Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, by Johann Hari: Technically, I read this in 2014--but since it published in January of 2015, I'm counting it here. Hari's journalistic exploration of the history of the war on drugs--and, perhaps more interestingly, what its future might look like--is well-written, detailed, and absolutely fascinating. The book covers everything from the criminal justice system to racism to scientific explanations of addiction. Seriously, it's an excellent read. (My review, originally in Shelf Awareness for Readers)
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin Kruse: Though parts of this historical account of the rise of Christian America may seem dry to non-history-wonks, every page proved worth the effort. And in the midst of what is proving to be one helluvan election cycle, understanding the roots of religious trends in U.S. government is more important than ever. (My review, originally in Shelf Awareness for Readers; and for further reading, my interview with Kevin Kruse).
Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, by Nina MacLaughlin: Though memoir has never been my most favorite of subjects, I stumbled on a slew of smart lady writers this year who proved to me that memoir can be so much more than what I thought it could be. MacLaughlin was one of those. Hammer Head is a thoughtful, reflective piece on the nature of work and happiness and how the two are inextricably linked. (My review)
H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald: I never found the right words to use to review this book--not because it is not worthy of many (many) words of praise, but because none of my words felt right in explaining Macdonald's. H is for Hawk lives somewhere between the world of memoir and history, a study of falconry and T.E. White's midguided time as a falconer and Macdonald's own experience raising a goshawk in the wake of her father's unexpected death. It's stunning.
The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats and Ex-Countries, by Jessa Crispin: Crispin's work is easily one of my favorites of the year, regardless of genre limitation. I really can't say enough good things about it, and I want to push it into the hands of everyone I know and love. I've given away a copy to celebrate my blogiversary and recommended it to book clubs and friends and family members. Won't you please go read it, too? (My review, originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers)
Multiply/Divide: On the American Real & Surreal, by Wendy S. Walters: I'm honestly not sure if I should put this with non-fiction or fiction, as the collection spans both, but since I read more fiction this year, I'm sticking it here. Walters' collection of short pieces spans race and identity in the United States today, and it flew under the radar when it released in a way I don't think did the collection credit. (My review, originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers)
Backlist (Published in 2014 or earlier):
At Home: A History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson: I haven't written much about this yet as I haven't quite finished it yet, but I'm furious with the bookish community for not insisting I read it sooner. It's the perfect combination of history and etymology and it is ringing ALL MY BELLS. I'm loaded up with trivia on everything from the history of the hallway to why we call milk products "dairy" products and I love every bit of it. (Thanks to the Read Harder Challenge for finally encouraging me to read this, after receiving a copy as a Christmas gift from my literary-minded aunt YEARS ago.)
The Underground Girls of Kabul, by Jenny Nordberg: This was a pick in the "Our Women, Our World" book club I participated in through my local bookstore, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Nordberg's account of girls being dressed as boys in Afghanistan deals in heavy subjects--gender identity, social constructs, totalitarian regimes--but does so in a way that makes every topic feel relatable and approachable. I learned a lot about a subject I didn't even know I was interested in with this book; I'd say that's a fairly impressive outcome, myself.
Yes Please, by Amy Poehler: What is there to say about Poehler's memoir but that it is one that must be read? Best consumed on audio, with Poehler narrating her own work, this ranks up there with Bossypants in the realm of celebrity-memoirs-turned-personal-essays-with-a-point.