Part of this post first appeared on Book Riot on 12/15/11 as part of my Best Books of 2011 recommendation, which you can read here.
Yesterday I posted my short list of favorite fiction reads of 2011 — The Magicians, Domestic Violets, When She Woke, The Art of Fielding, and The Imperfectionists. Today I’ve got five of my favorite nonfiction reads to share. They’re in no particular order — trying to rank them would have just been too difficult! Thoughts?
This Life is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman
If there’s one book I’ve gushed about and tried to shove into the hands of just about everyone who asks for a memoir recommendation, it would be This Life is In Your Hands. What impressed me most about this book is the way Coleman was able to build narrative tension into the story even though she reveals the big tragedy of the book in the first chapter. Not every writer can do that, and almost none can do it as elegantly as Coleman does in this book.
Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
For as much as North Korea is always in the news, I never realized how much I didn’t know about that country until I read Nothing to Envy. In this book, Demick interviews North Koreans who have defected from the country to get an insider’s look at what life is like in one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. With North Korea back in the news because of Kim Jong-Il’s death, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
I haven’t managed to write my review of this book yet, but suffice it to say I thought The Emperor of All Maladies was a fantastic read. Mukherjee manages to infuse what could be a relatively standard medical history book with the emotional heft that comes from his experiences working with cancer patients as an oncology fellow. This book is a long one, but Mukherjee’s writing is gorgeous and practically makes the pages fly by.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
I’m willing to bet that anyone who loves to read will find something to love in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. A chronicle of Sankovitch’s year of reading a book a day, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is a story about loving books that explores what books mean to readers and how we use the greater truths that can be found through the written word to inform our own lives. It’s a lovely read.
Big Girls Don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister
Te 2008 presidential was a fantastically interesting time to pay attention to politics, and Big Girls Don’t Cry is a fantastically interesting look back on that time. As a young, feminist journalist, Traister brings a different perspective to the subject than most other sources. If there’s any one lesson to take from the book, it’s that discussions of sex, race, and politics are — despite years of advancement for women and people of color — still complex and, often, difficult.