August 28: Back to School/Learning Freebie (in honor of school starting back up soon, come up with your own topic that fits the theme of school or learning! Books that take place at school/boarding school/during study abroad, books you read in school, textbooks you liked/didn’t like, non-fiction books you loved or want to read, etc.)
I’ve seen a lot of people interpret this as ‘favorite nonfiction’ which seemed fun, so I’m going to do that! I’ve also been talking to What’s Nonfiction? recently who is a lovely person and has been getting me excited to add more nonfiction to my life, so let’s start with ones I’ve enjoyed in the past.
Women & Power by Mary Beard: The two feminist essays combined into this collection aren’t exactly groundbreaking for anyone remotely familiar with feminist theory, but I loved this anyway. The first essay concerns itself with the role of women in the public sphere and the precedent of silencing women’s voices, using both historical and literary examples, and the second essay shifts to our societal conception of power as a male-dominated domain. Being a classics lover myself, I loved Beard’s unique perspective on these subjects and all the parallels she draws to antiquity.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: This was my first Nelson; I’ve since read Bluets but I much preferred The Argonauts, though I’m looking forward to reading The Red Parts soon. The Argonauts is her memoir about her relationship with the genderfluid artist Harry Dodge, and her writing is piercing and insanely intelligent. This was just a pleasure to read and I’m looking forward to reading Nelson’s complete works at some point.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: Well, it’s popular for a reason. This book was great. The Devil in the White City is Larson’s parallel account of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and the life of the serial killer H.H. Holmes. Though these two threads never quite dovetail in the way I was hoping for (to me it kind of felt like 2 books packaged into 1), I still loved reading this highly informative and well-researched account of 1890s Chicago.
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala: Wave is just about the most heartbreaking memoir imaginable: when Sonali Deraniyagala is on vacation with her parents, her husband, and her two sons in Sri Lanka, all of them are killed in the 2004 tsunami. This is her account of surviving that devastating tragedy, and though it’s incredibly bleak and unsparing, it’s also filled with such love and gratitude toward her family.
Poetics by Aristotle: Probably my favorite of the Ancient Greek rhetorical texts, Poetics is an essential companion text for anyone interested in reading Greek tragedies. Aristotle’s insights into humanity’s relationship to theatre are some of the most important foundations of contemporary literary criticism – and it’s under 150 pages. Read this!
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: Probably the most famous true crime classic, In Cold Blood tells the story of the murders of 4 members of the Clutter family in 1959 Kansas, then details the capture and killing of the murderers. This book is fascinating, compelling, and oddly haunting.
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt: This is McCourt’s devastating memoir about growing up in the slums of Limerick, and it’s quite unlike any other memoir I’ve read. It’s an immersive survival story that can be quite difficult to read at times, but it’s also told with such forthrightness and an undeniable love for his flawed country, it’s hard not to get swept away by it. I think this was my first introduction to Irish lit when I was 16 and I haven’t looked back since.
Black Boy by Richard Wright: I still haven’t read Wright’s more famous novel Native Son, but his autobiography Black Boy was brilliant. It’s primarily a coming of age story about being black in the U.S. south under Jim Crow. It’s a harrowing read at times, but it’s also quite a page turner.
Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King: I had to read this in my Latin class in high school, so I could probably go for a re-read, but it’s a really fascinating text. It’s about the construction of il Duomo di Firenze, completed in the 1400s, which was actually a ridiculously complicated process. So if you’re at all interested in architecture, I’d highly recommend this. Or if you like The Pillars of the Earth.
Jo Cox: More in Common by Brendan Cox: And finally: Jo Cox was a British Labour MP who was murdered in June 2016. This biography of her life written by her husband is just as powerful and beautiful as you’d expect, and it probably hit me harder than any other memoir or bio I’ve read. (Obviously my feelings toward the book have become a bit more complicated with Brendan Cox’s recent sexual harassment scandal, but as he’s resigned from the Jo Cox Foundation where all the proceeds from the book go, I still feel like I can recommend it in good faith, since it’s ultimately about what a brilliant woman Jo was. Though I obviously don’t blame anyone for choosing not to read it because of this.)
Also, I just started listening to The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien on audio, inspired by this post, and I can already tell it’s going to be an incredibly hard-hitting read.
What’s your favorite nonfiction book? Comment and let me know!