Which Bookish Documentary Should You Stream Right Now?

Tracy Shapley Towley

Staff Writer

Tracy is a freelance copywriter, all-around ne’er do well, very-adult graduate of the University of Iowa, and occasional waterer of plants. Her hobbies include writing fiction, reading fiction, mixing together various flavors of soup, and typing letters to her friends on an old red typewriter that doesn't have a working period so all sentences must end in questions marks or exclamation points? She has read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and has a lot of thoughts on them. Her old Iowa farmhouse is shared by her husband Sean, a pair of cats, a pair of dogs, and the ghost of Kurt Vonnegut.

I love books. I love documentaries. I love bookish documentaries! In my early 20s, there was no such thing as streaming. If I wanted to watch a bookish documentary, I had to hope and pray our local indie theater would show it, or hope that Blockbuster Video was going to let me rent it. If I wanted to buy a VHS of my favorites, I had to head down to Tower Records. If they didn’t have it? Too bad, so sad. There was no “buying it online.”

But now, we can all stream just about anything we want just about any time we want to! I am just as guilty as the next person of taking this for granted and sighing when I have to pay a whole $1.99 to stream a film. How dare they! Kids these days! Adults these days! I don’t even know who I’m shouting at anymore!

I want to get back that total awe and wonder at being able to press a button in my living room and seeing a moving talkie come to life. I mean, back in the olden days, before home video, you couldn’t even watch a movie with your dog or cat. How depressing.

Of course, now we have the opposite problem. There are so many dang bookish documentaries out there that it’s hard to decide which one to watch. So I’ve made it easy for you – just fill out this super-fun quiz and I’ll tell you what to stream.


You should watch I Am Not Your Negro, a 2016 documentary based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.

You should watch Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time and learn about not only Vonnegut’s life but also his extraordinary friendship with the filmmaker. There is no one else who could have made this movie, which the filmmaker had been making for decades before Vonnegut’s death.

You should watch Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise. This episode of American Masters on PBS weaves her words with archival photos and video. Covering everything from her upbringing in the Depression-era South to her work with Malcolm X in Ghana, this is a film that does its very best to get to the heart of an iconic American.

You should watch Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Learn about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fascinating world, from his literary works to his political and personal life, as told by friends, colleagues, and fans. 

You should watch Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Based on a book by the same name, this two-party Independent Lens documentary covers the linked problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality. While the topic is heavy, the film focuses on stories of hope and opportunity.

For more fun, bookish quizzes, check out our quiz archive.