Last week I shared my favorite novels of 2015, and the same rules apply to this nonfiction list: I’m calling these my favorites, but I’m holding them loosely. I hate choosing superlatives, and it’s likely I’ll realize in April that I totally forgot to include a great book I read in 2015 on this list.
This is the best nonfiction I read in 2015, regardless of publication date.
I'd forgotten how good Reichl's food writing is: I loved this so much, I can't even tell you. This collection truly is as much memoir as cookbook: there's a story to accompany every single recipe. (I only made one recipe—the marinated london broil—but it was a hit.) I happened to sit down and read this (like a novel) right after we got back from New York, and I especially loved the copious number of NYC stories: I kept googling Manhattan shops, neighborhoods, and restaurants while reading. More info →
I resisted reading this for a year because it sounded so heavy: it's a personal meditation on aging, death, and dying. But Gawande, a surgeon by trade, tackles weighty issues by sharing lots of stories to go with the research, making this book eminently readable. Ultimately, this book is about what it means—medically and philosophically—to live a good life. I'm so glad I didn't wait longer to read this: this book gave me a much better understanding of the wants and needs of my own aging family members. I found all the superlatives I'd heard bandied about to hold true: it's riveting, absorbing, paradigm-shifting, life-changing. More info →
I enjoyed this one much more than I expected, and was genuinely surprised at the lasting impact this book had on my life. Harris's secret to health and happiness is mindfulness—something he never saw coming either. Harris is an ABC news anchor, and his journey began when he had a panic attack on live television. His doctor quickly identified the underlying cause, but the panic didn't subside. He subsequently spent years investigating—personally and professionally—his own mindlessness, exploring the changes he needed to make in his life to be healthier and happier. Powerful story and strong writing combine to make one great read. More info →
In her latest book, Karr unpacks the key elements of great literary memoir and breaks down her own creative process. It’s not just a book for writers: of the book’s 200 pages, only 35 or so are devoted to “how-to.” Frequent readers will also enjoy a peek behind the curtain of Karr's work and that of dozens of other memoirists: what differentiates good work from mediocre, and why do some stories ring true while others falter? For those who'd like to read more, Karr provides a terrific (and long) reading list in the back of the book. This was a great reading experience. More info →
I just loved this wise, warm, and relatable collection of essays from the Washington Post weddings reporter. McCarthy dishes on what she’s learned on the beat, and shares her own insights on love and marriage (and breakups, including the one she endured her first day on the job), in essays bearing titles such as “Screw Meeting Cute,” Don’t Look for Lightning,” and “Top Ten Reasons to Call It Off.” I found this smart, funny, encouraging, and practical. More info →
This is the book I can't stop talking about. Speck is a bit of a contrarian: at its heart, the book isn't about walking at all. Instead, Speck aims to show how we can deliberately plan urban spaces to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. At a deeper level, Speck reveals how our spaces shape our behavior, whether or not we're aware of it. Pragmatic, relevant, and completely fascinating. More info →
Rubin’s much anticipated follow-up to her happiness books is all about habits: how we make them, why we break them, and how we can improve them. Rubin writes as a friendly expert: the chatty writing, illuminating insights, and story-driven narrative make this guidebook anything but dry and boring. Packed with relatable tales from Rubin’s life, which are easy to apply to your own. I find myself thinking about this book—and the insights I gained from it—on a regular basis. More info →
The subtitle on this one is a little weird: ignore it. This magical memoir is about the year Doerr, his wife, and his twin baby boys spent in Rome after he won a writer's residency grant. He found out about the award the same day they brought the twins home from the hospital. Doerr writes beautifully about his year abroad, from the everyday and the extraordinary: grocery shopping, sourcing baby gear (for twins!), his wife's illness, sightseeing, Pope John Paul II's funeral. I googled every street, church, and town he referenced. I loved his references to the novel he was writing while in Rome: many years later, it became All the Light We Cannot See. More info →
This memoir, which reads like a journal of Haines's first 90 days of sobriety, was absolutely fantastic. I didn't expect to resonate so powerfully with Haines's story about overcoming an addiction to drink, but as Haines writes, "we're all drunk on something." He makes the case that alcohol is just one of many ways to hide from our real lives, and that the journey to wholeness isn't easy for any of us. I was delighted to see this recognized as one of the year's best books in Christianity Today's 2015 Book Awards. More info →