This year, I read books! Here are some of my nonfiction favorites that came out this year:
Bough Down by Karen Green: I never thought that I’d say that a book reminds me of Anne Carson’s Nox, and yet, here I am, saying it. It’s a grief memoir, it’s an art object, it’s poetry. It’s evocative, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking. I’ve been instagramming the shit out of quotes on its pages, and the final line is one of the best I’ve read. It is powerful whether or not you know who the writer is and who she is grieving. If you don’t know already, wait until you’ve read it to look into it further. And then read it again.
Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink: Like David Simon’s The Wire and Dave Cullen’s Columbine, this book is about all of the moral dilemmas that surround massive tragedy, and about the ways that interconnected systems succeed and fail and undermine each other when infrastructure breaks down. Fink does a remarkable job of remaining, for the most part, neutral — and yet there are heroes and villains (often in the same person) and no shortage of drama. Natural disaster, medicine, corporate hierarchies, crime, law, media — they feed and play off of each other. You ask yourself, “What would I do in such dire circumstances? Was what happened right or wrong?” and as is often the result of the best investigative journalism, I couldn’t always answer those questions with certainty.
The Book of Matt by Stephen Jimenez: Jimenez makes the argument that the anti-gay hate crime explanation (rather than the reality of methamphetamine trafficking) was easier and more useful for pretty much every party involved: for the murderers who wanted to protect their drug collaborators, for police and prosecutors who knew that the meth trade was a much larger problem to tackle than homophobia, for heartbroken friends and family who needed a cause to channel their grief into, for activists who needed a martyr to catalyze a movement, for a president facing scandal and impeachment who needed a smoke screen, for media outlets who wanted a story before all the facts were known… Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder will always be a tragedy, but this book suggests that the tragedy is nuanced and complex, rather than the simplistic myth the public demanded and came quickly to accept.
Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert: This book hit close to home for many reasons — though I didn’t grow up on a farm or in a small town, it is still part of my family history, and we visited small places every year. I can identify with the struggle to reconcile the distance and closeness that one feels towards a “home” that they’ve left. And I can also recognize the tendency (Midwestern perhaps) to leave things unsaid in the interest of smoother interactions. Amidst all the love we have for each other in my family, we choose not to voice controversial things very often. I was impressed with how much she was able to pack into a relatively small book.