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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!