My favorite books of 2020: Nonfiction

Food memoir is one of my favorite nonfiction subgenres, and I loved this inside look at the Momofuku empire and Chang’s life story. Raised by his Korean immigrant parents in Virginia, Chang struggled with loneliness and isolation. When he couldn’t find a job after graduating college, he convinced his father to loan him restaurant start-up money. The result: Momofuku’s famous comfort food staples like ramen bowls and simple pork buns. While his career and business took off, Chang struggled with mental illness and self-confidence. With candor and humility, he shares both his struggles and successes in this intimate and unconventional memoir.
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From the publisher: "In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker argues that the gatherings in our lives are lackluster and unproductive—which they don't have to be. We rely too much on routine and the conventions of gatherings when we should focus on distinctiveness and the people involved. At a time when coming together is more important than ever, Parker sets forth a human-centered approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play."
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A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe―many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions. A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a graphic novel for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.
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As a foodie memoir devotee, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Journalist Ann Mah moves to Paris when her diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment there. She's overjoyed at the opportunity until he's reassigned to Iraq for a year-long solo stint and must figure out life in Paris on her own. And so she does, one pain au chocolat and boeuf Bourguignon at a time.
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From the publisher: "A book of forward-thinking ideas that breaks with modern wisdom to present a new vision of urban development in the United States. Presenting the foundational ideas of the Strong Towns movement he cofounded, Charles Marohn explains why cities of all sizes continue to struggle to meet their basic needs, and reveals the new paradigm that can solve this longstanding problem. You'll learn why inducing growth and development has been the conventional response to urban financial struggles - and why it just doesn't work. New development and high-risk investing don't generate enough wealth to support itself, and cities continue to struggle."
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From the publisher: "Bess Kalb, Emmy-nominated TV writer and New Yorker contributor, saved every voicemail her grandmother Bobby Bell ever left her. Bobby was a force—irrepressible, glamorous, unapologetically opinionated. Bobby doted on Bess; Bess adored Bobby. Then, at ninety, Bobby died. But in this debut memoir, Bobby is speaking to Bess once more, in a voice as passionate as it ever was in life. Her grandma Bobby was with her all the way—she was the light of Bess's childhood and her fiercest supporter, giving Bess unequivocal love, even if sometimes of the toughest kind. In Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bobby reminds Bess of the experiences they shared, and she delivers—in phone calls, texts, and unforgettable heart-to-hearts brought vividly to the page—her signature wisdom: If the earth is cracking behind you, you put one foot in front of the other. Never. Buy. Fake. Anything. I swear on your life every word of this is true."
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Longlisted for the National Book Award, Wilkerson's latest book explores how America has been shaped by a hidden caste system. Wilkerson links the caste systems of the United States, India, and Nazi Germany in a story-driven deep dive into history, class, and race. I loved The Warmth of Other Suns and can't wait to read this one. Wilkerson's narrative nonfiction makes a great gift for history buffs and readers who appreciate true stories, well-told. It would also make an excellent family book club pick!
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Like many cooking enthusiasts, we watched the Netflix series A Chef’s Life, “a show about people, place, tradition and family told through the lens of food.” I’ve since checked out some of Howard’s cookbooks from the library. Her newest, filled with simple recipes sounds like a fun project. She’s insistent that she will CHANGE THE WAY YOU COOK, and that makes me want to pick it up. Of course, the emphasis on "simple" is appealing when you're ready to tackle every single recipe. Bonus: more than half the dishes are vegetarian, gluten-free, or both.
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This is the book I didn't know I needed in my life! In a hard season, reading about Dolly's life, both personal and professional, was an unexpected grace. With history, biography, and close-reading of Parton’s famous songs, Smarsh weaves a tale of female empowerment, brilliant songwriting, and the importance of self-expression. I always love to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of my favorite artists, and this one delivered on that count, as expected. But I was unprepared for the poignancy of reading Dolly's story against the backdrop of our current cultural climate. Thank you, Sarah Smarsh, and thank you, Dolly Parton. This book is a joy.  
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File under: books I can’t stop talking about. I’m just a touch old to fall under Petersen’s definition of the millennial generation, yet I found myself nodding along to every chapter as Petersen explained how my and my peers’ personal life experience slot neatly into cultural and economic trends. Her biggest topics are our childhoods, our college experience and the implicit (and explicit) promises it had for our future, and why work is so awful for so many these days—all set against the backdrop of the economic realities of the last 40 years in the United States. I closed this book feeling understood, and like I better understand the world I’m living in. Petersen notes that she completed her final edits on this book while COVID-19 was just beginning her spread, and I appreciated her thoughts on how the pandemic subtly shifts the lens through which readers will engage with the ideas presented here. 
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