One of my cushiest jobs of all time was being a reader for the Hallmark Channel. Every week, I’d drive down the 101 to the Valley to pick up a stack of books to review. The stories came in waves depending on what themes the producers were interested in, ranging from autism to cancer, and—of course—Christmas. My barometer for whether a book should be made into a film was simple: if it made me cry, it made the cut. I loved being a professional reader and cryer. Now, all these years later, when Joy asked me to do a nonfiction roundup, I’m using a different test: if I love a book after 50 pages, it makes the list. Plain and simple.
Below are some of the nonfiction books for Summer 2022:
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman
Did you know there’s an entire segment of the population who believe Winona Ryder should’ve ended up with Ben Stiller instead of Ethan Hawke at the end of Reality Bites? This shocking fact and many more are tucked away in Chuck Klosterman’s collection of essays on the 1990s. Covering the cultural moments that defined the decade through music, politics, and movies, he opens readers’ eyes to a decade we all have such rich nostalgia for by using a perspective that can only be gained over time. In any other writer’s hands, these chapters could’ve ended up reading like Wikipedia entries, but Klosterman hones in on the vibe of the era in a way that’s savvy and entertaining. Booyah.
This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown by Taylor Harris
My book club was supposed to meet up to discuss This Boy We Made but our meeting kept getting rescheduled until it finally fell off the calendar altogether. It happens. In the imaginary meeting I held in my head, though, I pictured all the members in the group nodding their heads in empathy with the author. Not that we’ve all been through this exact experience of Black motherhood and parenting a child with a perplexing neurodivergent condition. But, rather, we’re rounding the bend on middle age and have arrived at a stage in life where we’ve either experienced firsthand some freaky medical adventures or have close relations who’ve been dealt a similar hand. Do not skip this book like we skipped that meeting.
Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker, 1965–2000 edited by Valerie Boyd
Recently, our neighbor installed some stadium-style spotlights in her yard, which beam directly onto the pillow where I rest my weary head every night. Then she promptly left town for three weeks. So, too lazy to install bedroom curtains, I am UP until all hours. The only answer to this, of course, is reading. I already have a slim stack of trusty books on my nightstand for this very purpose. It includes Virignia Woolf’s letters, some Laurie Colwin paperbacks and, now, Alice Walker’s journals. All of this preamble is to say…What is there to even add about Alice Walker that hasn’t already been said? She is a genius, that we already know. And her latest collection is essential to any book lover’s library. It’s an honor to add this beautiful volume to the permanent residence on my nightstand, where I can spend my sleepless nights dipping in and out of her life.
Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free by Sarah Weinman
OK, technically, I only made it to page 25 with this one before throwing in the towel. But don’t let that hold you back. Personally, I just don’t have the stomach for true crime. What intrigued me about this book, though, is that a man was convicted of murdering a teenager in the 1960s, was sentenced to death, and conned his way into being set free by essentially using a successful letter-writing campaign. How is it possible for a monster to employ that level of finesse? And how did he get away with yet another murder? Can one of you honeys please read this for me and report back? Thank you for your service.
Hello, Molly! By Molly Shannon
You’ll want to dive head first into Molly Shannon’s memoir. It is fabulous with five exclamation points. At four years old, Molly lost her mother in a tragic car accident that went on to shape her entire life, eventually providing inspiration for some of the greatest characters in TV and movie history. Though her memoir is based around this traumatic event, there are some juicy chapters on sneaking onto an airplane at age 11, scamming her way into Hollywood after college, and breaking out with a peak SNL cast. Just please do yourself a favor and listen to the audio version, narrated by the Superstar herself.
I Didn’t Do the Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt to Embrace the Hidden Value in Daily Life by Madeleine Dore
You’re not supposed to diagnose your loved ones but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and prescribe this book to everyone I know. Myself included. We all face a pile of undone tasks and projects that often comes with an undercurrent of guilt, anxiety, and, sometimes, shame. Madeleine Dore comes to the rescue with an exploration of how we can broaden the definition of a day well spent. Using research, theory, and stories, her book is the perfect antidote to help us shift away from productivity guilt into a kinder version of daily life. Meander through it at your leisure and call me in the morning.
Life on the Rocks: Building a Future for Coral Reefs by Juli Berwald
Nonfiction is a great way to stock your brain with facts on a subject you know nothing about so you can crank up the conversation at your next party. The topic at hand here is the general badassness of coral reefs. Marine biologist Juli Berwald travels the world in an attempt to save coral reefs while also keeping her daughter afloat amid a mental health crisis. I appreciate how Berwald frames the science narrative in a climactic way instead of making you feel like you’re reading a textbook. This subject is immensely urgent and should be on everyone’s radar, making it the perfect fodder for when you have half a glass of wine and a stranger’s ear.
The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
I had to keep checking myself to make sure this memoir could be filed under ‘nonfiction’ because it actually feels otherworldly. Let’s file it instead under magic mixed with clear-eyed realism. Spurred by a shared case of amnesia, Rojas Contreras joins her mother on a journey home to Colombia to learn her family history. And how lucky we are to learn about this dreamy family with her! All it took to hook me was this description of her grandfather, a curandero aka homeopath: “Nono often moved clouds for farmers who needed rain, and for Mami, who was his favorite. But it wasn’t always like that. When Mami was born, in fact, he tried to kill her.”
Happy reading, friends!
See also: How to Read More, Even if You Have No Time and a salty reading snack.
is there a link for the gorgeous blue and white dress in the picture?
Amazed that someone else loves Laurie Colwin. Happy All the Time and her two memoir/cookbooks (the titles of which just slipped out of my brain and I’m too lazy to get up and check. . . Home Cooking? and More Home Cooking? maybe?) are dear to my heart.
Alice Walker has an extremely troubling history of antisemitism, and I wish it were more commonly acknowledged.
Dang. No, I was not aware of that. What a stunning disappointment. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention, Cate, I’m going to look into it now.
Alice Walker is an amazing writer but also the Ezra Pound of her generation. As they aged, both relentlessly shock with their horrible antisemitism but consistently get a pass by other writers and academics. Readers should know that they they are more than just a little bit evil. Alien lizard people? Really Alice?
Non-fiction isn’t normally my jam, but I think I’m gonna have to give a few of these a try. Already loved Molly’s memoir!
Was looking for some takes regarding this topic and I found your article quite informative. It has given me a fresh perspective on the topic tackled. Thanks!
Wait, Joy. HOW DOES ONE GET A JOB READING FOR THE HALLMARK CHANNEL? Asking for. . . a friend. Who didn’t know her dream job of reading for a living is a real job.
Can’t wait to start reading!
Also, I agree, Must Know the source of that adorable dress! :)
Such a good list. How do I sign up to be a reader for Hallmark movies? The Nineties was a perfect throwback as an elder/geriatric millenial (b. 1982). Such a fascinating and insightful take on a time I have such nostalgia for.
I, too, was born in ’82 but will never come to terms with being an elder/geriatric millenial :)
Nice list! I’ve enjoyed reading from your recommendations! TY! And cute dress!! Please share source.
Reader for Hallmark movies?!? That’s a job?!? Why didn’t my high school guidance counselor tell me this?!? I’ve wasted 60 years.
You and me both! Still trying to pick my jaw off the ground after reading that tidbit.
Ha! Rest assured, this was a short-term opportunity during the writers strike of 2008 when the channel was just sourcing books, not scripts. No guidance counselor alive is able to predict that kind of good fortune.
Immediately clicked the post to add a comment recommending Alice Walker’s memoir and delighted to see it listed. It is a glorious read and I also highly recommend.