The Best Nonfiction Books (for the Fiction Reader)

For the past two or three years I’ve been solely encapsulated with reading non-fiction. There was a time when I only read fantasy novels and wouldn’t even imagine being able to read a nonfiction book, let alone fall in love with the genre. I’ve realized that, when given a strong voice, memoirs and biographies are just as fascinating and, better yet, real. Memoirs and biographies can offer escapism just like any other fiction book, and what’s even more special is falling in love with someone else's life story, getting lost in the possibilities of our world. Memoirs can be truly inspirational and challenge us to analyze our own lives and think critically about the lessons life teaches us. If you’re like me and you love memoirs, or maybe you want to try reading a nonfiction book for the first time, then this is the list for you!

Note: All synopses are courtesy of goodreads.

  1. 1. What I was doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

    My favorite book that I read this summer was Kristen Newman’s book What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding. Not only did this book satisfy the traveler in me, but the conversational writing style made me feel as if I were friends with Kristin. Her traveling stories were very entertaining, and it left me wanting to live her life and admiring her for veering away from societal “norms” in relation to how one should live. If you’ve never read a memoir before, this is the one I’d recommend you start with. 

    Synopsis: Kristin Newman spent much of her twenties and thirties buying dresses to wear to her friends' weddings and baby showers. Not ready to settle down and in need of an escape from her fast-paced job as a sitcom writer, Kristin instead traveled the world, often alone, for several weeks each year. In addition to falling madly in love with the planet, Kristin fell for many attractive locals, men who could provide the emotional connection she wanted without costing her the freedom she desperately needed. Kristin introduces readers to the Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests who helped her transform into "Kristin-Adjacent" on the road–a slower, softer, and, yes, sluttier, version of herself at home.

  2. 2. Would You Rather? A Story of Growing Up and Coming Out by Katie Heaney

    I read this book in two days; that’s how captivating it is. Katie Heaney is a younger writer and I felt that aspect made her relatable, along with her telling of her process growing up and discovering who she is. The book is full of self-deprecating humor that makes it a very enjoyable read.

    Synopsis: When Katie Heaney published her first book of essays chronicling her singledom up to age 25, she was still waiting to meet the right guy. Three years later, a lot changed. For one thing, she met the right girl. Here, for the first time, Katie opens up about realizing that she is gay. She tackles everything from the trials of dating in New York City to the growing pains of her first relationship, from obsessing over Harry Styles (because, actually, he does look a bit like a lesbian) to learning to accept herself all over again. Exploring love and sexuality with her neurotic wit and endearing intimacy, Katie shares the message that it's never too late to find love--or yourself. 

  3. 3. I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai

    I read this book last summer and it is still on the list of one of my favorite books. If you’re into human rights, politics and cross-cultural analysis, then Malala’s biography is the perfect place to start.

    Synopsis: On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize. I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls' education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

  4. 4. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

    Maid is one of those books that I recommend to anyone. Once I finished it, my mom, nana and sister all read it after I raved about it. Each one of them loved it, and I think it’s because the book doesn’t just cater to one age group. Stephanie has a dream for herself that’s consistent throughout the book, making you root for her in the hopes that she will one day get the life that she wants. 

    Synopsis: “My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.” While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work--primarily done by women--fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter's head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today's inequitable society. While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren't being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans.

  5. 5. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wall

    I read The Glass Castle at the end of summer last year. It’s an unbelievable story that’ll have you going through all the emotions. Just when you think things are heading in a better direction, all structure is destroyed and you’re left to sit in suspense, wondering what will happen next and how it can get any worse. 

    Synopsis: Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

These books have offered me the best form of escapism. All of these writers have amazing voices that make the books hard to put down. Better yet, the feminine voices and stories of these women offer a connective and supportive outlet to readers that relate to the female narrative. If you’ve always wanted to try reading a nonfiction novel, any book on this list is the right place to start. Happy reading!