I mostly stick to fiction on the blog, and lately it’s been mostly YA fiction at that, but I wanted to highlight some of the non-fiction titles I’ve been reading this year. Every once in a while, I go through a phase where I read some non-fiction, and right now, that’s the case. Here are a couple titles that I thought were pretty outstanding.
Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder
I’ve been a Sylvia Plath fan since my misanthropic teenage days, and this micro-biography (is that a thing?) is so accessible and so fascinating I had a hard time putting it down. Winder chooses to focus on the summer Plath spent in New York as an intern for Mademoiselle, interweaving first-hand accounts from the other women who interned with her with historical details about the time period, as well as excerpts of Plath’s work and snippets of her journal entries. The result is incredibly successful: the fashion, the glamour, and the things we’ll never know about Sylvia’s inner-thoughts make this a standout non-fiction title.
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kokler
Probably one of my favorite reads of the year, Kokler’s impeccably written and obsessively researched look at the disappearances and murders of a slew of women working as escorts through Craigslist on the East Coast a few years ago is haunting, riveting, and something that I still cannot get out of my mind. Kokler digs into the lives of the women who disappeared and humanizes them in a way that a lesser writer would not have been able to do. It’s accessible, well-written, and completely worthy of your time. I loved it, inasmuch as you can love something that’s about a horrible thing that’s happened.
Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
In the interest of full disclosure, I picked this one up with the intent to just read the parts where Chevy Chase comes off as a complete sociopathic asshole (read: every single time he opens his mouth), because I pretty much think Chase is the worst, and after hearing the book mentioned on one of my favorite podcasts, I knew I had to check it out. But I ended up reading the entire thing, because it totally hooked me. I’m not a huge SNL fan in general–I can appreciate the significance of the show’s presence in the pop culture cannon, and I’ll watch an episode if I really like the host, but I haven’t considered it must-watch TV in years. But this was a surprisingly great read.
God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America by Hanna Rosin
Initially, I wanted to read this one because I have a love-hate thing going on with Rosin as a journalist in general. I listen to the DoubleX podcast and am always rankled by how clueless, pompous, and generally nutso Rosin can be (not to mention her proclivity to cut people off when they are talking), but there’s no denying that she’s an intelligent person (and she would be the first to tell you so). I knew about her book The End of Men, but I didn’t realize that she’d written this one until it was mentioned on the podcast when they were discussing sexual assault on Christian college campuses. So I decided to check it out.
The result surprised me. I really enjoyed reading it, but I’m not sure how much of that was Rosin (at least a little bit was, because her ability to balance snark and respectful reporting was quite good here) and how much was my complete horror that people like this exist in the world. At any rate, I devoured this one. And am still terrified of the fundamentalist Christian right. Of all fundamentalists, actually.