Nonfiction November is upon us, and we’re kicking off the month by talking about the nonfiction we’ve read throughout the year! Here’s this week’s prompt:
Week 1: (November 1-5) – Your Year in Nonfiction with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
This year, I chose James Baldwin for my Year Of challenge, which means that I read a lot of nonfiction about race in America, especially as it pertains to those of African descent. This is a perennial interest of mine, and events in recent years have pushed it to the top of national and global consciousness. What’s surprising about reading Baldwin’s works is realizing that, although they were written decades ago, they feel as though they were written today. Our country has changed distressingly little in the half-century since many of Baldwin’s publications. I kept reflecting on how everything he wrote could apply to our current world. Although there has been some progress–the conviction of Derrick Chauvin stands as a turning point in the value the legal system puts on the lives of black men–so much of what Baldwin criticizes still stands. Thus, his work continues to be just as relevant and necessary as it ever was. Here are my three favorite nonfiction Baldwin reads of the year:
Nobody Knows My Name. Covering the topics of race, poverty, literature, and more, this collection of essays casts a shadow on the idea of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps as the only necessary act for success in America. Baldwin also writes candidly about the civil rights protests of the time, stating that, one day, people will be surprised by the explosion that results simply because “Negroes want to be treated like men.” (Review)
No Name in the Street. This book of two essays offers a mix of personal experiences and political criticism, as Baldwin lambasts the irony of the country’s moniker as “the Land of the Free.” Baldwin acknowledges that race is not a problem limited to the U.S. and describes the way it operates in France, where he spent much of his life. The French, too, do not believe themselves to be racist; it’s not their fault Arabic people are “uncivilized.” (Review)
The Devil Finds Work. This lesser known book contains Baldwin’s criticisms on film and the way that race is portrayed therein. He offers comments on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the 1915 Birth of a Nation that inspired the rising up of the KKK, the Sydney Poitier/Tony Curtis movie The Defiant Ones that also incites criticism of the inherent homophobia of the film industry, and several more. The book is an excellent example of how nothing escaped Baldwin’s sharp eye. (Review)
Other nonfiction reads of note include:
Atomic Habits by James Clear. I don’t think anyone with even a passing interest in self-development and productivity has missed this book, and there’s a good reason why. It’s probably the best book I’ve read about how to actually accomplish the goals you set for yourself, no matter how small they are. Clear writes in a direct and easy-to-understand manner, and he includes simple steps that almost anyone can implement in their lives. (Review)
I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom. If you also loved Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, then you’ll also love Bloom’s memoir of her experiences with mental health issues, misogyny in the entertainment business and, well, the world, and bringing to life the show that made her known to all. If you enjoy audiobooks, this is definitely one to consume aurally. (Review)
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. Part memoir, part journalism, this book takes a hard look at the difficult lives that many undocumented immigrants live. Cornejo Villavicencio isn’t interested in telling unlikely stories of the immigrant who made it against all odds; her focus is on those who struggle day-to-day but whose lives are rarely granted any notice. (Review)
Shrill by Lindy West. Hilarious, scathing, and astute, West’s essays tackle a number of issues, including misogyny, body shaming, discrimination, and internet trolls. Come for her unique writing style and wit; stay for the unabashed deconstruction of society and its endeavor to malign anyone who does not fit in a predetermined box. (Review)
Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo. One of the many authors carrying on the work that Baldwin started, Oluo sheds light on the celebration of mediocre (heterosexual, cisgender) white men throughout the history of the country and how this has been harmful to everyone. No one escapes Oluo’s critical eye in her effort to show how the overvaluing of mediocrity furthers oppression and puts limits on the potential everyone could reach. (Review)
The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. This was my surprise great read of the year. These two acclaimed world leaders offer their thoughts on how to embrace joy in a time when so much of the world works to rob us of it. They never deny that living joyfully is difficult, and their own struggles are an inspiration to those who are facing challenges in their own lives. (Review)
What are some of the highlights in your year of nonfiction? Share some of your best reads in the comments below!