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: 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.
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: 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
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 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 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 – 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.
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: 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 – 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
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 – 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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