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The Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 (So Far)

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In the tumultuous year that is 2019, we’re still looking to nonfiction to comprehend the world around us. Our picks for the best nonfiction books of the year (so far) tackle everything from living with schizophrenia to the history of high heels, exploring diverse topics with intelligence and honesty. These are by no means the only incredible books of 2019, but the 1o ranked titles below are our favorites.

10. The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophrenia by Marin Sardy

Marin Sardy’s memoir-in-essays tells the twin narratives of both her mother’s and brother’s struggles with schizophrenia. The differing ways in which their stories play out offers a glimpse at what seem to be two worlds; while her mother is undiagnosed and remains independent, her brother was diagnosed, received treatment and died by suicide. Sardy offers no easy answers to the complex questions of mental health, the ways the system fails those who struggle with it and the myriad impacts it can have on the families trying to do their best for their loved ones. By dwelling in the gray areas, Sardy instead crafts something moving, painful and touching out of the chaos. —Bridey Heing

9. What Do We Need Men For? by E. Jean Carroll

E. Jean Carroll, of the long-running Elle advice column, sets off on a Didion-esque quest to answer the titular question, crossing through towns named for women along the way. Interspersed with vignettes of her remarkable life and the collected demonology of “The Most Hideous Men of My Life List,” What Do We Need Men For? is more than rape in a Bergdorf’s dressing room. It’s a big idea with a big question to ask, and America’s foremost advice columnist succeeds in providing a compelling answer. —B. David Zarley

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

8. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro thought she knew who her father was, until she did an at-home DNA test at the age of 54. She learned that she was not her father’s biological daughter, a fact that threw a wrench not just in her familial sense of identity, but in her religious sense of self as well. The discovery set off an investigation into Shapiro’s family, her parents’ efforts to conceive and a shady fertility doctor. Written with compassion, this is a memoir that uses a new technology and the potential it has to rewrite our life stories to consider age old questions of who we are and what family means. —Bridey Heing

(Read Paste’s review of the book here.)

7. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

T Kira Madden’s debut memoir is viscerally honest, exploring her coming-of-age experience as a queer, biracial teen. Offering snapshots of formative years marked by privilege and neglect, Madden’s captivating voice reveals a girl desperate to belong. What makes this book a must-read is not its luminous prose (which is stunning) or its twists (which you’ll remember months later); it’s the fact that you’ll believe she’s weaving a story personally for you by the end. Madden has already proven herself as an essayist, and Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls confirms she’s just as skilled a memoirist. —Frannie Jackson

6. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence edited by Michele Filgate

In this essay collection based on her essay of the same name, Michele Filgate compiles a heartbreaking, funny, moving examination of what it means to be mothered. Writers like Melissa Febos, Alexander Chee, Lynn Steger Strong, Brandon Taylor and Leslie Jamison share stories that range from the humorous to the devastating, all circling the question of how we talk to and understand the women who raised us. The result is a fascinating look at the work required of both mother and child to see one another as human beings—and to connect in the face of the flaws that come with it. —Bridey Heing

(Read Paste’s review of the book here.)

5. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

As far as reference books on copy editing go, Dreyer’s English is remarkably readable and fun. Written by Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer, the book insists that we give ourselves grace as we strive for clear communication. And in a historical moment when written English feels more battered by the minute, being reminded that there is structure—and meaningful creativity—to fall back on is a relief. Whether or not you believe literally is acceptable to use as a rhetorical (and not literal) flourish, you’ll love Dreyer’s English. —Alexis Gunderson

4. High Heel by Summer Brennan

Summer Brennan’s brief book about the titular object combines beautiful prose and insightful analysis to create a text that interrogates gender, power, fashion and history. Brennan seamlessly weaves together meditations on mythic women, pop culture and the quotidian nature of high heels to call into question what they represent. While never dismissive of the confidence a stiletto can bring, Brennan’s book challenges the reader to hold two ideas of what a high heel can be—empowering and painful, a mark of beauty and of limited mobility—at one time, complicating the narrative in a deeply engaging way. —Bridey Heing

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

3. How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr

In his history of the United States, Daniel Immerwahr shifts the focus from the U.S. mainland to the territories and overseas holdings it has controlled throughout the nation’s history. From expansion into what would become the Western United States to the myriad abuses carried out against the Philippines to the continued poor treatment of Puerto Rico, Immerwahr makes the case that these spaces have played a much larger, albeit obscured role in the history of our country. By shifting the narrative to include those stories, he poses crucial questions about how the United States came to be. —Bridey Heing

2. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

Esmé Weijun Wang’s memoir of her life with schizoaffective disorder bears the heavy burden of proving its author’s very humanity. Wang’s mental health disorder is the kind which haunts the public consciousness and creates a caricature of her from the moment it is invoked—one she dissipates through fierce fashion choices and her vast rhetorical power. The result is a memoirist who is a person in full, not their book title or a DSM definition, and a memoir of remarkable verve to match the mind that wrote it. —B. David Zarley

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

1. Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson

Mitchell S. Jackson is one of the finest writers currently working in the English language, and the language he uses is uniquely his own. Examining race and economic disparity through the lens of his own life, Jackson delivers a book that is heavy but not crushing, terrifying but not frightening. In combining Jackson’s experiences in Portland, his voracious mind, his acid blood and his shotgun-lethal tongue, Survival Math evolves into the Konami Code of memoirs. This is a book capable of unlocking depths of pathos, bathos and artistic envy in any reader. —B. David Zarley

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

Looking for more reading recommendations? Check out our lists of the best novels, best audiobooks, best Young Adult novels and best book covers of 2019 so far.

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