Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction

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I’ve been informed by reliable sources, namely Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction, that this month is Nonfiction November. Great idea!

Apparently there will be weekly prompts throughout the month.  Even better!

This week’s prompt comes from Leann @ Shelf Aware: 

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

This is the first time I’ve participated in one of these events. I’m hoping I’ll make some new connections with nonfiction readers and bloggers. So without further ado:

I had planned to focus my reading this year on the environment and sustainability. This continued a trend from 2019. I started off the year very much on track.  I read several books and a couple of academic research papers on the subject.  By far the most profound was Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth. This book is both an in-depth critique of economics as a whole, and a framework for thinking about economics in a new sustainable way.  “The Doughnut” refers to a safe and just space for humanity between a ceiling of planetary boundaries on critical environmental systems and a foundation of minimum standards for human development and justice embodied in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Living within the Doughnut is the task Raworth sets for us. This is the most important and far reaching book I’ve read in 2020.

I’d say The Optimist’s Telescope by Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman gets an honorable mention even though it’s not completely focused on the environment. The Optimist’s Telescope is about making smarter decisions for the long-term. Many of those decisions concern how we take care of our planet. I loved her idea that we should strive to be good ancestors by treating the Earth as a family heirloom to be cared for and handed down to future generations.

All Hell Breaking Loose by Michael T. Klare rounds out the environment category giving us a look at the Pentagon’s perspective on climate change.  The generals are worried, folks. Very worried. We should be too.

Cover of Doughnut EconomicsCover of The Optimist's TelescopeCover of All Hell Breaking Loose

The murder of George Floyd on May 25 made me want to learn more about racism and other forms of discrimination in America.  I had read Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be An Antiracist last year, and I followed up with three more books this year.

White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo, is about the defensive emotions and behaviors like anger, silence and withdrawal that white people often resort to whenever they are confronted with racism. These defense mechanisms close off uncomfortable yet meaningful discussion about the systemic nature of racism, she says.  If we want to make progress, and be allies, whites must accept the fact that even though we may do our very best not to commit individual acts of racism, we still benefit from the system of white supremacy and we have the responsibility for changing it.

Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny is a highly academic work that deeply analyzes the systemic nature and operation of misogyny, how it enforces female subordination and upholds male dominance.  It is not light reading in any way, but the analysis is brilliant.

I think So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo is a more approachable book. It’s essentially an FAQ for white people on how to talk about race, drawn from Oluo’s own work and life experiences.  I like how Oluo gives practical and immediately useful suggestions for understanding and taking action.

Still, I have to say if you have never read anything about racism, start with Kendi’s book.

Cover of White FragilityCover of So you want to talk about raceCover of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

As the year progressed and the election drew closer, I started reading more about America’s political and judicial systems including Supreme Inequality by Adam Cohen. It’s about the how the Supreme Court’s decisions over the last fifty years have favored the wealthy, the powerful and the white, dramatically increasing inequality in the United States. I shudder to think what the Court will do now with a solid 6-3 conservative majority

The most eye-opening and the most alarming book in this category is Surviving Autocracy by New Yorker contributor Masha Gessen. It’s a stark warning about Trump’s autocratic actions and ambitions. Gessen worked as a journalist in Moscow for over ten years tracking the rise and rule of Vladimir Putin. He knows an autocrat when he sees one. The book traces how frighteningly far Trump has progressed, and how resistance has proved largely ineffective so far. This book is my second choice for most important book of 2020, especially with the Presidential election still up in the air as I write this.

Lastly, The Socrates Express by former NPR foreign correspondent Eric Weiner isn’t about politics, at least not directly. It’s about philosophy. Weiner takes us with him as he journeys around the world seeking wisdom, exploring the lives and ideas of fourteen philosophers from ancient thinkers like Socrates, Epicurus and Confucius, to modern ones like Gandhi, Rousseau and Simone de Beauvoir. I found it comforting and entertaining. I even discovered some ideas for coping with the turmoil we’re living through right now.  You might too.

Cover of Supreme InequalityCover of Surviving AutocracyThe Socrates Express cover

There’s still nearly two months to go in 2020 and I hope to read a few more books this year. I’m looking forward to Barack Obama’s forthcoming memoir A Promised Land, and David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet.

2020 has been a truly horrible year. At times I’ve felt like reading and blogging were utterly pointless activities. But I’ve kept at it for two reasons. First, to preserve some sense of normalcy. I just want to stay curious and keep learning. And second, books have always been my refuge, ever since I was a shy young kid with thick glasses. I think I needed to read this year as much as I ever have.

I hope you found what you were looking for in your 2020 reading.

This entry was posted in Books, Environment, Law and justice, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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