True Story

Favorite Nonfiction of the Year Extravaganza

Woo hoo! Since this is the last edition of True Story for the year, it’s finally time to share 10 of my favorite nonfiction reads of 2018 (mostly, but not necessarily, published in this year). Then, I’ll share some of the submissions that other True Story readers shared via email and on Twitter to round out this extravaganza of great nonfiction. Let’s go!

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All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung – Nicole Chung grew up never questioning the correctness of her adoption. Despite growing up as one of the only Asians in a predominantly white, rural community, Chung felt that she was where she was meant to be. But as the birth of her own daughter approached, she felt compelled to get in touch with her birth family. She shares the joy and complexity of that decision in this memoir, a thoughtful story about family, identity, and the stories we build about where we come from. I thought it was beautifully told.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou – At one point, the young CEO of Theranos, a medical company in Silicon Valley, was seen as the next Steve Jobs. Soon after the company she built fell apart, leaving investors scrambling and the tech industry wondering what they had missed. This is the book I’ve recommend most often this year because it’s just so, so great. The truth behind the company is more bananas than I can describe here, the reporting is stellar, and the storytelling had me hooked from the first page.

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan – This collection of personal essays about difficult conversations and why we need to have them anyway felt like it had a little bit of everything. The funny parts worked because Kelly Corrigan is so specific in her stories, and the heavy parts worked the storytelling in the funny parts is so excellent. One of the last essays in the book absolutely gutted me in the best possible way.

One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson – Historian Carol Anderson looks at America’s history of voter suppression since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and how new techniques have emerged since that law was gutted in 2013. This book was enlightening, infuriating, and relevant given what we saw happen in Novembers midterm elections.

No One Tells You This by Glynnis MacNicol – When a book arrives at exactly the right moment, it can be a special sort of magic. That was the case for this memoir about the year Glynnis MacNicol turned 40 and grappled with the idea that there was no accepted narrative for her life as an uncoupled and childless woman. It was thoughtful, funny, feminist, and inspiring in equal measure.

Educated by Tara Westover – This book was my pick for Book Riot’s Best Books of 2018 collection, so I’ll just point you there for my thoughts. It’s stellar, read it.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – It is not a secret that I love libraries, so it’s probably not surprising that a book chronicling a 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library would be among my favorites of the year. What I loved most about this one is that Susan Orlean used the story of the fire to anchor a collection of essays and musings on the importance and social good of libraries grounded in her specific reporting and eye for detail. It was so great!

Never Caught by Erica Dunbar – This book is the kind of historical nonfiction I love, using a specific, under-the-radar story to add another dimension to the history we learn in school. In this case, Dunbar offers a more complicated look at George and Martha Washington, the slaves in their household, and life for African American women in early America via the story of an escaped slave, Ona Judge. It’s a quick, interesting read.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara – This posthumously published book chronicling the search for the Golden State Killer is one of the most genuinely creepy true crime books I’ve ever read. It’s also remarkable for being empathetic, well-reported, and unceasingly thoughtful in its treatment of the many, many victims the GSK affected. Despite feeling a little unfinished, it’s remarkable.

Tomorrow Will Be Different by Sarah McBride – I’ve had a tough time putting my finger on why I loved this memoir from a young transgender activist so much, but something about it has stuck with me all year. Sarah McBride writes about her work advocating for transgender rights in Delaware, her young marriage and widowhood, and her current work with empathy, intersectionality, and a clear heart. I was very moved by her story, and appreciated her empathy and kindness in writing about her friends, family, and community.

And that’s my 10! But there are so many excellent books out this year, I’m excited to share some of the favorites submitted by True Story readers too.

Alex L. – The Wisdom of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher and Ghostbuster’s Daughter by Violet Ramis Stiel

Alanna K. – How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee, I Can’t Date Jesus by Michael Arceneaux, and Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay

Mary C. – Indianapolis by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Jason P. – Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight, Boom Town by Sam Anderson, The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, plus several other titles shared on Twitter. 

@shm – Bad Blood by John Carreyrou and In Extremis by Lindsey Hilsum

Carolyn J. – Educated by Tara Westover, Atticus Finch by Joseph Crespino, Desert Cabal by Amy Irvine, Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxis, and The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Brett D. – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu

Amy M. – Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, No Place to Go by Lezlie Lowe, I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya, Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer, When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors

And with that, I’ll close out the last letter of 2018. Thanks so much for letting me hang out in your inbox this year, it’s been a real honor. Happy holidays, and see you in the New Year! — Kim