Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Best of 2015: Nonfiction

Welcome to Day Four of My Best of 2015 Reading Round up! As always, my Best of the Year lists cover what I read in 2015, which includes books published in any year. Today, I'm sharing my favorite nonfiction. Yesterday, I shared my favorite mysteries. Tuesday I shared my favorite comics. Monday I shared Hawthorne's favorite board books. (Want to look at past year's lists. They're all linked here.)

10. Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin (my review)
Wednesday Martin is an anthropologist, originally from Michigan, who moves from the West Village of New York City to the Upper East Side and turns her anthropological training on Upper East Side mommies. Primates of Park Avenue is entertaining, at times alarming, and informative. I was surprised not only by how much I enjoyed Primates of Park Avenue but also by how much I learned from it. I was entertained and enlightened, and I enjoyed the audiobook in particular, as Maby's audio performance made me feel like I was gossiping with an old friend over wine.

9. My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl (my review)
My Kitchen Year is unlike any cookbook I've read. I loved the recipes, and I read each one because Reichl writes them in such ways that I learned so much about the whys of cooking. I loved the candor Reichl uses to talk about a difficult professional situation. Those passages read like a memoir. I loved the pictures in the book, both of the recipes and nature. And I even loved the tweets placed in the same chronological timeline as the recipes. My Kitchen Year might be a cookbook, but it reads like a food magazine.

8. Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming (my review)
Not My Father's Son is actor Alan Cumming's memoir of his childhood and his experience learning about his family's history on the genealogy reality television show Who Do You Think You Are? It's a fascinating exploration of how our family impacts who we are. It also offers a glimpse into the life of a famous actor. Cumming's searing honesty and reflection that elevate this memoir far above a celebrity memoir. Cumming's performance on the audiobook is exceptional, and it definitely increased my enjoyment of this memoir.

7. The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (my review)
The Astronaut Wives Club offers extraordinary access into the actions, thoughts and feelings of the wives of the Mercury Seven, the Gemini missions, and the Apollo missions. It's a look at what life was really like for these women. Through these women, Koppel also tells the story of the space program and the world at that time. I thoroughly enjoyed Orlagh Cassidy's narration. She read this book as though she were talking, and often gossiping, with a friend. As I listened, I felt as though we were having a series of "did you hear about so-and-so?" conversations, and I quite enjoyed it.
It straddles the ordinary and the extraordinary beautifully, and I remain enchanted with these women, who are interesting in their own rights, but against the backdrop of the space race, their lives become a compelling chapter in American history.

6. Working Stiff by Judy Melenik and T.J. Mitchell (my review)
After completing a residency in pathology, Dr. Judy Melinek began a two-year rotation as a forensic pathologist in New York City in July 2001. The timing of Dr. Melinek's story certainly piqued my curiosity in a macabre way, but this book is about so much more. Working Stiff is the story of those two years, and also the story of Judy's life and work. Overall, it's a fascinating, illuminating, and haunting look at what kills people. It's also an insightful glimpse into Melinek's life and work. As a book, it reads like a collection of mysteries, but it also packs an emotional and intelligent punch.

5. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (my review)
Modern Romance is a hilarious and informative book about modern romance. It's part comedy, part sociology and part memoir that discovers what and how we love, date, have sex, and marry today. It was as funny as I expected a book by Ansari to be, but it's layered with deep thinking and fascinating sociological data I didn't expect. This unusual combination helps make it impulsively readable. It's entertaining, hilarious, and informative.

4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (my review)
Written in the form of a letter to his teenage son, Between the World and Me attempts to answer these questions: "What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?" I agree with Toni Morrison's blurb on the cover: this book is required reading. I will hand it to Hawthorne one day and talk about it with him. It won't be the beginning or the end of the conversation, but I hope it will be part of his journey. It's a very different than Coates's son faces, but these journeys are part of what it means to live in this country.

3. Missoula by Jon Krakauer (my review)
In Missoula, Krakaeur takes the reader deep into the investigation of how the University of Montana and Missoula police are handling the epidemic of sexual assault and acquaintance rape. This epidemic isn't unique to Missoula. Perhaps even more than Between the World and Me, this book has kept me thinking and the information made me change my way of thinking about sexual assault. This book is difficult to read, but it's powerful and incredibly important. It should also be required reading for everyone who lives in the United States.

2. Blackout by Sarah Hepola (my review)
Blackout chronicles Sarah Hepola's complicated relationship with alcohol from childhood to the present, when she is happily sober. Sarah Hepola is one of those writers who makes me say fangirl things like "I would read anything she writes." But I would. I'll also re-read this one, as much for the prose and insight as her ability to share so much with such poignant vulnerability. I highlighted almost half of this book because her prose is so sharp, smart and beautiful.

1. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs (my review)
As the title indicates, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is the story of Robert DeShaun Peace's life, as written by his college roommate Jeff Hobbs, a novelist who relies on the memories of Rob's friends and family members to construct this biography of sorts. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is storytelling at its very best. Hobbs is a wonderful writer and manages to tell both Rob's story as well as a story much bigger than Robert Peace himself. It's also partially Jeff's story, particularly at the times their lives intersect. So, too, is it the story of Rob's friends and family members. It offers a haunting glimpse into Newark and wrestles with the big issues of race, poverty, privilege, education, success, and home. It's a beautiful meditation on life and humanity. It's ostensibly the story of one man, but this book, much like its subject, is so much more complicated, intellectually and emotionally, than anything as simple as a biography can capture. This book haunts me.

Thanks for tuning in to read about nonfiction! Best of 2015 continues tomorrow with fiction.

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  1. The only one of these that I've read is the Astronaut's Wives. I enjoyed it. I love the movie The Right Stuff and some of the same women appeared. So interesting. I have a couple more of these in my big stacks of books. Hoping to get to them in 2016.

  2. Between the World and Me made my list, too! Missoula and Robert Peace are must reads for 2016.

  3. I've read 3 of these and another 4 are on my TBR. I've rarely had such overlap in a list like this! Makes me think I should move up those TBR books.

  4. Not My Father's Son was an honorable mention for me. It is indeed an amazing audiobook.


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