Friday, December 04, 2015

best of 2015: nonfiction

The year is slowly drawing to a close (and good riddance), so I figured I'd start posting my "best of 2015" lists.  A few notes before I begin:

  • I think these were all first released in 2015, but even if they weren't, that's when I read them, so they belong on this list.
  • Aside from the first title listed, which was by far my favorite, these aren't in any particular order.
  • If anything comes along between now and December 31st that belongs on this list, I'll update accordingly.
  • As always, your mileage may vary.

1. Home Is Burning by Dan Marshall:  While on vacation, the author returned to his hotel room to find that he'd missed several calls from family members.  He feared that his mother, who had been battling cancer for many years, had taken a turn for the worse, but the news, although not what he expected, was just as bad: his father had been diagnosed with ALS.  When the burden became too much for his mother to shoulder alone, he moved back home to help.  I know it sounds unbearably depressing, and it can be, but more often it's brutally honest and profanely, mordantly funny.  (Example: During a phone call with his long distance girlfriend, she complains about not being able to use a treadmill at the gym and he says "Well, my dad's arms don't work, and I had to clean shit off his balls.")  If you've ever had to take care of a terminally ill loved one (raising my hand here) and you don't mind swear words in practically every sentence, you have to pick this up because it will be a tonic for your soul.  I could have done without the chapter in which he and the housekeeper dream up violent punishments for the family's messy cats (though they don't actually hurt them), but everything else is golden.

2. Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation by Adam Resnick:  A hysterical collection of essays covering everything from traumatic porn discovered as a kid to desperately wandering through Disney World.  I was reading this in the break room at work and started laughing so hard that people wanted to know what was so funny.  Great stuff, and I love this quote on the back from Chris Elliott:  "He's basically our generation's Norman Rockwell, if Norman Rockwell had ever painted a woman sucking off a horse."  (Yes, this is a reference to the aforementioned porn.)
3. Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado: The author discusses living in poverty and rails against a system that seems to keep people there. Blisteringly funny and all too true. 

4. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip by Kevin Brockmeier:  In third person, the author remembers his experiences in seventh grade, from friends who inexplicably turn against him to booby trapping his lunch to catch a thief.  I think pretty much anyone could relate to this book, but especially if you came of age in the 80s.

5. Fat Girl Walking by Brittany Gibbons:  The author discusses her life, ranging from her unusual childhood (including an unfortunate use of Scotch tape) to her current role as a body image advocate.  It's refreshingly candid and often uproariously funny.

6. Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola:  A very well-written, thoughtful memoir about the author's struggle with alcoholism and how she tried to redefine herself once she was sober.

7. Voracious by Cara Nicoletti:  Part cookbook and part memoir, this is about the author's favorite books and the food contained within.  It's very charming, with lovely watercolor illustrations, and it brought back lots of great memories of some of my favorite books too.  Props for not spoiling Gone Girl, too.

8. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson:  In this new collection of essays, the author discusses everything from her love of taxidermy to her struggles with mental illness.  It's not as funny as its predecessor (Let's Pretend This Never Happened), but it's definitely more important.

9. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs:  Robert Peace was born in poverty, but thanks to brains, a bit of luck, and a lot of willpower, he managed to get into Yale, where he majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.  But after he graduated, he returned to his hometown, where he got tangled up in the drug trade that would eventually lead to his death.  The author was one of Robert's roommates, and this book is both a tribute to his friend and an incisive look at whether we can ever truly overcome the circumstances into which we were born.

10. Rice, Noodle, Fish by Matt Goulding:  This book about Japanese food will make you ravenously hungry, so be prepared to head to your nearest Japanese restaurant immediately upon finishing it.