Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Chase 2015 Nonfiction Top 10

2015 is one of those years when the bulk of my nonfiction reading was made up of memoirs and biographies...and, as you will see from my Top 10 Nonfiction list, I found some really good ones.

2015 Nonfiction Top Ten

  1. The Undertaker's Daughter - Kate Mayfield - an intimate look at what it's like to grow up inside a small town funeral parlor.  Kate Mayfield explores the formalities of American funerals and body preparation as seen through the eyes of a little girl who had to know when to disappear into the background completely and when to be herself.  Surprisingly (or not), overnights at her house were prized by her friends.

2.  The Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson - Notes from a Small Island, the big breakthrough book for Bill Bryson, is now twenty years old.  In this 2015 road trip, the author revisits many of the stops he made in Small Island and hits a few new places that he missed twenty years ago.  Bryson tries mightily to avoid comparisons, but that proves impossible and inevitably a little sad as the past can look so good when compared to the present.

3.  Deep South - Paul Theroux - Theroux, another veteran travel, this time focuses on America's "Deep South."  This is a region I'm very familiar with, and I was curious to see what a world traveler in Theroux's league would make of it.  The author found a lot to like and a lot to wonder about.  I agree with most of his conclusions, but I also think that Theroux shortchanged the South's residents a bit, too, especially when commenting on the number of readers, books, and bookstores there.  

4.  The Art of Memoir - Mary Karr - Mary Karr is best known for her previous memoirs (The Liar's Club, Cherry, and Lit).  I have long believed that she is one of the very best at her craft and that she has been instrumental in making memoirs as popular with readers as they are today.  In this new book, Karr explains exactly how she does it and offers tips to aspiring memoir writers everywhere.  The best news is that she adds a good bit of new detail to her own story, one that has long intrigued readers like me.

5.  Dangerous When Wet - Jamie Brickhouse - Yes, it's another memoir, and yes, it's written by another former Texan who has moved to the East Coast.  And it is wonderful.  This one has its moments...and some of those moments are guaranteed to shock readers unfamiliar with the lifestyle that Brickhouse lived for so long in New York City.  But Brickhouse is first and foremost a great storyteller, and readers will find themselves lost in his world before they know it.

6.  Comin' Right at Ya' - Ray Benson & David Menconi - Ray Benson, a favorite son of Texas and Western Swing music, is in reality, as he himself puts it, is a "Jewish Yankee hippie" who reinvented himself to such a degree that his story reads more like fiction than fact.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, of all places, Benson first came to Texas at the invitation of country music's Willie Nelson.  And the rest is history.  Music historians are likely to say that no one has done more than Ray Benson & Asleep at the Wheel to both preserve and to give new life to Western Swing.  Texas loves the guy...and claims him as its own now.

7.  Lights Out - Ted Koppel - This is the scariest book I read all year - bar none.  In it, Koppel explores what would happen if just one of America's three large electrical grids were to fail for an extended period of time, and how easy it would be for one of the country's enemies to make exactly that happen.  It is remarkably more likely that America's next all out war will be a cyberwar almost invisibly waged rather than one involving ground troops.  This one is not for the faint of heart.

8.  Missoula Jon Krakauer - This is Jon Krakauer's exposé of a problem plaguing college towns all across America: the rape of female students by men they see every day on their campuses.  Often these rapists are longtime friends of their victims...and often the rapes go unreported.  Colleges tend to protect male athletes accused, the entire college town usually rallies to the defense of these rapist-athletes, and prosecutors let it all happen.  This book will infuriate you.

9.  The System - Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyan - Touching on some of the same problems covered by Missoula, this is another indictment of big time college football.  Sadly, a university's football team has more to do with a school's public image than academic standards have to do with that image .  And because college football pays all the bills, not only for the rest of a school's athletic program but for much of every other program, football is now a very big business - a business with all the corruption and cheating one would expect it to have.

10.  Lives in Ruins - Marilyn Johnson - Lives in Ruins is an inside look at modern archaeology through the eyes of someone just like the rest of us, one of the dreamers who wish they had somehow made a career digging into past lives and civilizations.  It is both eye-opening and inspirational in the way that it reveals just how difficult it is to break into the field - and to make any kind of real living from it.  Bottom line on this one is that it will make all the wanna be archaeologists out there want it even more.  And that is a good thing.


  1. You read some great nonfiction this year by the looks of it!

    1. It was definitely an interesting year, Stefanie. I've become a real fan of memoirs and have always loved those personalized travel sagas by people like Bryson and Theroux, so I couldn't ask for more.

  2. I missed Koppel's book somehow. That sounds like a good read. Thanks for sharing your 2015 reads with everyone. Happy New Year!

  3. Great list! Thanks for sharing with your readers. I am a huge nonfiction/memoir fan and I am always trying to add to my TBR pile :) I think 2015 was an excellent year for this genre. My number one recommendation of the year is a law enforcement memoir by retired police sergeant Tom Alessi called "And They Found No Witches."(http://www.twalessi.com/). He and four fellow police officers were accused of theft, evidence planting, and excessive force even though they were completely innocent. The trial and media coverage ruined their careers and their lives but they stood strong and fought back against the justice department in a seemingly hopeless case. It is an inspirational read and I couldn't believe it had actually happened. I hope you and your readers will check it out. It is definitely a must read for 2016!

  4. Thanks for the book recommendation, Snow Dance, I'll be sure to check it out. Sounds good.

  5. Thanks for these suggestions. I have added a couple of those to my reading list for next month.
    My top pick right now for non-fiction titles would be a fantastic memoir from Tom Gallagher, called 'Tara's Halls'.
    This book will make you laugh and cry and everything in between but is ultimately very uplifting and inspirational. I highly recommend checking this one out and reading up on some of the reviews. One of my favorite books of recent years.