My favorite kind of nonfiction is memoir, especially stories about people raised in non-conventional families.  This year I enjoyed:

We Are all Shipwrecks by Kelly Grey Carlisle. Kelly always knew her family was different. She knew that most children didn’t live with their grandparents and that their grandparents didn’t own porn stores. Her classmates didn’t sleep on a boat in the L.A. harbor, and she knew their next-door neighbors probably weren’t drug addicts and johns.

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood. Father Greg Lockwood is unlike any Catholic priest you have ever met–a man who lounges in boxer shorts, loves action movies, and whose constant jamming on the guitar reverberates “like a whole band dying in a plane crash in 1972.” His daughter is an irreverent poet who long ago left the Church’s country. When an unexpected crisis leads her and her husband to move back into her parents’ rectory home, their two worlds collide.

Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel by Nicolaia Rips. New York’s Chelsea Hotel may no longer be home to its most famous denizens–Andy Warhol, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, to name a few–but the eccentric spirit of the Chelsea is alive and well. Meet the family Rips: father Michael, a lawyer turned writer with a penchant for fine tailoring; mother Sheila, a former model and renowned artist who matches her welding outfits with couture; and daughter Nicolaia, a precocious high school junior at work on a record of her peculiar seventeen years.

I also enjoy the occasional never going to fall in love again while discovering a new city memoir, like:

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes. Bill Hayes came to New York City in 2009 with a one-way ticket and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city’s incessant rhythms and sights and unexpectedly falls in love again with neurologist Oliver Sachs.

Then there were three achingly gorgeous graphic memoirs:

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke. When Kristen Radtke was in college, the sudden death of a beloved uncle and the sight of an abandoned mining town after his funeral marked the beginning moments of a lifelong fascination with ruins and with people and places left behind. Over time, this fascination deepened until it triggered a journey around the world in search of ruined places.

Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell. Bell returns from New York to her childhood town in rural Northern California after her mother’s home is destroyed by a fire. Acknowledging her issues with anxiety, financial hardships, memories of a semi-feral childhood, and a tenuous relationship with her mother, Bell helps her mother put together a new home on top of the ashes.

Spinning by Tillie Walden. For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. Skating was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life.

Next up is a wild ride into an incredible crime spree:

American Fire: Love, Arson, and a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse. I blogged about this one here.

Then there’s the respectfully humorous romp around the world exploring death culture and customs:

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World in Search of the Good Death by the hippest mortician ever, Caitlin Doughty. I blogged about this book here.

Then there’s a look at how women are portrayed in the media:

You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, and Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano. In this smart, funny, impassioned call to arms, a pop culture critic merges memoir and commentary to explore how our culture shapes ideas about who women are, what they are meant to be, and where they belong.  Haha. Time’s up.

Next, maybe my favorite of 2017, the story of an epic loner:

Stranger in the Woods: the Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel. I blogged about this truly amazing story here.

And finally, wisdom for our current adversarial climate:

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown. Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other.

Happy discovering!

2 comments on “Nonfiction Favorites: A Dozen from 2017

  1. Thank you for including my book in your collection and reading it. I’m super proud that it’s in your library!
    –Kelly Grey Carlisle

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