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Top-Selling Nonfiction of 2020

I try to highlight some weird or obscure nonfiction on here when I can, but what if we just went all in on popular nonfiction? That seems fun, right? So I looked at the top 100 selling books and did some cherry picking because I can. Enjoy!

A Promised Land cover by Obama

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Of course of COURSE this is on here. Obama’s 700+ page memoir is the first in a two-volume set. This volume goes from Obama’s early years through the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, so before he was elected for his second term. According to Wikipedia, Obama took the longest of any president writing a memoir since it started being a regular “thing” with Calvin Coolidge. But it’s a massive book, so we get it, Obama. We get it.

Untamed cover by Glennon Doyle

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Doyle’s previous books include Love Warrior and Carry On, Warrior. Her most recent memoir “is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live.” She discusses her divorce, her marriage to Abby Wambach, and their blended family. The book is divided into three sections: Caged, Keys, and Freedom. It’s all about empowerment for women and finding courage. My wife loves this book.

How to Be an Antiracist cover by Ibram X. Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

This was on so many antiracism lists last year, so it’s not a huge surprise it was one of the top sellers! Kendi talks about antiracism as “a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism” and “points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.” He relates how racism creates false hierarchies in society and makes everything actively worse. So we should stop that.

Caste cover

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

Pulitzer Prize–winning Wilkerson’s new book was a big, big release of last year. Despite America’s proclamation of being based in the notion that all people are created equal, all people are not treated equally. Wilkerson posits that there is a hidden caste system, which can be defined through eight pillars, including divine will and bloodlines. You know. The things people have used for millennia to say why they’re inherently better than other people. This came out last August, which both feels forever ago and “what, only eight months ago?”

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

This one surprised me, so I looked into it! For those of you in the know, forgive me, but I was shocked to see this has been a NYT bestseller for a full decade, so it made the top nonfiction list for 2020. All the reviews are very either “this book immediately changed my life” or “this book is garbage nonsense!” So sounds like something to arrive at your own opinion about!

For more nonfiction new releases, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerds.

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New Releases: Disney Love Lives + History!

April! So much warmer. So much rainier. Are you reading pretty steadily or are you experiencing a slump? Because I have been SLUMPING. As has my wife. We’re not sure why. Maybe the aforementioned warmer weather? Maybe our obsessive diving-into of HBO’s The Flight Attendant (SO GOOD)? But new books are always something to get excited about, so let’s go:

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo

In 1982, a Chinese American man named Vincent Chin was beaten to death in a Detroit bar. The two men who killed him were given a $3,000 fine and three years’ probation. This is about the case “that took the Asian American community to the streets in protest, and the groundbreaking civil rights trial that followed.”

Love Lives: From Cinderella to Frozen by Carol Dyhouse

Do you remember that Facebook group called like “Disney gave me unrealistic expectations about relationships”? Ok, so this Oxford University Press book (that’s right, it’s acaDEMIC) by social historian Dyhouse is about “the reshaping of women’s lives, loves and dreams since 1950,” the year Disney’s Cinderella came out, and how that changed in the next 60 years (the book ends with 2013’s Frozen). How have women’s lives transformed since 1950? Check this out to get into it.

My Broken Language: A Memoir by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Hudes writes a coming of age memoir about growing up in a Philadelphia barrio with her Puerto Rican family. Yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda definitely blurbed this book, and he did so with his characteristic enthusiasm, saying, “Her sentences will take your breath away. How lucky we are to have her telling our stories.”

Killing Season: A Paramedic’s Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic by Peter Canning

tw: drug use

Canning has been a paramedic for 25 years, and went from seeing those who use drugs as “victims only of their own character flaws” to individuals with different stories and paths. He now fights against their stigmatization and advocates for harm reduction, which includes safe-injection sites and community naloxone. His book includes personal stories, his journey to empathy, and ways we can reduce the severity of the opioid epidemic.

For more nonfiction new releases, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerds.

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Women’s History Books

That’s right! More women’s history books! Because I can! And because it’s the very end of Women’s History Month, which TBH is more of a year-round thing for me, but I love a themed month/week/day/party. So we’re going to take this opportunity to examine some women’s history books. Which is truly one of the broadest topics imaginable since it’s half the population on the globe, and yet NOT a field of study until the last like 50 years. Hm.

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini

Of course the second science started being the “it” thing, dudes decided to start using it to prove they were awesome. Well, their science was bad and they should feel bad. This book explains why this was all nonsense and what contemporary science is in fact telling us about how things work.

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown

The Lewis chess pieces are awesome. Ninety-three separate pieces carved from walrus ivory, found on a beach in Scotland in the early 1800s. Really distinctive and just so cool to look at. And apparently made by not only a woman in the 12th century, but a woman named “Margret the Adroit.” From Iceland! I’d never heard of this book or of Margret and this looks so interesting.

Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology by Deirdre Cooper Owens

We’ve got some more nonsense science! Including the Idea That Actual Doctors Believed about how Black women could feel pain less than white women. Because of this, Black women were used as test subjects for procedures like experimental caesarean sections, ovariotomies, and obstetric fistula repairs. In the midst of some actual advancements in medicine, “these doctors were legitimizing, for decades to come, groundless theories related to whiteness and blackness, men and women, and the inferiority of other races or nationalities.”

a history of islam in 21 women cover

A History of Islam in 21 Women by Hossein Kamaly

Love a series-of-profiles book. From Mecca in the 600s to present day Europe and America, Kamaly tells the stories of 21 Muslim women and their impact on society, including “first believer” Khadija, Mughal empress Nur Jahan, and acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid, who “liberated architectural geometry,” which is a pretty cool thing to be said about yourself.

For more nonfiction new releases, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerd

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New Releases: Remote Work + Royalty

I’ve been noticing some of my local bookstores reopening and it makes me really happy. In-person browsing shall return! But in the meantime, you get stuff like this newsletter, which you can browse literally anywhere (so long as you have the internet).

I love new release day. Sure, it makes me feel like there will never be enough time to read all the books I want to read, but that’s better than not having enough to read?? Speaking of, in seventh grade one day, I literally wished that I never ran out of things to read (I was in a dry spell) and since. that. day, I have not. Was there a wish-granting entity visiting my school that day? Maybe…maybe.

In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities by Davarian L. Baldwin

Have you ever lived in a city or area where there’s a university? Things can get expensive! Housing goes way up, things get gentrified, and frequently those on the margins end up paying for other people’s future. Baldwin highlights the ways universities can make cities inequitable and what we can do about it.

Girlhood by Melissa Febos

If this sounds familiar, it might be because it was on a whole bunch of “books we’re psyched about in 2021” lists. It’s a mix of reporting, research, and memoir, and looks at how “values she and so many other women had learned in girlhood did not prioritize their personal safety, happiness, or freedom, and she set out to reframe those values and beliefs.” So basically how, in girlhood, you’re taught a bunch of lies that you later either have to unlearn or just live with.

Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters by Andrew Morton

Boy, the royal family. Lots going on there. If you’re wondering about the background of the current queen and her close-in-age sister, this biography examines their lives from the angle of their sisterly relationship. As someone who was solely interested in Margaret for the approximately two episodes of The Crown that I made it through, this looks great.

Paper Trails: The US Post and the Making of the American West by Cameron Blevins

In 1899, there were five times as many post offices in the United States than McDonald’s today. How? Where were they? When did they explode into such high numbers (appx 100,000)? Blevins looks into how the US Post was tied to western expansion by white settlers and how the country as we know it today started to form.

Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere by Tsedal Neeley

If you’re working remotely during the pandemic, or even did so beforehand, you’re familiar with the challenges. How do you build trust, maintain connections without in-person interactions, and keep a firm work/life balance when your computer and therefore office is always a few feet away? Neeley writes for employees and managers, offering action items (I love an action item) and interactive tools for a better remote work experience for everyone.

For more nonfiction new releases, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerds.

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East Asian Nonfiction Titles

Nonfiction is a space where people can share personal stories, set down facts, chronicle injustices, and do so in a lasting format. The perpetrator of the massacre in Atlanta overwhelmingly targeted Asian women who didn’t have the luxury of working from home in an already dangerous pandemic.

This week, we’re going to look at some titles by East Asian writers and focus on the creativity and vibrancy they have brought into the world, in contrast to the destruction and desolation of this past week.

The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

History professor Lee tells the story of Asians in America, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Hmong (among others) from the 16th century (when people came to what is now California from Manila) to now when Asian Americans are treated as America’s “model minorities.” This was published in 2015, so it goes up to pretty recent events, but just misses the last presidency.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

Activist and beloved actor Takei shares the painful story of his family’s time in multiple Japanese internment camps during World War II. Ever since I read Maus, I’ve been a proponent of the graphic novel as memoir/biography, and this is an example of how the genre can be used to illustrate the more visual impressions of childhood. The story is a reminder of an extremely harmful and recent event in our nation’s history that is nevertheless rarely taught in school.

China in Ten Words by Yu Hua

Yu Hua picks ten common Chinese words and, through each one, illustrates something about Chinese history and culture, using anecdotes and facts. The words and phrases — people, leader, reading, writing, lu xun, revolution, disparity, grassroots, copycat, and bamboozle — each reveal something unique about “the Chinese experience over the last several decades.” Yu Hua has written novels and short story collections. This is his only book of essays.

The Magical Language of Others by E.J. Koh

When Koh was fifteen years old, her parents left America (where they had arrived ten years earlier) and went back to South Korea, leaving her and her brother in California. Over the years, her mother writes her letters in Korean, apologizing, “letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.” This is a story of “hard-won selfhood and our deep bonds to family, place, and language” told by an acclaimed poet.

If you are looking for a way to donate, NY Magazine has this resource: “68 Ways to Donate in Support of Asian Communities.”

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New Releases: Travel + Justice + Plants

If you read the Friday newsletter, you know that I was wondering why there aren’t many books with a green cover. One reader messaged me that someone right here at Book Riot has researched this issue! This article by L.L. Wohlwend is awesome and should be read: Judging a Book Cover By Its Color. And yes! Green is mentioned as something designers are told doesn’t sell well. Interesting.

I recently moved and am feeling literally boxed in by all my books, but that doesn’t stop me from coveting new releases as always. Here’re your highlights for this week:

The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans–and How We Can Fix It by Dorothy A. Brown

What if you used your knowledge of tax law to fight evil? Brown was doing her parents’ tax returns one day and realized they were paying a weirdly high amount for their jobs. Then when she became a law professor, she started researching why that happened. Surprise, turns out “American tax law rewards the preferences and practices of white people while pushing black people further behind” for things from going to college to buying a home.

Horizontal Vertigo : A City Called Mexico by Juan Villoro

I love a travel and history book. Sociologist and novelist Villoro walks Mexico City, recounting its history from indigenous antiquity to the Aztecs, the Spanish conquistadors, and modern day. Mexico City is the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world, built on a tectonically-active plateau and growing at a tremendous rate.

Intelligent Love: The Story of Clara Park, Her Autistic Daughter, and the Myth of the Refrigerator Mother by Marga Vicedo

In the 1960s, Clara Park’s daughter three-year-old daughter Jessy was diagnosed with autism, and Clara was blamed for it. At the time, the idea of the “refrigerator mother” was huge: “a cold, intellectual parent who starved her children of the natural affection they needed to develop properly.” Clara decided to document her daughter’s development and challenge this myth. This biography tells the story of how Clara and others “fought against medical and popular attitudes toward autism while presenting a rich account of major scientific developments in the history of autism in the US.”

The Nation of Plants by Stefano Mancuso

Did you know a plant neurobiologist was a thing? I definitely did not. Mancuso states that in the last three hundred thousand years, humans have wreaked chaos in the plant world. He responds to this by writing a plant constitution. Yes, it’s a constitution written on behalf of plants, presenting “eight fundamental pillars on which the life of plants—and by extension, humans—rests.”

For more nonfiction new releases, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerds.

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Nonfiction in Green

It’s the week of St. Patrick’s Day! So our theme is green, by which I mean green covers. Something I learned from this: publishers don’t love a green cover for nonfiction. Or possibly for fiction? I’m sure there’s some psychological thing going on there, but we’ve got four truly excellent green cover reads here. Also, I might do a variation of this theme in the future? Because these are all different! And I enjoy that.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

Love a Mary Roach. Her examination of humans at war “tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, ​flies, ​noise,” and looks at the scientists who are trying to create answers to all of it. Want to know why a zipper creates a problem for a sniper? How a wedding gown is like a bomb suit? Why shrimp are dangerous to sailors? Check this out.

Thrill Seekers: 15 Remarkable Women in Extreme Sports by Ann McCallum Staats

We know a little about women baseball, basketball, and soccer players, but what about extreme sports? The sections of this read like energy drinks from the ’90s, with titles like “Maximum Sky,” “Extreme Ocean,” and “Radical Rides.” Each section highlights three different women, like ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter and racing driver Sneha Sharma.

wow no thank you

Wow, No Thank You.: Essays by Samantha Irby

Irby’s third book of essays continues her themes of blunt observational humor and memoir. This book chronicles scenes from her life post-marriage, and her move to a more country than urban setting, as she describes herself as a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person.” Which many of us can relate to. I love books like this for when I’m stressed. They’re great to dip in and out of, and Irby is a wonderful voice to spend time with.

in the dream house book cover

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

TW for domestic abuse, which is the central theme of the book. Machado’s innovative memoir chronicles the arc of her unhealthy relationship as she “struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.” Every section is a different way of writing and viewing the situation, and includes titles like “Dream House as Time Travel,” “Dream House as Memory Palace,” “Dream House as Perpetual Motion Machine.”

For more nonfiction new releases, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerds.

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New Releases: Black History + Sports Sexism

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This is a day in Chicago when I typically barricade myself inside my apartment, or wade through the hoard of revelers and hole up at the library. But now it’s just another day in quarantine, albeit with new books to get excited about. Which is neat.

Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America by Julie DiCaro

Called “the feminist sports book we’ve all been waiting for” by Jessica Valenti, this goes from the minimizing of and condescension towards women’s sports to “athletes who abuse their partners and face only minimal consequences” (see: Hope Solo). DiCaro is a sports journalist and covers the sexist online environment of Barstool Sports, the horrifically racist treatment of Serena Williams, and the fight for equal pay. I do not really get into sports, but this looks really good.

How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession with Rights Is Tearing America Apart by Jamal Greene

Greene, a constitutional law expert at Columbia, writes about how we can build a better system of justice, ridding ourselves of our current system of legal absolutism and “how we can recover America’s original vision of rights, while updating them to confront the challenges of the twenty-first century.”

Hot, Hot Chicken: A Nashville Story by Rachel Louise Martin

Hot chicken or “Nashville style” has become popular worldwide, but its roots belong in Nashville’s Black communities, where it goes back 70 years. Martin tells the story of this dish, and of Nashville’s Black history, “from the Civil War, when Nashville became a segregated city, through the tornado that ripped through North Nashville in March 2020.” This feels like a good counterbalance to Netflix’s Marriage or Mortgage, which is doing crap like showing potential brides a former Nashville plantation as a wedding locale.

Dear Black Girl: Letters From Your Sisters on Stepping Into Your Power by Tamara Winfrey-Harris

Winfrey-Harris created the Letters to Black Girls project, where she asked Black women to write letters of hope and support to teenaged and young adult Black girls. Topics covered include identity, self-love, parents, violence, grief, mental health, sex, and sexuality. This selection of letters provides “a balm for the wounds of anti-black-girlness and modeling how black women can nurture future generations.”

For more nonfiction new releases, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerds.

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Books About Sleep

I was asking my friend what to write about for the newsletter this week, and she said, oh, Daylight Savings Time is this weekend, and I said “nooooooooo!….but also, good idea.” #BanDaylightSavingsTime, but also I like thinking about sleep, and a lot of people sure like writing about it. So let’s get into some books about sleep, fatigue of different kinds, and dreams:

The Nocturnal Brain: Nightmares, Neuroscience, and the Secret World of Sleep by Guy Leschziner

What happens if you can’t sleep? Neurologist Leschziner studies people dealing with insomnia, narcolepsy, night terrors, apnea, and sleepwalking. Here he shares stories of cases like the woman who, while sleepwalking, got dressed, got in her car, and drove several miles. He also shows “the neuroscience behind our sleeping minds.” Stories + science!

Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit by Mary-Frances Winters

This came out only last September! Black fatigue is here defined as “the intergenerational impact of systemic racism on the physical and psychological health of Black people.” Winters demonstrates how systemic racism impacts every aspect of life, including economics, education, work, and health. If you want to learn what you can do about it, pick this up.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

So what’s up with sleeping? It leaves you so VULnerable. All unconscious for multiple hours. But also sleeping is awesome, so. Why? Walker “explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood and energy levels, regulate hormones, prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, slow the effects of aging, and increase longevity.” He also gives you action items (I love an action item) for how you can improve your sleep. As someone who does that “revenge bedtime procrastination” thing, I am extremely interested in said items.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski

Kim from For Real liked this! This is focused on how women experience burnout from stress differently than men, why, and what you can do to address it. I am extremely interested in the answer to “what you can do to complete the biological stress cycle—and return your body to a state of relaxation.” It’s probably not “watch Arrested Development over and over again.” Or IS it?

For more nonfiction new releases, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerds.

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New Releases: Murder, Power, and Surviving 2021

I’m writing this on International Women’s Day, so happy belated International Women’s Day to you all! I don’t know about you, but my reading has been picking up lately. Maybe it’s the longer days? With more daylight, there’re more opportunities to sit by the window and read, as opposed to watching TV in your dark living room. It’s also getting warmer, which, as someone from the Midwest, thank God.

This week, we have some books I’ve been psyched about for a while, although you know this is coming from someone who started a book on the Norman Conquest last night and got real jazzed about it, soooo…there’s that. But no, due to publishing pushing dates of so many releases last year, we’re not even really having a dry spell for new releases; every week has something good. Which is bad news for everyone’s TBR shelf, but also, isn’t it better to have too much as opposed to too little? (yis) Okay, let’s go:

Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water by Kazim Ali

You know how when poets write nonfiction, it’s its own special kind of good? Great, ok, so Ali, who grew up in London, Canada, and the U.S., starts thinking about Jenpeg in Manitoba, which was a community that grew up around the construction of a dam, and where Ali lived for a few years. He goes back to find out if it still exists, and he finds a story of environmental harm suffered by the Pimicikamak community. This looks so good, check it out.

Dusk Night Dawn: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott

It’s a new Anne Lamott! And one that’s pretty perfect for the for-many one year anniversary of being in quarantine. It’s a rough time, and Lamott asks “How can we recapture the confidence we once had as we stumble through the dark times that seem increasingly bleak?” How inDEED. Tbh I could use an inspirational read right about now, so I’m psyched this is out.

Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul?: Essays by Jesse McCarthy

I started this and was like hu-ho, this is smart. Which makes sense, because it turns out McCarthy teaches in the English and African American Studies departments at Harvard. The title is reference to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s case for reparations, but he also covers art, music, literature, and politics in 20 essays. An example of what goes on in this book: “In ‘Back in the Day,’ McCarthy, a black American raised in France, evokes his childhood in Paris through an elegiac account of French rap in the 1990s.” So if that sounds like your jam, get into it.

A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome by Emma Southon

Aghhh I am so excited about this book! It came out in the UK first a few months ago and I maybe (definitely) ordered a copy from there because I loved Emma Southon’s biography of Agrippina so much. She writes history how I would love everyone to write it: with humor, humanity, and a clear laying out of the facts. The subtitle kind of says it all for this one — she talks about murder in ancient Rome, how it was perceived, what it meant, how it shows up in the surviving texts, etc. If you like funny but solid history books, here you go.

For more nonfiction new releases, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerds.