I’m actually surprising myself by writing a Non-Fiction November post. Non-fiction is not my thing really. I’ll take getting lost in a fictional novel any day. But recently, I’ve found myself branching out more and more, picking up memoirs and essay collections which would have sent me running a few years ago.
Thanks to the nifty stats feature at The StoryGraph, I can tell you that in 2018 I read six non-fiction books. Yes, six. All year. I read 173 books in 2018 and a mere six of those were non-fiction. Then in 2019 I upped it a bit and read 15 non-fiction books. This year, as I’m writing this, I’ve already read 30 non-fiction books this year, so I am getting better! But should you trust me with your Non-Fiction November recommendations? Well, possibly not. But if you look at it this way, I’m super fussy with my non-fiction and I absolutely loved every single one of these books! So if you’re not much of a non-fiction reader either, you might find you enjoy some of these books too.
Audiobooks have really helped me read more non-fiction this year. Often the author narrates them, which is usually a fantastic and moving experience. I listen via my library’s borrowing platform BorrowBox and also Libro.fm. If you’re in the US or Canada, you can use my code ABREADS at checkout or follow my link to get two audiobooks for the price of one with the first month of your subscription!
Let me know what you’re reading for Non-Fiction November in the comments! I’m currently listening to Becoming by Michelle Obama, which isn’t in the list because I haven’t finished it yet. But I can tell you already that it’s going to be one of my favourite non-fiction books ever, so you should definitely read it too. (If you haven’t already that is, I realise I’m super late to the party.)
Disclosure: titles with an asterisk* were gifted by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I’m an affiliate for Blackwell’s, so this post contains affiliate links to their site. If you buy a book via my links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you – thank you! You can also shop my recommendations via Bookshop UK and support your local indie bookshop!
So let’s dive into my twelve recommendations for Non-Fiction November!
1. Dead Girls* by Selva Almada, tr. Annie McDermott
This book is a blend of journalism, true crime and a dash of fiction, but the core of it is true. It’s centred around three unsolved femicides which took place in Argentina in the 80s. If anything, femicide is even more of an issue now than it was then, making this a timeless piece of writing. It’s a difficult read, but a worthwhile one. You can read my full review here.
2. The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
In this book, Villavicencio blends personal memoir with the stories of other undocumented Americans she meets across the US. Rather than just subjects, these people become Villavicencio’s friends and you can sense just how much she cares about them and their stories. I loved the approach she took to translating their words. She avoids the clumsy transliterations used in most journalism, instead approaching it like a literary translator would a poem. If you’re looking for a book about immigration in America, this is the one.
3. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I slept on this book for too long. Don’t make the same mistake as me. This book is written as a letter to Coates’ son about what it means to inhabit a Black body in America. It’s particularly powerful as an audiobook, as Coates narrates it himself and you can feel the emotion behind every word. He also weaves in some US history among the more personal aspects of the book.
4. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, tr. MATTIAS RIPA, BLAKE FERRIS & ANJALI SINGH
My first foray into graphic novels took the form of a graphic memoir, and it was a good decision! This completed Persepolis details Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, before she was sent to Vienna for schooling and then returned to Iran as an adult. Satrapi does not hold back from criticising both the regime in Iran and the west’s involvement in the country. She also weaves in her personal narrative smoothly, without sugar-coating the harsher moments of her life.
5. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book should be on the national curriculum in the UK. I think a lot of books about race are very US-centric, so it was good to read such an illuminating one about my own country. One of the main takeaways from this book is realising that British people will say anything to avoid admitting there is a race issue here. We’ll insist America’s problem is worse, or that class prejudice is the real scourge of the UK. But the truth is racism is a critical issue which has been embedded in our society for centuries. An eye-opening read.
6. Dark, Salt, Clear* by Lamorna Ash
Yes, this book is about fishing and yes, I loved it with the force of a thousand suns. I read it during a bleary day in April lockdown and felt like I’d been transported to another world. But make no mistake, Ash doesn’t romanticise life in a Cornish fishing village. She makes sure to address both the positives and negatives for a full, well-rounded picture of life there. This is one of my first experiences with nature writing too, and what a treat it is.
7. Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri
Through this book, Emma Dabiri takes you on a journey from pre-colonial Africa through to the Harlem Renaissance all the way up to today’s society. As well as the history of Black hair, Dabiri weaves in her own personal story. She grew up in Ireland at a time when there was no real visible Black community, and one of the things she struggled with was properly caring for her hair. The last chapter about hair and mathematics absolutely blew my mind! You’ll learn a lot if you pick this one up for Non-Fiction November. Heads up, if you’re American, the US version of this book is called Twisted.
8. Wandering in Strange Lands* by Morgan Jerkins
This was a Libro.fm ALC pick, and unfortunately the UK version is not out until September 2021! However, if you can get your hands on a copy then please do so, as it’s a beautiful blend of memoir and history! I actually wish it had been longer, as some parts I felt like Jerkins had more she wanted to say or explore, but was perhaps limited. Either way, I learned a tonne, especially about the Gullah Geechee people of whom I had previously been completely ignorant. She explores themes such as food, the history of water and Black people (namely the embedded trauma stemming from the Middle Passage), root magic, historic and modern-day dynamics between Native Americans and Black people, land theft, police brutality and racism and more.
9. The Years* by Annie Ernaux, tr. Alison L. Strayer
Obviously Annie Ernaux was going to be on this list. As much as I love Happening, I think The Years is a better choice for Non-Fiction November because you learn so much! It’s a memoir of Ernaux’s life between 1941 and 2006, as well as a history of France during that time. Ernaux perfectly balances the private and the communal. If you’re not familiar with France’s history, then I imagine you’ll have to do a lot of Googling in between, but I promise it’s worth it!
10. Artful by Ali Smith
Ali Smith doing non-fiction? Sign me up. This is actually an unusual one, as there is a fictional narrative running through it. But the book is in conversation with itself, a meditative contemplation of art and literature, love and grief. This is a love letter to literature, and while some of it went over my head, so much more of it stuck with me. There’s a brilliant quote about never being able to step into the same book twice. Each time we pick up a book again, we have changed so much as people that it’s like reading a brand new book. I love that.
11. In the Dream House* by Carmen Maria Machado
This is hands down one of my favourite memoirs ever. It’s insanely clever and creative, as Machado plays with form to tell her story. With this book, Machado helps to shatter the silence surrounding domestic abuse within queer relationships. It’s an emotional read, and some chapters hit you like a punch to the gut. It’s ingenious really, even the white space on the page is used to increase the effect of Machado’s words. A must read.
12. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
I do want to make my way through Kendi’s original Stamped from the Beginning at some point, but this is a brilliant starting point, especially for non-Americans. Jason Reynolds has remixed the original for young adults, resulting in an informative, eye-opening, completely accessible history of racism in America. This book is perfect for adults and teenagers alike, especially if you happen to be teaching from home at the moment!