12 Diverse Nonfiction Books That Will Educate And Insipire

I don’t read more than 5 nonfiction books in any given year. This has been true for most of my life and it’s not something I’m proud of. I’m not naturally drawn to nonfiction, and the ones that I am drawn to are usually memoirs or are based on social issues, which often lend themselves easily to storytelling.

I can’t say I really understand my general aversion to nonfiction. When I go to a bookstore, I never run to the nonfiction section (does anyone actually do this?). But I have known people who only read nonfiction, and it was simply a matter of personal preference.  I’m not going to dwell too much on why I have historically ignored this type of writing. Instead, I want to focus on my goal to actively seek nonfiction that does appeal to me.

May of you already know I actively seek to diversify my reading in as many ways as possible. Nonfiction isn’t just a gap in my reading history, though, it’s an endless chasm in an uncharted territory. That’s what it feels like, at least. I won’t reveal how few nonfiction books I’ve read to save face, so let’s focus on the books I want to read for the next several months! Like in my goal to read more Indigenous authors, I will also try to read 1 nonfiction book a month. This is a reasonable goal that allows me to enjoy the literature that I’ve always loved while leaving room for growth and exploration.

Below are 12 books I am genuinely interested in reading. Please note that this is a personal reading list, not an exhaustive one of the best diverse nonfiction around (though these books are worth your time). I included memoirs because this is my first full-fledged and earnest exploration into the nonfiction genre, so I wanted to include something familiar. Memoirs are personal narratives that are similar enough to novels that I have never had any trouble reading them. I’ve also included more serious books on science, history, and social issues to balance it out.

I’m very proud of this list and hope others can use it as a reference to read nonfiction that is diverse, educational, inspiring,relevant, and important. My goal is to continue growing as a reader and as a human who is curious about the world and the many secrets is has to offer. I can’t honestly say that I read diversely if I don’t read nonfiction, so consider this my attempt at rectifying this egregious gap in my reading. 


12 Diverse Nonfiction Books That Will Educate & Inspire

 

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

 

In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom – by Yeonmi Park

Memoirs about people’s lives in North Korea should be required reading for everyone. Park’s story is painful and tragic, but essential in order to shed light at the horrors that take place in North Korea. I expect to be mortified while reading, but also to learn much about the resilience of the human spirit. 

 

 

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People In North America – Thomas King

I know so little about the history of indigenous peoples that almost anything I read will educate me. I can count the number of books I’ve read by or about Indigenous peoples in two hands, which is embarrassing but something I’m working to rectify. Thomas King’s book is ambitious in scope, which makes it all the more necessary for me to read it. Previously, I’ve talked about my goal to read more Indigenous literature. My plan is to include as much nonfiction as I can because I have so much to learn.

 

The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race – edited by Jesmyn Ward

This collection of essays and poems includes writers such as Daniel José Older, Edwidge Danticat, and Claudia Rankine, who fearlessly examine and question issues of race in America. They not only speak of the troubled present, but also of the darkest parts of our history and visions for a better future. This is an urgent and unmissable collection.

 

 

 

The Song Poet: A Memoir of my father by kao kalia yang

The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father – by Kao Kalia Yang

I know embarrassingly very little about the Hmong people. Actually, I didn’t know they existed until I read reviews of this book in the blogosphere. That’s horrible, I know. But that’s precisely the reason why I need to start reading more nonfiction. A memoir is the perfect place for a regular reader of fiction to start learning something new but in a familiar format. I am also very interested in Yang’s The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, published 8 years ago. 

 

 

Teaching My Mother How to Give Brith by Warsan Shire

 

Teaching Mother How To Give Birth – by Warsan Shire

I have to be honest and embarrass myself again. The only reason Warsan Shire was brought to my attention was because of Beyonce’s Lemonade album. But ever since then, she has been on my radar as a must-read for 2016. She’s been recommended by a few bloggers I follow so I am determined to read this essential work of feminist text in 2016.

 

 

 

the gene: an intimate history - by siddhartha mukherjee

 

The Gene: An Intimate History – by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The subject matter and length of this book are a bit daunting, but I have heard only positive things about it and it does sound like a very important work. I have read and enjoyed books on biology, astrophysics, and cosmology, but one that focuses on the history of the gene is out of my comfort zone. However, part of growing as a reader and further diversifying my reading is to read beyond the familiar. I will give reading The Gene and earnest attempt and hope to learn much from it. 

 

 

Stamped from the beginning: the definitive history of racist ideas in America

 

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – by Ibram X. Kendi.

This book chronicles the history of racist ideas throughout American history and how they affect race relations in modern American society. Reading a book like this will offer invaluable context for other important contemporary ruminations on race. 

 

 

 

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More – by Janet Mock

I have wanted to read Janet Mock’s memoir for months now! The only reason I haven’t is because I prioritize fiction over everything else. This pledge to read more nonfiction is the push that I needed to read Redefining Realness, which has received much critical acclaim and proven to be one of the more prominent texts on transgender issues in 2015. 

 

 

 

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

 

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End – by Atul Gawande

I’m deeply fascinated by this one because it address the complicated and controversial topic of dying in modern society. It covers the various types of end-of-life care provided for the elderly and then asks questions about how to cope with death and the process of dying. 

 

 

 

Citizen: An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric – by Claudia Rankine

 

This lyrical meditation on race relations and discourse in America has only proven more relevant since its publication in 2014. Last week I went to a panel at my local independent bookstore titled “Black Literature Matters.” It was wonderful and enlightening. They also gave out 200 copies of Citizen because they believe it’s that important. I will be prioritizing this one over others on the list. 

 

A cup of water under my bed by daisy hernandez

 

 

A Cup of Water Under My Bed – by Daisy Hernandez

Daisy Hernandez’s memoir was recommended to me after the Orlando shooting as an important Queer Latinx narrative that explores family, identity, and experiences of migration. I’m slightly biased because the author and I share the same last name, but I’m positive this memoir will become a personal favorite after I read it. 

 

 

The Other Slavery by Andrés Reséndez

 

The Other Slavery – The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America – by Andrés Reséndez

This is another work that sounds incredibly important and is bound to educate me about things I didn’t know I didn’t know. Native people face cultural appropriation and erasure every day, so that last thing we should be doing is forgetting that Indigenous Americans were enslaved too. 

 

 

 

What’s your relationship with nonfiction like? Solid and long-standing or nonexistent? 

 


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53 thoughts on “12 Diverse Nonfiction Books That Will Educate And Insipire

  1. Thanks for this list! I don’t often seek out non-fiction, and like you, when I do it’s memoirs because they’re so similar to fiction in style. But it’s great to know these books are out there and I hope to get to some of them. I’ve heard great things about Janet Mock’s book in particular

  2. Wow what a fantastic list! Similar to you, I almost never read non-fiction and I hardly ever visit that section in book stores or the library. I’ve added all of these to my TBR but I know I always lean to literary fiction, SFF, and horror/thriller. I think you are right on… non-fiction has huge potential to tell very powerful and personal experiences and stories through the lens of different identities. Thank you for the list 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading, Brendon. I hope you find yourself reading one of these books sometime this year. I certainly don’t plan to read them all in the next 6 months, it’s just a general guideline. Any nonfiction reading is a vast improvement over last year. D:

  3. My heart lies with fiction first. I want to read more nonfiction than I actually end up reading. But I love nonfiction when I actually take the time to procure and read it. I find that I can listen to nonfiction audio books easier than fiction audio books, so that’s one way I get my nonfiction reading done.

    Citizen is so good!

    I can’t wait to read The Fire This Time. If you’ve not read Jessmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, make room for it on your TBR. It was so moving and thoughtful.

    1. It’s the same for me! I will always love fiction, but I want to make room for nonfiction as well. Even if it’s just a tiny corner in my heart 🙂
      I will be reading Citizen this month! I think the next one will be Fire This Time. It sounds so powerful and important.

  4. Every single year I say “THIS year I’m going to read more of the NF on my TBR list”. But, then, the fiction happens. Again.

    But I can recommend two of the books on your list, Thomas King’s and Claudia Rankine’s, which were both tremendously appealing to my usually-fiction-reading reader’s heart: I think you’ll enjoy them/appreciate them (for parts of them are simply not enjoyable per se) very much.

    A couple of the others are on my TBR and I’ve added the last two to my library holds list: they sound great. Thanks for sharing your list. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts as you work through the volumes!

    1. Haha, I can’t quite sympathize yet as I’ve not committed myself to reading more nonfiction until now. Even then, it’s not a hard and solid commitment, but I will definitely try to read a couple of these by year’s end.
      Citizen is already on my September TBR list and I’ll be reviewing it on here as well. I hope I can do the book justice.

      Thank you for reading! I will try to talk about many of them on here, but will still prioritize fiction, so you may not hear much about these books for a while 😛

  5. The more seasoned I become the more non-fiction I want to read – but that doesn’t mean that my appetite for fiction has waned! I want to read The Gene, and The Song Poet, too.

  6. Your posts always have me adding so many new books to my TBR! I’m also guilty of not reading nearly enough nonfiction and as I’m starting to think about goals to set for myself in 2017 (yes, I know it’s a bit early for that lol), nonfiction is definitely something I want to read more of next year. I also want to learn more about Indigenous people in general because I know pretty much nothing, so the books you have here about Indigenous people seem like good ones to add to my list. 🙂

    1. It’s never too early to make your 2017 goals 😉
      I’m so glad you’re trying to read more nonfiction too! Even if it’s just a few more books than last year, that’s already an improvement! I will continue to read the fiction I love, a mix of YA and Adult ficiton, but will also try to sneak in a memoir to start and then move on to more important works like the book on Indigenous people’s history. Variety is the key to a happy booknerd. 😀

  7. Like you, I’ve never been really into nonfiction. However, I have read In Order to Live, and I absolutely loved it. It was so heartbreakingly poignant, I actually ended up tearing up a bit (although take that with a grain of salt, books and movies make me cry like anything). Will definitely be checking out everything else on this list!

    1. Oh, I cry very easily too, so you bet I will be bawling my eyes out!
      I want to read a lot of other memoirs are about North Korea. They’re all so important and I need to read anything I can to further demystify that strange place.

  8. I too am drawn mostly to narrative nonfiction.

    And it’s twenty years old now, but “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” is a TERRIFIC book about a Hmong family whose toddler develops epilepsy. Her American doctors’ treatment is hugely at odds with how her family and culture see the condition. I highly recommend it.

  9. You always manage to add to my TBR! (Not that that’s a bad thing – except when the books fall on me!)

    I would seriously recommend 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup (because, wow,) Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic (written by a disabled Vietnam veteran – it’s a real eye-opener,) and Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates (because I’m going to force the whole planet to read this book, so I may as well start with you!)

    I’ll add your post to the link list 🙂

  10. My knowledge of nonfiction is also embarrassing. When I do buy nonfiction books, they sit on my TBR shelf for months because I’m not motivated to read them. I did hear about one recently that sounds kind of interesting. It’s called Another Day in the Death of America. I think it’s being published in October? It’s about gun violence.

    1. Haha, almost every book blogger who has commented is on the same boat as us. I think book bloggers in general don’t read much nonfiction, but that’s OK. I’m certainly not going to judge. I just enjoy setting goals for myself to continue growing as a reader. 🙂
      I will find Another Day in the Death of America on Goodreads. Thanks for the recommendation!

  11. This looks like a wonderful list Naz! I also don’t read much in the Nonfiction realm… Usually if I do it is a memoir by a comedian. In Order to Live and Rediefining Realness sound particularly intriguing to me!

    I have a nonfiction sitting on my shelf called Three Cups of Tea which will hopefully be promising. It is supposedly about a man who went to the Middle East and set up over 55 schools, most of which were for girls.

    1. Memoirs are awesome, so I’m glad a lot of people are naturally drawn to them.
      Oh, I’ve read Three Cups of Tea years ago, right around when it was published. I was in high school and it was in my book club’s list of books to read for a competition. Long story, but trom what I remember, I thought it was great!

    1. Yeah, memoirs are an easy transition into nonfiction for book bloggers like us. Meaning, book bloggers who usually read fiction, which is like 99% of us! lol Fiction is awesome, though, isn’t it! I like challenging myself, so hopefully I can read a few of these this year.

  12. I’ve read The Latehomecomer and it’s an excellent book, so I’m planning on reading The Song Poet at some point. I used to read a lot of non-fiction, but for some reason just haven’t read any non-fiction books this year.

  13. I love non-fiction!! And I love that part of the bookstore, too! I think lots of people will find they love it as well, if they find their niche and also don’t try to read it in one go. Space it out, read chapters that interest you most etc.
    Love your list btw and so many need to be on my tbr! Citizenship was so fantastic! And the King book sounds amazing as well as the Kendi!
    Hope you’ll come to love non-fiction!😃

    1. You’re one of the few book bloggers I know who loves nonfiction. I know that you, Whitney, and Janani read lots of of it, so yay for awesome Diverse Book Bloggers who like reading all kinds of literature! I will start by reading a few of the books on the list this year and hope to slowly become more familiar with the genre. The goal is to reach a point where I’m seeking out nonfiction books without even realizing it. It may be a while before that happens, though. :p

  14. Great list! I have read and enjoyed four of these titles, and I am waiting lists for two more at the library already. But I think I see a few that I might need to add to my queue.

  15. I read more and more nonfiction as I get older and older. Someone — and of course now that I want to give them credit, I can’t remember who it was — had a post a while back about how memoirs can often be an on-ramp to nonfiction, and I think that was true of me. After reading a few memoirs, particularly ones set in countries with whose history I wasn’t super familiar, I wanted to learn more about those places, so I got some more nonfiction reads about them. Nowadays I read, I don’t know, one nonfiction book in every five? Roughly?

    1. I imagine I will naturally gravitate toward nonfiction as I get older as well. When I was a teen, the majority of the books I read were YA, because duh that made sense. Now I read mostly adult fiction with a sprinkle of YA, but I don’t think I’ll ever give YA up.
      Nonfiction is the next frontier in my evolution as a reader!

  16. I definitely prefer fiction, but I always wish that I read more non-fiction. Mostly because I think it will make me smarter. 🙂 I do firmly believe, however, that just as much can be learned through fiction, just in a different way/form. So, I’ve learned not to feel too badly about my lack of non-fiction.
    I have so many non-fiction books on my to-read list that I really want to read – I just end up putting fiction first most of the time. For example, every single one of the books on your list look and sound fantastic! I can vouch for Thomas King’s book, which I read last year when it was one of the selections for Canada Reads. I really enjoyed it, and I think you will too!
    I recently have read a few non-fiction books by way of Doing Dewey’s Non-Fiction Book Club. I kind of use it as a way to motivate myself to read more non-fiction when they’re reading one that really interests me. You might want to check it out!

    1. I hope to read Thomas King’s book before the year ends. I’m also positive I will enjoy it. 🙂

      Fiction will always take priority for me, even as I grow older and am more drawn to nonfiction, which is what I suspect will happen. Fictional worlds and stories are what started my love of reading and you’re right that we can still learn so much from them. I HAVE learned much from them! But I want to learn from nonfiction in different ways too. Exploring nonfiction should be exciting, nonetheless. I like setting goals for myself!

  17. Awesome list Naz!

    I also read more fiction than non fiction, but I do read non fiction that interests me, and many of these do. If I had to pick one, I’d go with West’s The fire this time, which means I need to reread Baldwin’s The Fire next time as well. Onto Mount TBR they go . . .

    1. Thank you! My goal is to read Citizen and The Fire This Time this year for sure. Everything else is gravy. I’m hoping creating this list will motivate me to read more nonfiction. These kinds of things usually work on me, though. 😛 I’ obsessed with setting goals for myself.

  18. These all sound amazing! I can’t wait to hear what you think of them.

    I have a similar relationship with nonfiction, and mostly because I’m afraid it will be too dry. Most of the nonfiction books I’ve picked up throughout my life have been abandoned partway through out of boredom. But I would love to read more nonfiction, because I love to learn!

    Serena | poetree {blog}

  19. Great post! I love non-fiction and I think I’ve been reading more of it recently to try to understand the fiction novels I read. I’d say I’m 50-50 at this point when it comes to fiction and non-fiction

    1. I’m genuinely trying to read more nonfiction. :]
      I also think I will begin to gravitate more towards it the older I get, and having reading goals will only expedite that process.
      Seeing you read 50% nonfiction is such an inspiration!

  20. Lol I guess in a way reading nonfiction books is an acquired taste. I started getting into them a couple years ago after reading Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine. I prefer to read nonfiction books about social issues as well, which is why I’d love to read Stamped From the Beginning. I also enjoy reading memoirs, bios, and autobios so I’d like to try Lab Girl and the recent biography on Diane Arbus, a photographer. I mostly love reading books on psychology and cognitive development though and history books are great too. I think reading longform articles can help to develop an interest in nonfiction books as well.

  21. I love nonfiction. I’ve read the Mock and King books from your list and they were both good. I’m interested in The Other Slavery. I hadn’t heard of that one before. Another one you might like is Lisa Ling’s book about her sister’s capture on the North Korean border. It is told in alternating viewpoints about being held captive in North Korea and working to get her released.

  22. I loved hearing about The Inconvenient Indian when it was featured/defended on the Canada Reads 2015 competition last year (?). I would recommend watching the debate-ish thing if you have a chance. It’s kind of shameful how little I know of the struggle of the indigenous communities in Canada even though I read about the continual strife and conflict in the news. But it’s definitely a good choice, I’d say!

    1. Joeeyyyy! You came to my blog and commented!! 😀
      That means I have to comment on yours too. It’s my rule.
      Canada Reads is so cool. I learned about it this year because I follow amazing Canadian book bloggers and have learned so much from them. I plan to read The Inconvenient Indian this year, so I will be sure to was the debate/defense for the book.
      I know very little about Indigenous people’s histories and current struggles too, which is why I’m actively seeking their work. Thankfully, plenty of it to choose from and I’m eager and willing to learn.

  23. Gah! I don’t read non-fiction much. But these are such good reccs! Have been wanting to check out The Gene, beause someone else recc it to me too.

  24. Until I discovered YA fiction, I only read non-fiction – I guess an offshoot from studying history at university! I still love it, but have taken a break from it for the past few years. But every once in while I revisit that part of my shelves, and I always browse the non-fiction section of the bookstore, just in case something catches my eye!

    And, as usual, a few have caught my eye from your list, and on to my TBR they go! 🙂

    1. Finally, someone who browses the nonfiction section! Thanks for confirmation 🙂
      I will be reading 1 nonfiction book every month or so (maybe every two months) because I have too many fiction books to read…but I do plan to make reading nonfiction a semi-regular habit!

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