Fiction is a struggle. Nonfiction goes down like a shot of honied milk. What was once a steady diet of sci fi and other shades of weird fiction has morphed into an insatiable need to read memoirs and other personal nonfiction. Amidst this frenzied feast comes Nonfiction November, a nonfiction reading event that happily coincides with my latest reading obsession. This post is, in part, a response to the questions posed by JulzReads for its inaugural week.
Science fiction has always provided the kind of intellectual mind candy I crave, and it still does. But ch-ch-ch-changes (*cue Bowie ear worm*) in my reading have mirrored changes in my life. I find myself ravenous to hear the stories of women who are artists, who are musicians, who are writers, who are parents, who are activists, who are feminists, who are searching and finding and creating and ruminating. As I am. Through the memoirs of women who are some combination of these things, I find a chorus of voices that help me examine and shape my own life.
I cannot even with nonfiction about white dudes right now. I am constantly surrounded by white dudes. The media is full of loud white dudes. History is full of white dudes. It is time for someone else to speak.
Most days, when I have a few free minutes or hours, I am sandwiched between blankets and pillows, a memoir in my hand. It hasn’t been great for my book-buying budget, as this new direction means there is little to mine from my tbr shelves. Just yesterday I ordered Rat Girl by Kerstin Hersh and Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life by Erica Jong. If my budget allows it, there will be a bell hooks purchasing and reading binge later in the month. So many inspiring women. So many inspiring words.
Exhibit A: My year in nonfiction
Thirty nonfiction books read so far in 2017, 16 of which are memoirs or memoir-esque. Nine were about parenting in one way or another; 19 could be described as feminist. Twenty-three were written by women. You can see where I’m going with this, or perhaps guess at the sort of things I am trying to figure out in my own life these days.
Of the 16 memoirs—shit, of all the nonfiction I’ve read this year—my favorite by far was Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, a dark, personal, feminist look at her experiences being a mother and being a woman. It’s crown can only be usurped by Just Kids by Patti Smith, which I am listening to for the second time right now.
The memoirs that disappoint have all disappointed for the same reason: the failure to get personal enough. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein is a prime example. In it, Brownstein focuses her attention on a lot of “then the band did this, then we recorded that” details, avoiding the deeply personal reactions and judgements and thoughts I was looking for. Fair enough, privacy is awesome. But a tightly buttoned memoir is not a memoir for me.
With a to-read list of memoirs and other feminist nonfiction approximately 37 miles long, I can’t be sure exactly which books November will bring my way, and I know better than to try to pinpoint a reading list. But if you want to follow along, I can guarantee they will include the voices of inspired, creative women.
The year in nonfiction, a list
Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood edited by Tomas Moniz & Jeremy Adam Smith
Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood by Barbara Almond
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys by Viv Albertine
You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
Breeder: Real-Life Stories From the New Generation of Mothers edited by Ariel Gore
Sex Object by Jessica Valenti
Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett
The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin
How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher
Shrill by Lindy West
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
All About Love by bell hooks
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris (audio, re-read)
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (audio, re-read)
Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin
Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris (audio)
Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
More Fool Me by Stephen Fry (audio)
Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody
He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, & 49 Other Double Standards Women Should Know by Jessica Valenti
Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy
The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti
The Autobiography of Mother Jones by Mary Harris Jones
Artists in Times of War by Howard Zinn (re-read)