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Amazing Nonfiction Books from Indie Presses That Belong On Your Fall TBR

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Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

Buckle up, because there is so much fantastic small press nonfiction coming out this fall! Memoirs and graphic memoirs, essay collections, and anthologies, genre-defying hybrid works that blend history, travel writing, science, and more — and all of that is just the beginning. I had to reign myself in, because there are just so many amazing nonfiction books coming in the next few months that I’ve already read and want to shout about, and there are so many more I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on, and, well, you get the idea. Nonfiction is where it’s at.

One of the reasons I love small presses so much is that they constantly surprise me. I never would have imagined being so excited for an essay collection about glass and mirrors, but here we are. I know it’s going to be good. I’ve never given the North Sea more than a passing thought, but Graywolf Press has me positively itching to get my hands on a copy of a book all about this place I have never been. Sure, a few of these books are by authors I know and love, but most of them are new to me. I’m excited about them because of the subject matter, yes, but also because I love these small presses with my whole heart. I would follow them anywhere — to the Alberta oil sands, across Uzbekistan, into the waters off Guam.

Ready for your world to widen, you heart to expand, your mind to open up, and your TBR to (once again) start overflowing? These nine amazing nonfiction books (from nine indie presses!) are ready and waiting for your preorders and library holds.

Book cover of Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Ducks by Kate Beaton (September 13, Drawn and Quarterly)

I held my breath through long chunks of this extraordinary book. Beaton’s memoir about the time she spent working in the Alberta oil sands is more than a memoir. It’s a testament to the worst and best of humanity, a witness to complexity, and a stunning portrait of a wildly beautiful and wildly dangerous place. With compassion and nuance, Beaton writes about the tangled intersections of climatic destruction, labor exploitation, sexual and gendered violence, loneliness, toxic masculinity, and economic desperation. It is gorgeous and funny and heartbreaking and honest.

cover of No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies: A Lyric Essay by Julian Aguon; photos overlapping in the wings of a butterfly

No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies by Julian Aguon (September 13, Astra House)

Aguon is an Indigenous climate activist and human rights lawyer from Guam, and it’s clear he poured his whole heart into this slim book. It’s full of essays, poems, speeches, memories, and more. And while a lot of what he writes about his grim — the U.S. colonization of Guam and its continued military presence there, climate change, and the loss of precious natural habitat — Aguon’s sense of hope, fierce determination, and love for his people and culture permeates every page.

Cover of The Future is Disabled

The Future is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (October 4, Arsenal Pulp Press)

I gasped out loud when I saw that Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha had a new book coming out. Care Work changed the way I think about disability, justice, and community; it’s a book I return to again and again and will probably never stop learning from. In their new book, they ponder a future in which most people become disabled — and why that might be the future we need. They explore how disability justice and the wisdom of disability communities are some of the most powerful tools we have for combating climate change, fascism, and future pandemics. I can’t wait for the hard, glorious lessons I know are in this book.

Cover of Catching the Light

Catching the Light by Joy Harjo (October 4, Yale University Press)

Whenever a beloved poet writes a book about poetry, I take it for the gift it is. In this blend of memoir and meditation, former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo writes about her own poetic journey. She shares moving reflections about her life as a poet, the process behind her work, what keeps her writing, and power poetry has to impact all of our lives.

Cover of The Visible Unseen

The Visible Unseen by Andrea Chapela, tr. by Kelsi Vanada (October 11, Restless Books)

Art and science definitely mix — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Andrea Chapela is a chemist and an author; in her latest essay collection, she writes about light, mirrors, and glass, exploring both their scientific and literary properties. She uses scientific concepts to illuminate thorny ideas about identity, storytelling, and perception. Many of the essays are experimental in form, so get ready for a challenging, thought-provoking tumble into the mysteries of the human heart and the physical world.

Cover of This Arab is Queer

This Arab is Queer edited by Elias Jahshan (October 18, Saqi Books)

I’m not sure if there’s ever been an anthology like this before — and it’s about time. It collects the work of 18 queer Arab writers from around the world. The contributors represent a wide range of genders, sexualities, and cultures. Some essays touch on challenges and heartbreak, while others focus on celebration. Together, they paint a wonderfully complicated portrait of the diversity of LGBTQ+ Arab experiences.

Cover of The White Mosque

The White Mosque by Sofia Samatar (October 25, Catapult)

If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys genre-blending nonfiction, this is a book to look out for. In the 19th century, a group of Mennonites established a small Christian village in the middle of Muslim-dominated Central Asia. In the 21st century, author Sofia Samatar, the daughter of a Swiss Mennonite and a Somali Muslim, decides to retrace their steps. In this book — part memoir, part history, and part travelogue — she recounts her journey through Uzbekistan and her search not only for a piece of nearly-forgotten history, but for the stories that have shaped her life and identity.

Cover of A Line in the World

A Line in the World by Dorthe Nors (November 1, Graywolf Press)

I am drawn to cold and desolate places, so when I heard about this book, I knew I had to have it. Danish writer Dorthe Nors explores the history, culture, geography, and art of the place she loves most, the North Sea coast. She spends a year traveling the coast, from the northernmost tip of Denmark to the Frisian Islands. In these essays, she reflects on the human and non-human landscapes she encounters, her family’s connection to the region, and the impact the North Sea coast has had on her own life.

Cover of Conversations with Birds

Conversations With Birds by Priyanka Kumar (November 8, Milkweed Editions)

As a birder myself, I cannot resist a bird book. This collection of essays sounds absolutely gorgeous. Kumar grew up in northern India, surrounded by nature, but found herself cut off from the natural world after moving to the U.S. as a teenager. In this book, she recounts her journey back into relationship with the non-human world via her encounters with birds across the western U.S. In a blend of nature writing and memoir, Kumar reflects on climate change, habit destruction, beauty, and the importance of staying open to wonder.

If you’re looking for even more indie press nonfiction for your TBR, check out this list of amazing queer nonfiction you’ve never heard of, these must-read books from university presses, and these small press essay collections. And there’s a lot more great nonfiction in our indie press archives.