In case you didn’t know, I very much enjoy reading nonfiction and learning new things. I also love reading books by authors of color so I can share them with all of you. I think both of those things are really important, both to me and to just the world as a whole. Think about it: wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone read stories by people whose experiences were different than their own?
This week has been a hard one for a lot of people. I might be a white woman (who definitely voted for Biden, in case anyone cares), but I know and understand what this election means to a lot of people. As I’m writing this, the race has yet to be called. But even if Biden wins, we’re still living in an America where the fight between good and racism was insanely close. And it makes me really sad, but I know we can keep going and we can keep working to make this better.
Election aside, this is also the month where we celebrate nonfiction! So, today I thought I would share some of my absolute favorite nonfiction books written by authors of color. Because both things should be celebrated. If you are looking for some nonfiction to read this month (and you should), I highly recommend you check some of these out! I think there’s a pretty good mix, depending on what you might be interested in.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
This is exactly what it sounds like. Basically, a super condensed class on astrophysics. And, while I am fascinated by outer space, I definitely do not have a science/math brain (my degrees are in English and history). I have never ever taken a physics class. But deGrasse Tyson does such a great job teaching astrophysics that even I understood it. I have actually read A Brief History of Time, but if you’re not a scientist, I’d recommend going with this one. It’s a lot easier to understand, and it was fun to learn knew things (even if I’ve forgotten most of it in the years since I read this).
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
I’m a huge Trevor Noah fan. Both his show and his standup. So, obviously, I had to read this. I honestly wasn’t expecting it to become one of my all-time favorite memoirs, but it definitely did. It’s so good! He does inject some humor into this book, but it really centers around his story, but what it was like to grow up in a country where it was literally a crime to exist as a biracial child. Also, his mother is awesome, and I want to be like her when I grow up.
I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
We all know Malala. But it was kind of different to actually read her full story. This book really emphasizes the importance of education and just how bad it is in some parts of the world, especially for girls. I was always the girl who loved the school part of school. I actually really miss having to write papers and sit in on classes. So, for me, education is a big deal. And this book made me more aware of how so many girls don’t have the opportunities I did to learn. That’s not okay, and I think it’s something we should all know more about so we can all help to change it.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
On the verge of becoming a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi discovers he has stage four lung cancer. So he wrote this book. Which was finished by his wife after he died. And it is absolutely heartbreaking. But so beautiful. He is looking back on his life, knowing it is about to end, and it just really hits home how little time we have to do the things that bring us joy. It’s definitely an impactful book, and one I definitely think you should read. Just make sure you have tissues.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
I don’t have too much to say about this other than that it’s an excellent memoir. We all know Michelle Obama as First Lady, but she actually achieved quite a lot in her own right. And I’m glad I read this book and learned more about her, because she’s someone I really admire.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I feel like this is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a very short book about why we should all be feminists. And, if you are already a feminist, it’s worth reading because she provides some great arguments you can use when encountering people who are not feminist.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
I love history, but I really hadn’t read farther than a few centuries back. This is literally the entire history of the human species. And it’s so, so good. It was fascinating and also kind of made me want to go back to hunter gatherer days. Because apparently people were a lot happier back then, so it might be worth it. I don’t know. But I do know this book is absolutely worth reading.
Hunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay
I’ve always been a bigger girl. And I have never really felt comfortable in my own body (it’s weirdly improved a lot this year, but I’m still working on it). But I have never read anything that so perfectly encapsulated that experience, and the things it made me feel. It made me realize some of the reasons that I, as a child, kind of leaned into being bigger. Because, while it made me feel uncomfortable, it also made me feel safe. Roxane Gay’s memoir is so raw and beautiful. It’s been years, and I’m still thinking about it.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
You might know Hidden Figures from the movie (which is great). But, as we all know, there is just more stuff in the books. Which, in the case of nonfiction, kind of matters. The black women who helped get John Glenn safely into orbit (and back) deserve credit for all their work. There are so many hidden figures in history that we should really be focusing on, and this is a great place to start.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This is a fun one! It’s actually a graphic memoir. So, if you want a book with pictures, this is it. But it’s also really impactful. It’s about a girl coming of age during the Islamic Revolution. It’s about her discovering herself and growing, but also what it’s like to live during times of unrest. It just really made an impact on me. I also thought the illustrations were great.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
For me (and probably a lot of you), when I read about issues of racism, I tend to focus on America. Because, let’s fact it, things are really not great here. But, honestly, I kind of hadn’t really thought about the racial issues in countries like England. Which is why I really enjoyed reading this book and learning more. The issues are fairly similar, but not totally the same, so it was definitely interesting. Plus, Eddo-Lodge mades the great point that it isn’t up to black people (or people of color) to educate white people. We need to do it ourselves (by reading books like this) and stop asking questions, because that is not their job! I don’t think this is something I was guilty of, but I’m definitely more conscious of it now.
The Reason I Jump: The Innner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida
I was not raised to be very empathetic. I had to learn that on my own. And this is one of the books I felt helped me a lot. It’s basically all about how a boy with autism sees the world. So many people don’t understand it, because their experience is so different. Which is why I think it’s important to read books like this and gain empathy towards people who you can’t identify with. That’s what makes this better people. I highly recommend this one, especially if you’re ever around kids. It just really gives you a better understanding and a greater sense of empathy.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
We have established on this blog that I really like weird science books. Another fun fact about me: I read pretty much any book Bill Gates recommends. So, you know I had to read the Gates-recommended book about microbes. Yes, this book totally grossed me out and I try not to think about the fact that there are millions of microorganisms helping me live. Each person contains their own mini ecosystem, and it’s weird, but kind of cool.
The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
As someone with a few genetic traits (including a chronic illness) that I’d rather not have, I was curious as to why I ended up with certain traits my sisters didn’t. How does that work? Why to things get passed down? This is really a history about our understanding of the gene and what it does. And it was pretty fascinating.
A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
This is a heartbreaking memoir about a man who had to leave everything behind in search of a better life outside of North Korea. He also talks about his experience living there, and how brutal it was, especially since he was half-Korean and half-Japanese, and therefore never really accepted into society. Most of us will never understand the challenges he faced, but I think it’s an important story for us to know.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
This is another incredibly difficult book to read. Chanel Miller, also known as Emily Doe, became famous for writing a letter. The letter was to her rapist, Brock Turner, who was famously sentenced to only six months in jail for assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. In this memoir, she takes back her story. I absolutely loved this book. Miller is a fantastic writer and tells her story so well. It’s just another important read to better understand the experiences of women in America, and why society and the government largely fails to protect us.
Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
After the beginning of 2020, I think we all know this book. I was already planning on reading it this year, but knew I definitely had to pick it up. And it absolutely blew me away. As a white person, who was raised in a very conservative family in a very conservative pocket of California, I definitely had some inherited biases. And, while I’ve been trying to work on them and improve myself, this book kind of made me realize just how much I didn’t know, and how much of what I was taught was completely wrong. It’s interesting in itself, but also just a really great starting point for anyone looking to be anti-racist (which should be everyone), or anyone looking to gain a better understanding of exactly what racism is in America.
That’s it for this post! I hope you enjoyed it! I really enjoyed every single one of these book, and hope you found something new to read.
It probably goes without saying, but there are even more books still on my TBR, so if it’s not on this list, I probably just haven’t read it yet. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments down below!