy course at the top university in the nation, might just be the next best thing to *actually attending* the Ivy League institution. This book has everything: planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, wormholes, time travel, sh*t about Pluto, and pretty pictures. What more could you possibly want? And learning about how much more there is outside of our tiny blue planet will really put things into perspective.
Penguin Publishing Group
While reading memoirs about human atrocities from the past century like the Holocaust or Jim Crow laws, it’s easy to forget that some deeply messed up sh*t is still happening today. Like, there are five genocides happening *right now*. As I’m writing this, Darfuris are dying in Sudan, the Rohingya crisis has officially been deemed an ethnic cleansing, and I *barely* understand what’s going on with the Yazidis, Shiites, and Christians in Iraq and Syria (but it clearly isn’t *good*). Kids are being kept in cages right here in the U.S., and North Korea might literally just kill all of us on a whim any day now. Stuff’s not great. Blaine Harden told the modern-day story of the only known person born inside a North Korean prison camp that’s managed to escape, Shin Dong-hyuk, and his account of life on the inside of the world’s most secretive and sinister country is an eye-opening story of how bad it can get.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nearly sixty years ago, the American environmental movement began with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Sixty years from now, we’ll all be scavenging in a burnt dystopia ravaged by our industrial insistence on supplying single-use plastic straws in coffee shops. Silent Spring’s publication led to a nationwide ban on DDT and inspired the creation of the EPA, but we still have such a long way to go. Like, we’ve been so bad at slowing the effects of climate change, Rachel Carson is turning in her grave. Re-ignite your passion for ~not destroying the planet~ and ~voting for politicians that support environmental protection~ with the book that started it all.
Simon & Schuster
Shonda Rhimes must be doing something right. I can’t think of a better person to look up to as a life-coach/role model than the producer of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. Shonda reveals how saying “yes” changed her life and helped her stop being so afraid to live it. Exploring both her rise to fame and her experiences saying “yes” to life as a mother, friend, hit showrunner, and human person, Year of Yes reminds us that even our heroes don’t have it all together and that you *can* become a bad*ss Shonda Rhimes character IRL — white hat and boat-sized wine glass optional.
Penguin Random House
The newest book on this list, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep was released in mid-2019 to, honestly, not enough fanfare. For the number of people who claim To Kill A Mockingbird as their favorite novel, you’d think this investigation of Harper Lee’s disappearance from public life would have made a bigger splash online with the Twitter-and-Instagram set, but there’s still time for this account of Harper’s failed attempt to write a second novel to go viral. Ironically, Harper seemed to latch onto our national fascination with true crime stories a few decades before the rest of us would catch on, but the story of her never-finished novel is more about the toll that great art can take on its artist and life after wild success.
Are you ready for more essays about feminism? Roxane Gay shot to mainstream fame after Bad Feminist’s publication in 2014, when her thoughts on liking stuff that isn’t super feminist while being super feminist struck a chord with most millennial women who want equal pay but also enjoy movies with protective, jealous romantic leads. It also touches on Roxane’s upbringing as a Haitian-American, Sweet Valley High, and Django Unchained, topics that end up making a lot of sense as Roxane reminds us what it means to be human: a juicy contradiction.