Like That Bestselling Novel? Read This Nonfiction Book
Whether you love them or hate them, bestseller lists capture the attention of the book world. They shape the conversations we have about books, inspire infrequent readers to pick up new titles, and even influence what books publishers choose to promote in the future. Bestselling novels also give readers a chance to discover authors, genres, or topics they might not have delved into otherwise. In this list, I’ve collected eight beloved novels that have made it onto bestseller lists in recent months and matched them with nonfiction books that have similar themes, styles, or settings that might appeal to readers of those novels.
Bestseller lists are notoriously confusing and mysterious. Different platforms often disagree on what books are the most popular, and there’s even a history of buying books onto the list. Book Riot editors put together a weekly post combining the top bestseller lists and analyzing discrepancies and new trends that you might find helpful if you’re interested in popular books. For this list, I didn’t stick to the books currently topping lists, as that would have turned out to be at least half Colleen Hoover. I tried to find bestselling novels across various genres, time periods, and topics, and paired them with fascinating nonfiction, including memoirs, history, investigative journalism, and poetry. Let’s hit the books!
If You Like Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, Read…
How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt tells a heartwarming story about a lonely older woman who, during her nights cleaning an aquarium, forms a strange friendship with a giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus. I personally loved the chapters written from Marcellus’ perspective, and the whole book made me want to learn more about the fascinating lives of octopuses. I found that and so much more in Sabrina Imbler’s stunning book How Far the Light Reaches. In a perfectly balanced combination of science/nature writing and personal memoir, Imbler draws parallels between various sea creatures and their own life. Imbler ties together the discovery of hybrid butterflyfish and their own relationship to their biracial identity, compares hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor to queer community spaces, and draws parallels between octopuses’ self-destructive mothering practices and their own relationship with their mother. It’s an inventive and thought-provoking format that will ensure you never look at jellyfish the same way again.
If You Like Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano, Read…
Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood by Dawn Turner
Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano is making huge waves in the book world after becoming the 100th pick for Oprah’s Book Club. It’s a poignant and emotional coming-of-age tale about a boy, his first love, and her three sisters (often drawing comparison to Little Women, both in the novel and in reviews) growing up in 1960s to 1980s Chicago amidst trauma, grief, and complicated family relationships. For another story about friendship and sisterhood in 1970s Chicago, check out Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner. As third generation daughters of the Great Migration, Dawn Turner, her sister Kim, and her best friend Debra forged friendships and dreamed of big futures in a historic neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side. They were inseparable, until a twist of fate, heartbreak, loss, and murder sent them in different directions. In this memoir, Turner looks for answers to how race, class, and opportunity impacted their sisterhood. Like Hello Beautiful, it’s a moving and personal story about family, loss, and moving forward through grief.
If You Like Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, Read…
Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry by Jason Schreier
Gabrielle Zevin’s masterpiece Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is an epic friendship story about two video game designers’ journey to success and the complications behind the scenes in both their careers and personal lives. If you were fascinated by the peek behind the curtain at the video game industry and challenges of creative partnership, check out Press Reset by investigative journalist Jason Schreier. Creating video games requires a complex balance of storytelling, art, technology, and psychology. The people who make the games experience intense highs and lows, and their employment is notoriously volatile. In this book, Schreier interviews game makers and industry insiders about how some of the biggest video game companies came to be — and fell apart. Like Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, this book focuses more on the people behind the games than the games themselves, and you’ll learn that there’s a lot more to video games than what you see on your screen.
If You Like Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, Read…
Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America by Mayukh Sen
Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry has rocketed to the bestseller list thanks to its brilliant and barrier-breaking protagonist, chemist Elizabeth Zott, who, after finding her career options limited by her gender, unexpectedly becomes the host of a beloved cooking show. It’s got a great sense of humor but also offers a window into the challenges women faced in their careers and home lives in the 1950s. You can learn more about the women chefs who changed the culinary game throughout the 20th century in food historian Mayukh Sen’s Taste Makers. This book is kind of like seven mini-biographies packed into one delectable history, exploring the lives of immigrant women who brought their cuisines to the main stage of American cooking. And Sen goes further than just looking at those women’s careers; he discusses their personal lives, relationships, and the prejudice and sexism they had to overcome to make their mark in the food world. It’s a great way to learn about women like Elizabeth Zott, who were brilliant and far more complex than the “homemaker” stereotypes might make them seem.
If You Like It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover, Read…
What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma by Stephanie Foo
Colleen Hoover has set the bookish world aflame by going viral on BookTok and taking over bestseller lists for the past year. Her two biggest titles, It Ends With Us and its sequel It Starts With Us, are centered around Lily, a woman who grew up in an abusive home, finds herself in a violent relationship, and seeks to break the cycle of trauma. It’s an emotional story that has helped start many conversations about domestic violence and unhealthy relationships. Readers interested in the long-term consequences and trauma of abusive households will find much to reflect on in journalist Stephanie Foo’s memoir What My Bones Know about her experience with complex PTSD. In addition to describing her journey to diagnosis and her efforts to move forward, Foo incorporates research on C-PTSD, interviews with experts, and even transcripts of her own appointments with a psychologist who specializes in treating C-PTSD. It’s clear that Foo put an incredible amount of research and vulnerability into this book, and the final result is an honest and powerful picture of what it truly takes to break the cycle of trauma and abuse.
If You Like Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, Read…
Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place by Neema Avashia
Inspired by Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, Barbara Kingsolver’s newest bestseller Demon Copperhead is an epic coming-of-age tale about a boy named Damon, nicknamed Demon, who faces neglect, poverty, opioid addiction, and tragedy in rural southwest Virginia. Kingsolver uses one character’s life as a window into problems facing the Appalachian region. To see another side of Appalachia through the lens of one person’s story, check out Another Appalachia by Neema Avashia. Avashia grew up not far from the setting of Demon Copperhead in West Virginia and witnessed similar societal struggles, but her experience as a queer Indian American woman was quite different from Demon’s. In these essays, Avashia explores her childhood in West Virginia, how the region shaped her as a person, and how she reckoned with her home state upon moving away for college and building a life for herself in Boston. Reading both Demon Copperhead and Another Appalachia can give you a fuller perspective on a complicated and often misunderstood place.
If You Like Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Read…
Didn’t We Almost Have It All: In Defense of Whitney Houston by Gerrick Kennedy
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & The Six has jumped back onto bestseller lists following the release of the Amazon Prime TV series adaptation starring Riley Keough and Sam Claflin. The novel is written in the form of a documentary about a massively popular 1970s band that famously and mysteriously fell apart at the peak of their success. It’s a page-turner of a book with a fascinating fictional account of one band’s creative process, personal dramas, and journey through the music industry. One of the real world’s biggest musical stars is also deserving of a full, nuanced picture of her life and career: Whitney Houston. In Didn’t We Almost Have It All, music historian Gerrick Kennedy looks at the talented, hardworking, and flawed individual behind the musical superstar, considering all the factors at play in Whitney Houston’s rise to fame and fall from grace. He carefully breaks down the internal and external pressures on Houston related to race, gender, sexuality, religion, addiction, and more, painting a nuanced portrait of someone who lived much of her life in the spotlight and was too often reduced to the most salacious gossip surrounding her. Similarly to Daisy Jones & The Six, you’ll get an inside look at the music industry, the pressures of fame, and the personal struggles behind the scenes.
If You Like Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel, Read…
The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On by Franny Choi
Emily St. John Mandel writes some of the most compelling dystopian/sci-fi books today, from the beloved Station Eleven that was adapted into an HBO TV series to her most recent novel, Sea of Tranquility. She has a special gift for finding beauty in disaster, for seeing hope in humanity at its lowest point, for portraying post-apocalyptic worlds that seem like they might still, somehow, go on. Now, I understand that sci-fi readers may not always be poetry readers, but if you enjoy St. John Mandel’s characters making the most of disastrous situations, then you should definitely check out Franny Choi’s poetry collection The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On. Set around past, present, and future apocalyptic moments, this collection similarly explores dystopian themes and fear. But like St. John Mandel, Choi transforms that sense of uncertainty into themes of togetherness, strength, responsibility, and hope when everything feels hopeless. In the year 2023, these narratives about finding a new kind of beautiful future after disaster are exactly what we need.
We hope this list helped you find some new nonfiction titles to add to your TBR! You might also enjoy:
8 Award-Winning Nonfiction Books You Might Not Have Heard Of
While We’re on the Subject: 10 of the Best Essay Collections