2019 is a banner year for outstanding nonfiction including two beautifully written essay collections and two fascinating tales about famous American iconic buildings. Nonfiction is a broad genre, and I tend toward those stories that read less like school textbooks and more like page turners. With that in mind, here are eight fabulous non-fiction books to read in 2019.
The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy
Levy’s dishy, gossip-filled story of the Chateau Marmont and its storied existence will captivate readers. Originally opened as an apartment building but eventually converted to an exclusive hotel, the Chateau has remained a fixture overlooking the Sunset Strip for 90 years. While Hollywood and the entertainment industry have undergone numerous changes and shifts, Chateau Marmont has remained a place to which the rich and famous flock with the knowledge that most of what happens there will stay within the Chateau’s walls. From John Belushi’s fatal overdose to Lindsey Lohan’s removal from the property for failing to pay her bill, the Chateau Marmont has seen more than its fair share of scandal, and Levy chronicles it all in a highly readable and entertaining fashion.
Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward by Valerie Jarrett
Valerie Jarret’s new memoir is a fascinating and in-depth roadmap of her life and career in governmental service and a high-level insider’s view of life in the Obama-era White House. Born in Iran and raised in Chicago from elementary school forward, she began her career as a private practice lawyer, but she soon realized that public service was her calling. She worked in various capacities in Chicago’s mayoral administrations for years, and after President Obama was elected, she served as a senior advisor to him and oversaw the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. Insightful, personal stories abound about Obama and the important issues his administration worked tirelessly to address such as health care and marriage equality balance out her lighter tales as well.
I Miss You When I Blink: Essays by Mary Laura Philpott
Mary Laura Philpott’s new book of essays has taken the world by storm since it was published in April, appearing in countless magazines, online websites and numerous “best of” lists. The hype is justified. As I read I Miss You When I Blink, I felt that Philpott was talking directly to me because she touched on so many issues and themes that I often struggle with and frequently encounter. Her essays felt like a pep talk (in the best way possible) that have stayed with me long after finishing the book. This book is heartwarming, hilarious, thought-provoking and, ultimately, highly insightful. It is a true must-read.
Parkland: Birth of a Movement by David Cullen
Cullen covered the Columbine High School shooting nearly two decades ago and suffered extreme emotional distress as a result. Vowing to only cover tragedies from afar, he chose not to subject himself to that type of horror again. However, following the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Cullen noticed that the narrative was changing in Florida. Stunned and angered by the attack on their school, a band of students from MSD decided to use their tragedy to exact change, rallying people across the country to participate in their #neveragain movement. What makes Parkland: Birth of a Movement such an outstanding read is Cullen’s focus on these courageous students versus a focus on the perpetrator of the horrific event. The story of these changemakers, who will hopefully alter the course of history, is a page-turner and a testament to speaking up and making a difference.
The Plaza: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel by Julie Satow
The Plaza is one of New York City’s most iconic buildings, and Satow traces its history, including both its illustrious past and its not-so-stellar history in The Plaza. When I think of The Plaza, I always conjure up Eloise, whose fictional tales came alive in Kay Thompson’s delightful picture book series, and thankfully Satow writes about Eloise, while also covering Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the many other famous and infamous individuals who have graced the lobby and rooms of The Plaza. She also shines a light on The Plaza’s darker moments including its bankruptcy by Donald Trump and gangsters hanging out there during prohibition.
Things My Son Needs to Know about the World by Fredrik Backman
I am a huge fan of Fredrik Backman, and this book of essays is another great addition to his body of work. Sometimes funny and at other times poignant and tear-inducing, Things My Son Needs to Know about the World tackles an incredibly personal subject: fatherhood. The essays cover a wide range of topics including mistakes Backman made as a father, dealing with poop and the importance of family. Backman’s insight into humanity always astounds me, and I flew through this short book in one sitting.
Too Much Is Not Enough: A Memoir of Fumbling Toward Adulthood by Andrew Rannells
I have followed Rannells’ career since I saw him on Broadway; he is an absolutely fantastic actor and thankfully also a good writer – his memoir does not disappoint. His heartfelt tale describes his struggle to come to terms with himself and also the relentless pursuit of his dream to succeed on Broadway. While the public first learns about most actors/actresses when they hit it big, the path to such success is usually littered with countless failed auditions, parts that were not meant to be and a fair number of behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Too Much Is Not Enough is chock full of such stories. However, the book is ultimately one man’s story of love, family and success.
The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Trying to Fit In by Ayser Salman
Every American should read this book. Salman examines growing up in the United States as a female Muslim and always feeling like she is sitting “at the wrong end of the table.” Salman endured culture shock of epic proportions when she moved from Iraq to Columbus as a young girl. Daily American life occasionally placed her in positions that ran contrary to her religious beliefs and following the 9/11 attacks, Salman experienced hostility for simply being Muslim. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and felt I learned a lot about a culture with which I was not very familiar.
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