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Thursday, December 5, 2019

My 9 Favorite Non-Fiction Books of the 2010s

Last post, we took a look at my favorite novels of the last decade. That list was incredibly hard to pare down to a manageable number. This list, my favorite non-fiction reads from the last 10 years, not so much. That's mostly because I read vastly more fiction than non — probably by a ration of 8 to 1 or so. But still, some of my favorite books of the last decade are memoirs, current events, sociological studies, and more recently, running books. Here, in no particular order, are my 9 favorite non-fiction reads of the last decade.


The Noble Hustle, by Colson Whitehead (2014) — Everyone knows Whitehead now as the purveyor of powerful fiction like The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys. But if you want a more light-hearted, much-funnier Whitehead, read this chronicle of his experience training for and participating in the World Series of Poker. It's so great! This book is my go-to recommendation to any dude who claims he doesn't like fiction but wants a good, engrossing read.

Evicted, by Matthew Desmond (2016) — I read this both because of the ecstatic reviews and its spot on the NY Times 10 Best Books of 2016, but also because I lived in Milwaukee for 10 years and wanted to see what this book had to say about one of favorite cities. It's a stunning read, sad and rage-inducing. The idea here is that shelter should be a human right. But clearly, that is not the case now. Still, reading about it is extremely eye-opening. This IS a book everyone should read.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama (2018)— Powerful, engaging, inspiring, and given the current state of things, heartbreaking. This might be the best memoir I've ever read.

— Educated, by Tara Westover (2018) — I'm so inspired by stories like Westover's about people who were raised in rigorously religious, non-intellectual settings, and managed to overcome that upbringing. Westover's story is a doozy! Imagine not setting foot in a classroom until you're a teenager, but then going forth to eventually earn a doctorate. What was fascinating about this book, too, is that she can never quite quit her family who was so evil to her. That's a theme in a lot of these "losing my religion" memoirs — stop believing, but never give up on family.

26 Marathons, by Meb Keflezighi (2019) — Meb is the rare runner who has crossed over into popular culture. That's because he's a perfectly delightful human. Ever since his win at the Boston Marathon in 2014 (the year after the bombing), Meb has been a gracious ambassador for the sport of running. He retired from racing recently, and has published this book about all his professional races. But it really reads more like a memoir of his running career — his ups and downs, injuries, sponsorships (and not), disappointments, and successes. I got to meet Meb a few years ago and he's as nice in person as he seems in all his interviews (and in this book!)— and it's so great when that happens! Meb! Meb! Meb!

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanthi (2016) —This is maybe the most difficult book I read this decade. It's the last piece of work by a dying man and it's about his struggle to find meaning in his life. When I wrote about this, I said "It's 220 of the saddest pages I've ever read in my life," and that holds true.

Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright (2013) — Wow! As I said above, I love stories about people bucking their "cult." But in this book, cult is literal — as it's about several people who escaped Scientology. What stood out to me about this book is how much influence, power, and money the Church of Scientology really has. It's terrifying! But knowing is half the battle, and this is an amazing read.

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, by David Lipsky (2010) — Duh, right? If you've been here for any amount of time, you probably are aware of my David Foster Wallace fan-boy-ness. And this terrific book about a Rolling Stone writer taking a road trip with DFW as part of his book tour is a rare insight into "everyday DFW." He's just as funny, smart, quick-witted, grouchy, and goofy as he appears in his novels and essays. And I loved the movie adaptation of this book, with Jason Segel as DFW. I still miss DFW (is it weird to miss someone you never met?) and often read a novel thinking, "Man, DFW would've LOVED this book!" Hard to believe he's been gone 11 years.

— Let Your Mind Run, Deena Kastor (2018) — Since fall of 2015, which is when I started running, I've read just about every running book I can get my hands on. This my favorite. Kastor is an Olympic medalist, and world-class marathoner, and her story about her life, and how she's mastered the mental aspects of being an elite runner, has lessons for everyone, not just runners. It's an intensely personal book (Kastor, an avid reader with a BA in English), actually wrote this herself — no ghostwriter here! And so she's really adept at putting you in the shoes and in the head of an elite athlete. I was a huge Kastor fan before this book, and if possible, much more so now.

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