Choosing my non-fiction favorites of 2017 was hard, y’all. I had a difficult time narrowing it down to ten, and then picking my favorite top three was damn near impossible. It was just a really fantastic nonfiction year! My top three (I think?) are listed first, and everything else is listed in alphabetical order.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (2017)
Alexie’s mother, Lillian, died in 2015 at the age of 78; he wrote 78 essays and 78 poems to work through his complicated grief. It’s beautiful and devastating (Alexie actually stopped mid-book tour for his own mental health and will not be doing readings from this book anymore). I read it in one long sitting.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore (2017)
Young women in New Jersey and Illinois went to work in watch factories, painting a radium on watch faces to help with the war effort. To get a fine enough point on their paintbrush, they were instructed to put the brush tips between their lips. They were informed that the radium was safe; in fact, it was one of the healthiest things to handle. Then they began dying in horrifying, disfiguring ways.
Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat (2007)
At the age of four, Danticat was left in the care of her aunt and uncle in Haiti while her parents immigrated to New York City. They sent for her when she was twelve, so she came of age in a foreign land. Back in Haiti there was dangerous political unrest, and her father kept urging his brother to join them in the States. What happened when he finally did left the family shattered.
Now that the summer semester I was teaching is over, and given recent events in the United States — What the hell is happening? I mean, I know what’s happening, but WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? — I thought it would be a good time to catch up on some reviews that I never got around to. And what better books to start with than John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell’s award-winning graphic memoir series, March?
Told in stark black and white panels, the series centers around John Lewis’s remarkable life. Lewis, who organized alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights figureheads in his young and has gone on to fight for civil rights as a Congressman, grew up on a sharecropper’s farm in Alabama. He originally wanted to be a preacher and get away from working in the fields. He fought to attend school, and upon graduation, felt called to higher education away from the South. Still, the Jim Crow South was his life, and as he gained a better understanding of the world, he felt compelled to join the fight for civil rights. March: Book One charts his commitment to education as well as his entry into the civil rights movement, including his first encounter with Dr. King. It recounts behind-the-scenes, nonviolent strategizing among the student movement and culminates with the fight to desegregate lunch counters.