16 Nonfiction Books You May Have Missed Because of the Pandemic

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Mara Franzen

Staff Writer

Mara (They/Them) has accidentally on purpose made their entire life about books and stories. Mara graduated with a B.A in creative writing and theatre and is halfway through an MFA in Creative writing. In addition to writing for Book Riot, Mara also has written for The Independent Book Review, Wargamer, and The Other Half, to name a few. They also work as a fiction editor with The Minison Project. Nearly all of their published articles can be found here.

Let’s be real: there was a lot going on last April/May! And following book releases probably was not at the top of your to-do list. That’s okay because here I have compiled a list of spring 2020 nonfiction books that didn’t get the release hype they deserved.

Nonfiction, not your thing? Don’t sweat it! You can find my article about fiction books here.

cover image of Rust by Eliese Colette Goldbach

Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach

Rust tells Eliese’s story of finding her space in a male-dominated field. This memoir is about the rough steel industry, the pressure to make a living, and the unlikely friendships formed in dangerous work conditions.

Heartfelt, tense, and true, Elise’s story is about making it in a world and industry that refuses to be easy.

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Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller

Part memoir, part biography, and part cautionary tale about the dark twists of fate, Why Fish Don’t Exist tells the story of David Starr Jordan, a man credited with discovering nearly one-fifth of all known fish. After his work was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, he started to put his life back together, only to make some interesting discoveries surrounding the nature of fish as we know them.

The Fire Never Goes Out

The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson

Told in both comics and essays, Noelle Stevenson covers the tumultuous young adult years. It is a perfect blend of the little and big moments alike that shape us as we know it.

More than anything, this is a memoir that shows anyone who reads it that they aren’t alone. We all are just doing what it takes to get by.


Spirit Run by Noé Álvarez

Being a first-generation Latino college-goer made it hard to fit in. That is, until Noé learned about Peace and Dignity Journeys. They are marathons dedicated to reconnecting the people and the land. And so, Noé decided this is what he had to do.

In a beautiful memoir about fitting in, running, and reconnecting with one’s roots, Noé Álvarez gives insight into what it means to be a human on this earth.

Black Widow cover

Black Widow by Leslie Gray Streeter

When her husband passed away suddenly, Leslie had to learn to cope with a loss that felt unimaginable. This is her story about finding comfort and healing. It’s funny and light while being sharp and poignant. Leslie looks at grief in a way that feels inspirational without selling you something. A celebration of life and the pain of loss are all together in this stunning memoir about healing.

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me cover

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb

Written with words taken from her grandmother’s texts, phone, class notes, messages, and more, Bess Kalb creates a beautiful picture of familial bond.

With wit, heart, and a little bit of eye-rolling, this is a story of a woman who loved fiercely and freely, inspiring her granddaughter Bess, and many others like her.

Save Yourself cover

Save Yourself by Cameron Esposito

As a kid, Cameron Esposito wanted to be a priest. Now she’s a lesbian and a stand-up comic. This memoir details the years of self-discovery that landed Cameron where she is now. This is a story of celebration, and the joy of being queer, finding your place in the world, and trying to make things work.

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Lifting as we Climb by Evette Dionne

This is the history of women of color fighting for their right to equality. Dionne looks at the lengths white women went to get the right to vote, with the aid of Black women, only for women of color to be excluded from the right to vote.

A history of feminism that isn’t white-washed, and doesn’t hold back, this is about the movement often overlooked in our history.

Free Thinker by Kimberly A. Hamlin

Here we learn the history of Alice Cheoworth, a woman who defied all expectations placed on her and became a prominent figure in the women’s rights movements. More known under her other name, Helen Hamilton Gardener, she demanded the ears of politicians such as Woodrow Wilson and paved the way for women everywhere.

Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami

Laila Lalami asks and explores the question “What does it mean to be an American?”

Starting with her experience as a Moroccan immigrant, and traveling through the convoluted citizenship process, Laila discusses the idea of being an American as an outsider and a citizen.

A memoir for the ages, this book explores the ripple effect of citizenship, both inherited and adopted.

Why Writing Matters by Nicholas Delbanco

This book is a beautiful blend of memoir and literary critique. Delbanco examines the drive behind the act of writing. Why it happens, its history, and the ever-shifting balance between originality, and influence from those who wrote before us.

An insightful and delightful look at the impact writing has had on humanity, and pondering about what it could mean for the future of our species.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

George M. Johnson uses personal essays to talk about coming out, growing up, surviving hate crimes, and finding success when everyone seemed to be against him.

A book about being who you are no matter the odds stacked against you, and a celebration of the simple act of being who you are, All Boys Aren’t Blue is a story for Black queer young men, and a lesson on how to be their allies.

Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran

In this coming-of-age memoir, Phuc Tran discusses immigrating to the U.S and trying to make space for himself. Through the lens of great books, we explore the ever-present idea of figuring out who you are, and where you fit in the world.

A story that is both personal and universal, Phuc Tran holds no punches about the perils, pitfalls, and embarrassments of growing up.

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Had I Known by Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara has described herself as a “Myth Buster,” exploring things Americans have decided were nothing more than the way things are. This is a collection of her best and most explosive essays and exposes the way things work behind the scenes.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

A collection of essays about life in small-town America, Irby looks at all aspects of life, from marriage to kids to jobs to aging.

A lovely look at being queer in the midwest, and trying to make it as a human being, Irby takes us from Michigan to L.A. and back again with insightful essays that will make any midwesterner go “yep.”

Some Assembly Required by Neil Shubin

DNA is quite literally everywhere, and still, it’s a very recent discovery. This book explores the way DNA has shaped biology, chemistry, and even paleontology over the last 50 years, setting into motion a new age of learning and discovery.

From transformation to evolution, DNA has shaped our world in more ways than we can even imagine, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.