If there's one thing I hate, it's a list, and yet here we are at the end of the year, and it's that time to make lists and think back on what the best (aka our favorite) things were, and celebrate them. Which, well, when I think about it that way, maybe lists aren't so bad, since they're a nice tidy way of promoting some of the many incredible books that came out this year, the work that allowed me, and countless others, to remember, amidst the horrors—banal and otherwise—of this world, that there is much good still to be found.
Let's then celebrate some of the best nonfiction books to come out this year. Although, first: "Best" is a tricky word here, of course, because it's a bullshit word. There are no best books. As mentioned above, there are only my favorites. And even of my favorites, there are only those books that I've read. And I haven't read every book! And so there might be some I've missed, because I'm resolved not to do what, let's face it, many people do—which is put books on these lists because they feel that those books are supposed to be there, that they deserve it, because of who wrote it or who published it or what the subject matter is or... I don't even know. All I do know is that "deserve" is a bullshit concept, too, so I'm ignoring it entirely.
And so: my list. Each of the following works marked a bright spot in my year, a period of many hours in which I lost myself completely, going on trips through time, across continents, inside the hidden workings of the mind, and even to Florida. Each book stands alone, separate from this list. Each should be read for the way it can transport you into learning things, like the deepest, darkest truths about the history of this country, the different ways people find peace, and why sex and arson go hand in hand.
Here, then, are 13 of my favorite nonfiction books of 2017.
Too Much and Not the Mood: Essays by Durga Chew-Bose (available here)
I devoured this gorgeous book over the course of two longish flights recently, and I was struck by how perfect it felt to read these intimate essays, written in such a way that their words wound through my head so resolutely that I now feel like they're permanently embedded in my mind, while sitting still, hurtling through space. It felt perfect because Chew-Bose has a unique ability to render and press pause upon those moments in which we retreat into ourselves, all the better to examine their weight from every angle. It's as if she stops all the madness going on in the world and picks up—and apart—the thoughts we have while standing in the eye of the hurricane. And what is the experience of flight if not one of suspended animation, up above the clouds, where something akin to self-hypnosis can feel like the only way to stay sane? Reading these lyrical essays felt like meditation to me; I turned phrases over and over in my head like mantras, marveling at Chew-Bose's talent and composing a list of all the friends upon whom I would soon bestow this book. It's a long list.
(Read my profile of Chew-Bose, here.)