Favorites of 2010: Nonfiction/Memoir

Given the name of my blog, is it any surprise that all of my favorite nonfiction/memoir reads in 2010 are by and (almost) all about women? I majored in Women’s History in grad school, so I get all geeked out over anything feminism/women’s history-related. Another thing all these books have in common: I could not put any of them down once I started reading! Without further ado…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s. During her treatments at Johns Hopkins, tissue samples were taken without her knowledge; her cells–known as HeLa cells–from that culture continue to be used today. Although HeLa cells have contributed to countless major scientific and medical advancements, almost nothing was known about Henrietta, or of the devastating impact that the HeLa discoveries had on her family. The fact that this is Skloot’s first book just blows my mind.

Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry by Tiffany M. Gill [review]

Until I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Beauty Shop Politics was my absolute favorite nonfiction read of the year. (Post-Henrietta… can we now just call it a tie? Please? Don’t make me choose!) The books examines the crucial role that Black beauty shops played in the civil rights movement. It also talks about the ways that the industry offered economic stability and entrepreneurial opportunities to women who would otherwise be relegated to low-paying service jobs. I couldn’t get enough.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

When I first heard that Patti Smith had won a National Book Award for Just Kids, my reaction was something like, “Patti Smith? Rock on!” Just Kids chronicles her close relationship with controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe, which started well before either of them became famous. Her descriptions of NYC’s counterculture in the 60s and 70s are riveting, as is the story of her complicated relationship with Mapplethorpe.

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker [review]

I read this memoir almost completely in one sitting. Then I handed it over to my sister, who also flew through it. And then, a couple of weeks ago, I bought it for a friend for Christmas. It’s a touching book, but it’s also really funny. There are a lot of different things going on in it, but in a nutshell, it’s about Elna Baker’s attempts to find love, find/accept herself, and figure out how all of this fits in her changing relationship with her religion.

Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein [review]

Out of all the books on this list, Girldrive is the most fun to flip through (it’s excellent for displaying on your coffee table). Its editors–both daughters of prominent second wave feminists–set out on a road trip across the United States to find out what feminism means to the modern American woman, stopping to talk to hundreds of people from all walks of life. The result is a beautiful collection of photographs, journal entries, and interview excerpts.

Feel free to leave your own nonfiction and memoir recommendations in the comments!

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6 comments

  1. Vasilly

    I only have Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I’ll add the rest to my tbr list. Have you read Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus? It’s another unread book on my shelf.

  2. Melissa

    @Vasilly: Girls to the Front is great. I had a hard time narrowing down this list, but that one was definitely in the running!

    @lola: Henrietta made me cry. But I LOVED it.

    @Amy: They’re really interesting! I came across some of them kind of randomly, but they were a pleasant surprise. 🙂

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