The 13 Best Nonfiction Books We've Read in 2020 (So Far)
We’re a little over halfway through the year, and though 2020 has ushered in a host of not-so-great (read: downright awful) events, it has also provided us with tons of incredible nonfiction books. From collections of essays about intersectional feminism and imposter syndrome to detailed histories of Weight Watchers and the Miss America pageant, here are 13 of our favorite books we’ve read this year.
1. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
This powerful essay collection tackles an uncomfortable topic for many women: feminism. Kendall argues that the feminism many women know actually excludes and ignores certain groups and only benefits a specific type of female. She asserts the feminist movement and its participants need to face these issues head-on…and they need to do it today.
2. This Is Big by Marisa Meltzer
Meltzer (The Cut, The New Yorker, The New York Times) went on her first diet at 5 years old. Nearly 40 years later, she came across an obituary for Jean Nidetch, the housewife who founded Weight Watchers in 1963. She goes on to compare Nidetch’s path towards becoming a weight-loss maven with her own journey through Weight Watchers, along the way examining each woman’s decades-long efforts to lose weight and keep it off.
3. My Mother’s Daughter by Perdita Felicien
Felicien’s mother moved to Canada from St. Lucia in 1974 for a nanny job. Growing up, Felicien and her mother dealt with “racism, domestic abuse and even homelessness,” but they gave life everything they had. Felicien went on to become a two-time Olympian and a favorite to win gold in the 100-meter hurdle event in Athens in 2004. Her memoir is a stunning debut.
4. OK Boomer, Let's Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind by Jill Filipovic
In Ok Boomer, Let’s Talk, journalist (and millennial) Filipovic talks to gig workers, economists, policy makers and dozens of struggling millennials to paint a shocking and nuanced portrait of those born between 1981 and 1996. (Including, yes, that millennials are far from "the avocado-toast-eating snowflakes of Boomer outrage fantasies").
45 Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
When she published her first hit essay collection, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Irby was working at a veterinary clinic in Chicago. She has since left that job and city, and charts the sometimes rocky transition in this collection, which covers bad dates with new friends, spending time in L.A. as a “cheese fry–eating slightly damp Midwest person” and more.
6. Here for It by R. Eric Thomas
Thomas is known for his hilarious Elle.com column, “Eric Reads the News,” where he discusses his take on politics, celebrities, pop culture and more. His debut memoir-in-essays covers growing up in a Baltimore neighborhood while attending a majority-white private school, landing his dream job, dealing with impostor syndrome, and grappling with love, breakups and many other setbacks in between.
7. Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies by Tara Schuster
By the time she was in her late 20s, Schuster was a rising TV executive who had worked for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and helped launch Key & Peele. But beneath the successful exterior, she was a chronically anxious, self-medicating mess. Her debut book is the story of her path towards becoming a “ninja of self-love” through simple daily rituals, from faking gratitude until you feel gratitude to shielding yourself from your inner frenemy.
8. Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit
In this searing memoir, Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me) describes her coming-of-age as a writer and feminist in 1980s San Francisco. She recounts how she came to recognize the epidemic of violence against women, street harassment, trauma and the authority figures who routinely disdained and disbelieved girls and women, including her.
9. Looking for Miss America by Margot Mifflin
From its start in 1921 to its current incarnation as a scholarship competition, the Miss America pageant has been shaped by war, evangelism, the rise of reality TV and by contestants who confounded expectations, including Vanessa Williams, the event’s first black winner, who received death threats and was protected by sharpshooters in her hometown parade. This history of the pageant is a fascinating look at how Miss America has struggled to stay relevant in the 21st century, without condescension or ridicule toward the women who have fought tooth and nail to be crowned.
10. Weird But Normal by Mia Mercado
In this laughably relatable collection of essays, Mercado unpacks the weird parts of being a millennial woman that everyone gets, but seldom talks about. Like spending $30 on a candle that smells like an ocean that doesn’t actually exist to finding a more religious experience in the skincare aisle at Target than your hometown church. With essays titled “Depression Isn’t a Competition but Why Aren’t I Winning?” and “White Friend Confessional,” it’s a funny reminder that it’s OK to feel strange sometimes.
11. Let’s Never Talk About This Again by Sara Faith Alterman
Alterman enjoyed a G-rated childhood in suburban New England, with over-the-top birthday cakes and nerdy word games invented by her prudish father, Ira. But her world changed when she discovered that Ira was actually a campy sex writer who'd sold millions of books in multiple languages. For decades, the books remained an unspoken family secret, until Ira developed early onset Alzheimer's disease and announced he'd be reviving his writing career with his daughter’s help. In this memoir, Alterman describes the experience of discovering new facets of her father; once as a child, and again as an adult.
12. Trixie & Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood by Trixie Mattel and Katya
Trixie Mattel and Katya are drag superstars and frequent collaborators (do yourself a favor and watch their hilarious YouTube series, UNHhhh). Their New York Times bestselling book is a satirical guide to life told through essays and conversations that channel their chaotic-in-a-great-way energy. Will you learn anything groundbreaking about being a woman? Maybe not. Will you cry-laugh? Yes ma'am.
13. Yellow Bird by Sierra Crane Murdoch
Sierra Crane Murdoch tells the true saga of Lissa Yellow Bird, a former inmate determined to find a white man who goes missing from a reservation worksite. This is a story about an Arikara woman, but also about the hardships experienced on Native American reservations in the United States.