December 22, 2009
Though I didn't read as many stellar nonfiction titles as I did last year, several impressed me, and these are the nonfiction books I have been recommending most to friends, family, and blog readers.
Several of the titles from my favorite 2009 graphic novels could easily have been added to this list (Stitches and Likewise are among my favorite nonfiction titles of the year), but I chose to keep the lists separate this year.
All links go to the authors' contributions to the Book Notes series. I have reposted my original review below each book.
What was your favorite nonfiction book of 2009?
As much as I have admired Stephen Elliott's writing in the past (Happy Baby is one of my favorite novels), his new memoir The Adderall Diaries still managed to amaze me. Elliott has produced a memoir as fascinating and captivating as a great novel.
Jason Sheehan doesn't have a cooking show on television or own a trendy restaurant, but his memoir Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death in the Kitchen is a fascinating glimpse at professional kitchens. From his early days washing dishes at a pizzeria to working in a variety of diners, delis and other restaurants, Sheehan captures the chaos of the dinner rush and the bravado (and sometimes stupidity) of his fellow chefs. Intertwined among the kitchen stories is Sheehan's own story which truly makes Cooking Dirty one of the year's most compelling memoirs.
Colin Dickey's new book, Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius, is a fascinating history of the stealing of skulls. Well-researched and thoughtfully illustrated, these tales of grave robbing (and often the medical and pseudo-medical reasons behind the crimes) are easy to read, yet hard to forget.
Hanan Al-Shaykh's The Locust and The Bird is a unique memoir, a mother's life written by her estranged daughter, told in the first person. Not many authors could pull this off, but Al-Shaykh, widely regarded as one of the Arab world's finest writers, does so with incredible effect.
Kamila (Al-Shaykh's mother) can neither read nor write, so she dictates her story of a forced marriage, search for true love, and rebellions both great and small in the name of freedom. The Locust and The Bird is not only a well-written, moving and entertaining story, but is also one of the most socially and historically important books I have read this year.
In Slanted and Enchanted, Kaya Oakes examines the history of the DIY indie movement in music, publishing, and even crafts, exploring how these groups have evolved and intertwined over the years. Much more than a mere collection of interviews and observations, the book lives up to its subtitle and truly explores the evolution of indie culture in the United States.
Amy Stewart's Wicked Plants is the rare book I find myself recommending to friends, family, and blog readers of all types. Aesthetically it is a thing of beauty, from its luscious cover illustration to the intricate black and white etchings inside. Stewart lists and examines poisonous plant life with a rare flair for combining anecdotal history and scientific background. Charming, funny, and smartly written, I will be giving more copies of this book as Christmas presents this year than any other.
also at Largehearted Boy:
Largehearted Boy 2009 favorite novels
Largehearted Boy 2009 favorite short story collections
Largehearted Boy 2009 favorite graphic novels
Largehearted Boy 2009 favorite albums
Largehearted Boy 2008 favorite nonfiction
previous lists at Largehearted Boy
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)