Welcome to the first of my book recommendations series! Kicking off this series of posts is my non-fiction recommendations.
I only recently started reading non-fiction novels, so my list isn’t extensive but it’s a list I would recommend over and over. I tried to choose novels from varying subgenres. So, without further ado…
Clicking each cover will direct you to my full review.
A brilliant and harrowingly honest memoir, January First is the extraordinary story of a father’s fight to save his child from an extremely severe case of mental illness in the face of overwhelming adversity.
At six years old, Michael Schofield’s daughter, January, was diagnosed with one of the most severe cases of child-onset schizophrenia that doctors had ever seen. In January’s case, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her. January, “Jani” to her family, has literally hundreds of imaginary friends. They go by names like 400-the-Cat, 100 Degrees, and 24 Hours and live on an island called “Calalini,” which she describes as existing “on the border of my world and your world.” Some of these friends are good, and some of them, such as 400, are very bad. They tell her to jump off buildings, attack her brother, and scream at strangers.
In the middle of these never-ending delusions, hallucinations, and paroxysms of rage are Jani’s parents, who have gone to the ends of the earth to keep both of their children alive and unharmed. They live in separate one-bedroom apartments in order to keep her little brother, Bohdi, safe from his big sister–and wage a daily war against a social system that has all but completely failed them. January First is the story of the daily struggles and challenges they face as they do everything they can to help their daughter while trying to keep their family together. It is the inspiring tale of their resolute determination and faith .
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.
Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.
The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.
“I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.”
In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.
With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.
When an eleven-year-old James Renner fell in love with Amy Mihaljevic, the missing girl seen on posters all over his neighborhood, it was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with true crime. That obsession led Renner to a successful career as an investigative journalist. It also gave him post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2011, Renner began researching the strange disappearance of Maura Murray, a University of Massachusetts student who went missing after wrecking her car in rural New Hampshire in 2004. Over the course of his investigation, he uncovered numerous important and shocking new clues about what may have happened to Murray but also found himself in increasingly dangerous situations with little regard for his own well-being. As his quest to find Murray deepened, the case started taking a toll on his personal life, which began to spiral out of control. The result is an absorbing dual investigation of the complicated story of the All-American girl who went missing and Renner’s own equally complicated true-crime addiction.
True Crime Addict is the story of Renner’s spellbinding investigation, which has taken on a life of its own for armchair sleuths across the web. In the spirit of David Fincher’s Zodiac, it’s a fascinating look at a case that has eluded authorities and one man’s obsessive quest for the answers.
She’s Britney Spears shaving her head, Whitney Houston saying, “crack is whack,” and Amy Winehouse, dying in front of millions. But the trainwreck is also as old (and as meaningful) as feminism itself.
From Mary Wollstonecraft—who, for decades after her death, was more famous for her illegitimate child and suicide attempts than for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman—to Charlotte Brontë, Billie Holiday, Sylvia Plath, and even Hillary Clinton, Sady Doyle’s Trainwreck dissects a centuries-old phenomenon and asks what it means now, in a time when we have unprecedented access to celebrities and civilians alike, and when women are pushing harder than ever against the boundaries of what it means to “behave.”
Where did these women come from? What are their crimes? And what does it mean for the rest of us? For an age when any form of self-expression can be the one that ends you, Sady Doyle’s book is as fierce and intelligent as it is funny and compassionate—an essential, timely, feminist anatomy of the female trainwreck.
Have you read any of these? What did you think? What are some non-fiction recommendations you would make?