My Top 10 Nonfiction Reads

I’ve always been a reader, but 95 percent of what I read is fiction. For the past two years, I have really tried to change that. I’m currently reading a book of literary criticism called How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom (at my dad’s recommendation) and I’m really enjoying it, so I thought I’d share 10 of my favorite nonfiction books that might spark an interest in you, especially if you primarily read fiction like I do. I do want to quickly say that these books really reflect my specific interests, so this list mostly consists of books about music and literature.

  1. 1. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Carey Elwes

    Gif of a character from the Princess Bride saying "As you wish"

    This was one of my favorite books that I read last year! The Princess Bride has been my favorite movie since I was a kid, so as a huge fan it was amazing hearing all about the making of the movie and stories from set. The book is written by Carey Elwes (Westley) but almost every cast main cast member contributed writings to this book. Some of those involved were: Robin Wright (Princess Buttercup), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), Billy Crystal (Miracle Max), and Christopher Guest (Count Rugen) among many more. Even Rob Reiner (director) and William Goldman (writer of The Princess Bride novel and screenplay) contributed to the writing of this book. I especially recommend listening to the audiobook while you read, as almost every person reads their own sections in the book and I think it really enhances the experience. It was so wonderful to hear how much this movie means to those involved and how proud they still are of it decades later. I think it is super rare when a piece of work continues to mean just as much to those involved in its creation as it does to the fans, but The Princess Bride is absolutely one of them. I definitely didn’t expect to be in tears by the end of this book, but I’m not afraid to admit I found myself crying through the last few chapters.

  2. 2. Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcom Harris

    This was actually a book I had to read for a class last semester, so I was shocked to find how much I enjoyed it. Harris explores the unique struggles that those in the millennial generation are born into and why the common belief that they are lazy or entitled really couldn’t be further from the truth. The creation of technology and the 21st century labor market has greatly impacted those born into the millennial generation or after. Harris’s major claim is that millennials were the first generation raised “explicitly as investments” and whose childhoods became more of an adult preparation than anything else. It is a really fascinating read and opens your eyes to many unfortunate circumstances the younger generations are being born into. However, fair warning, it’s not exactly an uplifting read.

  3. 3. This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

    woman in blue denim jacket holding white and black happy birthday

    This collection of essays by Morgan Jerkins is an incredible account of what it is like growing up as a black woman in white America. I really recommend this because, despite being extremely eye opening and educational, it is also incredibly digestible. Jerkins is only in her twenties, but she has already experienced so much and doesn’t shy away from anything or any topic. Her writing can only be described as brutally honest and unapologetic. I especially recommend this if you are a fan of Roxanne Gay, specifically her book Bad Feminist (which I also really enjoyed but have only read bits of which is why it isn’t on this list). I think a quote from the goodreads blurb explains it perfectly, “this is a book about black women, but it’s necessary reading for all Americans.”

  4. 4. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Marie Rilke

    Letters to a Young Poet is only about 45 pages of 10 letters, but it is truly one of the best books I have ever read. In 1903, a student and aspiring poet at a military academy sent some of his work and a letter to Rainer Marie Rilke, a well-respected Austrian poet. What follows was a sort of pen-pal relationship for the next five years where Rilke offers advice, both for poetry and life, in each of his letters to the young pupil. Rilke is honestly a genius and reading these letters is probably the closest you could ever get to being inside his brain when he’s writing a poem. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t care less about poetry, I think everyone should read this collection. However, don’t forget to read it with a pen in your hand because my copy is well loved and one of the most annotated books I own.

  5. 5. Multiple works by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    I have read two books by Adichie and I couldn’t pick between them if my life depended on it so I’m recommending both. The first book I read by her was We Should All Be Feminists and it actually originated as a Ted Talk she did. If you don’t want to read the essay, I definitely recommend the Ted Talk because they are basically the same thing and equally brilliant. Adichie is able to perfectly explain feminism in the 21st century and what it means to be a modern woman, not only in the United States but also in her native Nigeria. We Should All Be Feminists was also the very first piece of feminist nonfiction that I read when I was in high school and I think it’s the perfect introduction to feminism. Her other book I can’t recommend enough is Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Dear Ijeawele is adapted from a letter Adichie wrote as a response to her friend who just had a baby and wanted to know how to raise her daughter as a feminist. I’m obviously not a mother, so I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did but it is truly brilliant and one of my favorite books of all time, not just nonfiction. Adichie makes amazing observations about growing up a girl and how that impacts us for the rest of our lives. Also, she makes it clear that these rules don’t just apply to young girls, and you should raise your sons to be feminists too. Each of these books are only about 60 pages but they really leave a huge impact, especially for such a tiny package.

  6. 6. Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan

    I have always respected Bob Dylan as a writer, so much so that I wrote a whole research paper on his lyrics for my American Lit class in high school, and this book is just another way he shows his natural talent. This memoir is a fascinating look at one of America’s favorite songwriters in his own passionate and poetic way of writing. His songs have always shown his talent for storytelling, so it’s obvious no one could tell his own story better than him. While enjoying his music certainly helps, you don’t have to be Dylan’s number one fan to appreciate this book. Also, if I haven’t made it clear enough how good of a writer Dylan is, he actually won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 for his poetry and songwriting.

  7. 7. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

    Love letter with flowers

    Just like Letters to a Young Poet, 84, Charing Cross Road is a series of letters over a period of multiple years. However, instead of just five years, these letters cover 20 years of correspondence and friendship between Hanff, a writer in New York City, and a used bookseller in London. Despite their decades long friendship through their letters, the two are never able to meet, but their love of books is what preserves their relationship despite the ocean that always sits between them. This book is so genuinely sweet that it is constantly hard to believe these are real letters as so much of it seems too charming to be real. If you’ve read and/or seen The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is basically the real-life version of that. Our world rarely feels truly friendly or caring, especially lately, so I think this book is the perfect reminder of the kindness and humanity that does exist, even if we don’t always see it.

  8. 8. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

    I absolutely love music and I especially love the punk and rock music scenes from the 1960s-80s. I have always been particularly interested in the punk movement and this is definitely the best book about it that I have read. In fact, I love it so much I’ve actually read it twice and I know I’ll read it again, probably pretty soon. This book is written almost like one really long interview with punk figures like Iggy Pop, Dee Dee and Joey Ramone, and many others. I will warn you, this book is definitely a little disturbing at times (it is uncensored after all) but it’s just so fascinating you can’t help but keep reading. I’ve read a lot of music nonfiction as it’s what I tend to gravitate to, but this is without a doubt my favorite of the genre.

  9. 9. Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

    albums

    I’ve already touched on this book in a previous article, but this is one of my favorite memoirs and definitely the most emotional read on this list. Rob Sheffield met and married the girl of his dreams, but she unfortunately passed away in his arms just seven years later. In this memoir, Sheffield uses fifteen of his favorite mixtapes to show how music can heal a person, even when it feels like they cannot be saved. This is one of the most touching books I have ever read, and it moved me in ways I cannot even describe. It’s basically a much more emotional version of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. This is the perfect book for someone who has been saved by music, especially if you know what it’s like to lose someone you love. I think everyone should read this book…just read it with a box of tissues within reach.

  10. 10. Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby

    Speaking of Nick Hornby, since I started this article by mentioning my weird love of literary criticism, I thought I would end it with my favorite nonfiction book about books. For years, Nick Hornby wrote a Believer column called “Stuff I’ve Been Reading”. This book contains every month’s column from September 2003 to June 2013 and his thoughts on every book. A review from Booklist puts it perfectly, “how often do you begin reading a book that makes you—immediately, urgently, desperately—want to read more books?” There is nothing better than hearing someone talk about what their passionate about, and Nick Hornby’s passion for books and storytelling lifts right off the page. If your 'to be read' pile is as large as mine, maybe wait to pick this up as you will want to read every book he loves. On the other end, if you need more recommendations, there is no better place to start!

Happy Reading!

HCXO,  Maeve