Monday, December 03, 2007

best of 2007: non-fiction

Now it’s time for my favorite non-fiction books of the year. Just a few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2007, but that’s when I first read them, which is why they belong on this list.
  • Aside from the first two, these are not in preferential order.
  • Your mileage, as always, may vary.

1. Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres: This is one of those books that's so fucking good you resent anything that takes away from your time with it. The author grew up in Indiana in the 1980's, and to say the least, she didn't have a good adolescence; she and her adoptive brothers, both black, were treated like shit at school, and her parents were religious people who alternated between cold indifference and outright abuse. Eventually, they sent her and her youngest brother, David, to a Christian "tough love" camp in the Dominican Republic. Beautifully written, completely devoid of self-pity, and utterly essential for anyone who enjoys memoirs or, for that matter, reading in general. It's not just my favorite non-fiction book of the year; it's now my favorite non-fiction book of all time.

2. Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody: I wanted to read this book mainly because the author worked in Minneapolis (including a stint at the notorious Sex World), and I wound up really enjoying it. She neither glamorizes nor demonizes the industry, and her writing is sharp and snarky (for example, Minneapolis is the "city that never wakes"). I can’t wait to see her first feature film, Juno.

3. I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell: This memoir about the author's nights as Aquadisiac, a drag queen with live goldfish in her plastic bra, and romance with a crack-addicted male prostitute is hysterically funny and absolutely riveting.

4. Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup: After her husband's death, the author decided to become a game warden chaplain in Maine. It's a profoundly moving memoir that brought me to tears more than once. There's a definite religious bent, obviously, but it didn't bother me at all.

5. Dark at the Roots by Sarah Thyre: The author describes her weird childhood growing up in the South during the 1970's. Parts of it are excruciatingly funny; the chapter about drawing her own porn reminded me of a similar experience from my own misguided youth.

6. Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott: At the beginning of the 20th century, two sisters took their sizable inheritance and started the Everleigh Club, Chicago's most luxurious brothel. This terrific book may be a true story, but it reads like a juicy novel.

7. If I Am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus: When the author's younger sister was murdered by an ex-boyfriend, the author began to take a long hard look at her own life, trying to decipher why she and her sister always wound up with men who abused them. It's devastating, but it was hard to put down.

8. In My Skin by Kate Holden: A brutally honest memoir about the author's heroin addiction, which led to prostitution in order to support her habit. It's not an easy read, but it's compelling.

9. Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen: The author and her family fled Vietnam in the 70's and wound up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she longed for the uncomplicated lives and glorious junk food of her schoolmates. Funny, bittersweet, and memorable. Fair warning: not to be read on an empty stomach, thanks to the mouthwatering descriptions of everything from Hostess cupcakes to pho.

10. The Late Bloomer's Revolution by Amy Cohen: The author had several truly crappy things happen to her in short succession: her mother died, the man she thought she would marry broke up with her, she lost her job, and she developed a disfiguring skin condition. She writes, "I felt as if my life hadn't quite started, and I was already running late." This wonderful memoir is about her attempts to change her life for the better once and for all.


I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max. You know, it's not like I didn't know what I was getting into, since the first line on the back of the book is "My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole." But my god, 300 pages about the same kind of drunken, horny, inconsiderate prick that I spent my entire college career avoiding was 295 pages too many. I hope he gets a penicillin-resistant strain of syphilis and his dick falls off.