As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve read a LOT this year, so narrowing it down to 10 nonfiction (and later on, 10 fiction) titles is not as easy a feat as you might think.
I read about an even split of nonfiction and fiction at any given time, and this year, of the 64 titles I’ve finished so far, 29 of them have fallen under the “nonfiction” category. (In case you’re wondering, the reason why the split is pretty even between the two is because last year, I started a new system of reading where I was in the middle of roughly four books at any given time–one adult fiction, one young adult fiction, one informational nonfiction, and one more narrative nonfiction, such as a memoir. While I’m not perfect at sticking to this system, I’ve done it enough that my fiction/nonfiction comes out about even in the end.)
This year, my favorite nonfiction reads range from the narrative musings of bloggers-turned-authors to hardcore, researched-for-years informational books. Since I’m ranking these books as my top 10 of the year, it goes without saying that if you’re still looking for Christmas gift ideas for the readers in your life, you’re bound to find some good titles here! (Note: there are affiliate links in this post, which means that if you click on the title and purchase the book, I get a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you, which helps to support To Love and To Learn.)
And now, in no particular order–my top 10 nonfiction reads of 2017:
1. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller
It might have just been that this was the right book at the right time for me (since I wouldn’t call the writing anything spectacular), but I was surprised at how much elements of this one blew me away. Basically, Miller is approached by some filmmakers who want to turn his life into a movie, but he quickly learns that his life, as he’s living it, does not have the meat and excitement that a compelling movie would need. Therefore, he learns to “edit” his life to start doing those things he’s always meant to do but has always put off. I read this one in the ICU while we waited anxiously for updates on my father-in-law’s condition earlier this year, and that life-or-death real-life situation meant that the messages of this book REALLY hit home for me. This is one that I would love to own someday!
2. Gone Too Soon by Serri Devashrayee Wittwer
After I had a miscarriage in March, my sister gave me her well-read copy of this slim volume, which is a marvelously comforting summary of the doctrines of the gospel concerning unborn babies, whether they be lost through an early miscarriage or later on through a stillbirth or in infancy. In the LDS faith, we believe that children are innocent and pure and automatically saved through Christ’s sacrifice for mankind, and I would highly recommend this for any woman who is grieving over the loss of a baby.
3. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
I’ve been hearing about Krakauer’s page-turning accounts for years, but this was the first time I picked one of his up, and I was immediately hooked from page one. Basically, in this book Krakauer researches the disappearance of one Alex McCandless, who was a recent college grad from a wealthy family who gave away all his possessions and hiked into the Alaska wilderness alone, only to have his body found four months later. This haunting true story reads just like a fictional thriller, and I think it would be the perfect read for someone who doesn’t consider himself much of a reader–it’s THAT compelling.
4. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
Although this is not a book I personally would want to own (just because it has so much swearing and difficult subject matter in it), it still was one of the most important books I read this year. J. D. Vance grew up in poverty and wrote this memoir about what it was like to grow up in a broken home and a broken community in a working-class white community of Appalachia, and this book gave me quite a bit of insight into a subculture I wasn’t very familiar with (but that I saw evidence of when I was a teacher in a very rural area). I listened to a podcast once where someone mentioned that the best books shouldn’t be measured on how enjoyable or entertaining they are, but rather on how they influence you, change your worldview, or open your eyes to things previously unknown. This book did just that for me.
5. How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White
I loved this book so much that it influenced its very own blog post, and I still think of it often whenever I approach how to best keep my home tidy. Basically, if you’ve always struggled with being a tidy person and are sick of taking advice from people who were born organizers, then this book is for you–it’s written by a self-named “slob” who decided she was going to finally clean up her act, and her advice was PERFECT for someone like me, who likes a clean home but who often prioritizes other, more creative pursuits first. This book is at the top of my list of books I want to buy for myself ASAP.
6. Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
This memoir was unlike anything I’ve ever read before, not only because of its totally whimsical format (aka, it doesn’t “read” like a normal book at all, but has drawings and seemingly random collections of lists and words and collected experiences, etc.), but because its author had such an exuberance for life that it was completely contagious. This book made me want to be more playful, to laugh more, and to love more passionately every time I picked it up. The book only became more poignant as I realized that the author died soon after–quite young–due to cancer.
7. Covenant Motherhood by Stephanie Dibb Sorensen
Here’s another book that’s at the top of my buy-for-myself-ASAP list. Although short (barely 100 pages), this book is meant to be digested slowly, as each chapter looks at an aspect of Christ’s character and draws parallels to how the daily acts of motherhood–such as washing, cooking, doing laundry, etc.–help to refine us to become more like Him. Though written by an LDS author, this is one that most Christian women would appreciate, and it is BY FAR one of the most influential books I have read this year, and especially since becoming a mother. If I could buy a copy of this for every single mother I know, I would.
8. Grit by Angela Duckworth
“Grit” started to become a big buzzword in education just as I was in my last couple years of teaching, and my school actually did a whole year around concepts found in Duckworth’s research. However, though I was familiar with the basic concepts driving Duckworth’s theories, I didn’t have an in-depth understanding of her research until I read her book this year. Basically, this is a book you’ll want to read with a highlighter in hand because it has loads of passages you’ll just HAVE to mark, and it’s almost impossible to read this and not feel inspired to try harder to succeed at the things you want most in life. The theories in this book will literally influence me probably for the rest of my life.
As I get older, my reading tastes become more and more set, and I’m often less and less likely to pick up stuff outside of my comfort zone (and if I do, I’m more often than not disappointed). However, every so often, I’ll pick up a recommendation that’s totally outside of what I’d normally read and LOVE it, and such was the case with this one. Though I’m not into film-making or behind-the-scenes stuff AT ALL, this book about the making of the movie The Princess Bride was such a fun read, and it made me so eager to watch the movie again because I had heaps of new things to look for now that my attention had been drawn to them. Basically, almost anyone who’s a fan of The Princess Bride would probably enjoy this book.
10. Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist
My tenth pick was a tough one since I had several books that fit into this same type of category and had a difficult time deciding between them. However, in the end, this pick by Niequist won out because of the beautiful but largely relatable writing and because it’s one that I would really like to visit again soon (which is not something I say often about many books). I loved her thoughts on motherhood, her reflections on her faith, and reading about those experiences in her life that most drove her to make the necessary changes she knew she needed to make so that she wasn’t a constant ball of stress all the time. I remember that I wanted to mark a LOT of passages in this while reading (but couldn’t, since I’d borrowed it from the library), so this is one I’ll probably pick up someday so I can revisit it with a highlighter.
A few honorable mentions:
- At Home in This Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises by Jerusalem Greer (I talk more about this one here)
- The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (a little bit dense at times, but totally fascinating)
- The Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines (any Fixer Upper fan would love this one!)
- Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl (I’ve been a Reichl fan ever since I first discovered her a couple years ago–this one talking about her childhood was a particular favorite)
What are some recent nonfiction reads that YOU’VE loved this year? I’m always on the lookout for my next read!