It’s been a pretty amazing year for me in terms of non-fiction. Most of my non-fiction reading has involved history and biography. Next year I guess I’ll have to throw more science into the mix or I’ll be completely lost in my nerdy little family.
Be as that may be, while my husband knows all about quarks, I happen to know how Confederate women smuggled weapons during the Civil War (in their hoop skirts, and they hid messages in their hair). Here are my top five non-fiction books for 2015. Note – these are books that I read in 2015, not necessarily books that were published in 2015. Wherever possible, I’m linking to full-length reviews that I wrote for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.
- Voracious, by Cara Nicoletti
Part cookbook, part memoir, part literary criticism, this book was personally moving to me but also gave me another way to look at fiction by highlighting the role food plays in establishing character and theme.
- Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, by Karen Abbott
At time infuriating, at times inspiring, and always interesting and exiting, this book explores the roles women played in the American Civil War by looking at a Union soldier who disguised herself as a man, and women who did various kinds of undercover and messenger work for both the North and the South. By far my favorite moment was when the soldier feared she would be outed during a medical examination – but the doctor limited himself to phrenology and declared that her head was distinctly masculine. OK then.
- Romantic Outlaws, by Charlotte Gordon
I can’t begin to tell you how sick my family got of this book. In alternating chapters, it tells the story of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley. This meant that I spent several weeks ranting about birth control, Regency Era medicine, Lord Bryon (ASSHOLE) Percy Shelley (ASSHOLE) and lots of other men (ALL ASSHOLES). The Mary’s do seem to have faced a distinct shortage of decent men during their lives – but their writing was great and we love them.
- What Matters in Jane Austen, John Mullan
This is a simply fantastic, indispensible work of literary criticism. It’s conversational and accessible in tone while digging deep into the subject matter. If you read one book about Jane Austen, read this one.
- A Colored Woman in a White World, by Mary Church Terrell
I did not directly review this book, but I referenced it in writing a Kickass Women column for Smart bitches, Trashy Books. Originally, I intended to leaf through it to get the information I needed for the column, but then I couldn’t put it down. African American suffragette Mary Church Tyrell’s story makes for fascinating reading, and remains searing and relevant today.
What was your favorite non-fiction this year?