Books·Books of the Year

The best international nonfiction of 2019

Here are CBC Books's 25 favourite works of nonfiction from around the world that came out in 2019.

Here are CBC Books's 25 favourite works of nonfiction from around the world that came out in 2019.

Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib

Go Ahead in the Rain is a nonfiction book by Hanif Abdurraqib. (Getty, University of Texas Press)

American poet, essayist and culture critic Hanif Abdurraqib applies his incisive observational skills and perspective to look at the visionary, award-winning hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest in Go Ahead in the Rain. Abdurraqib pays homage to the seminal group and outlines what they mean to hip-hop and music as a whole. 

Abdurraqib is also the author of the poetry collections The Crown Ain't Worth Much and A Fortune For Your Disaster and the essay collection They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

In this Q gateway, music journalist and author Hanif Abdurraqib picks his favourite songs by A Tribe Called Quest and tells us why the hip-hop group is considered one of the greatest of all time.

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

Wild Game is a memoir by Adrienne Brodeur. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Julia Cumes)

When she was 14 years old, Adrienne Brodeur was woken up in the middle of the night by her mother, Malabar. She had come to tell Brodeur that Ben, her father's best friend, had kissed her. Brodeur became her mother's confidante over the course of their ensuing affair, which would have calamitous effects on the whole family. She shares this experience in her memoir Wild Game.

Wild Game is Brodeur's first book. The film rights were purchased by Chernin Entertainment.

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

The Yellow House is a memoir by Sarah M. Broom. (Adam Shemper, Grove)

In The Yellow HouseSarah M. Broom chronicles 100 years of her family's history and their ties to a shotgun house built by her mother, Ivory Mae, in 1961. The Yellow House was located in New Orleans East, which was also home to a NASA plant during the space race. Hurricane Katrina erased the Yellow House, but its significance to the Broom family remains indelibly intact.

The Yellow House won the 2019 U.S. National Book Award for nonfiction.

Broom is a writer now based in New York. She has written for publications like The New Yorker, the New York Times and O, The Oprah Magazine.

Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Thick is a nonfiction book by Tressie McMillan Cottom. (Tressie McMillan Cottom, New Press)

American author and academic Tressie McMillan Cottom looks at social media, feminism, violence, body positivity and more through the lens of being a black woman in Thick, a collection of essays. Cottom has her finger on the pulse of pop culture, politics and race relations.

Cottom is an American writer, sociologist and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her other books include Lower Ed and Digital Sociologies. Her work has also apeared in the Atlantic, Slate and the New York Times.

Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz

Ordinary Girls is a memoir by Jaquira Díaz. (Maria Esquinca/, Algonquin Books)

In Ordinary GirlsJaquira Díaz writes about her difficult coming-of-age, being raised in the housing projects of Puerto Rico and Miami Beach by a mother who struggled with schizophrenia and a father who sold drugs. Díaz faced her own mental health battles in her youth, troubled by her queer sexuality in a homophobic community. She found a sense of empowerment at the age of 18 when she joined the Navy.

Díaz's writing has received two Pushcart Prizes. Ordinary Girls is her first memoir.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is a nonfiction book by Lori Gottlieb. (Shlomit Levy Ba, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Lori Gottlieb is a licensed therapist with a succesful practice in Los Angeles. But when her world comes crashing down, she realizes that she needs therapy too. In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Gottlieb looks at her patients and the problems she's worked on with them and realizes, thanks to being in therapy, that her problems aren't so different from theirs.

Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and writes the Atlantic's Dear Therapist column. She's the author of three books, her other two are Marry Him and Stick Figure.

My Parents / This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon

Aleksandar Hemon is a Bosnian-American fiction writer, essayist and critic. (Penguin Random House, CBC)

Aleksandar Hemon recounts the story of how his parents came to North America from Bosnia in the dual book My Parents / This Does Not Belong to You. The memoir is a moving, tragic and emotional account at how his parents were uprooted in the Siege of Sarajevo and were forced to make new lives for themselves and their children in Canada and the U.S. 

Hemon is a fiction writer, essayist and critic. His books include the novels Nowhere Man and The Lazarus Project and the nonfiction book The Book of My Lives.

The Bosnian-American writer talked to Eleanor Wachtel about his two new works, My Parents and This Does Not Belong to You, which explore his parents' memories of displacement, his own identity and the very nature of storytelling itself.

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

Midnight in Chernobyl is a nonfiction book by Adam Higginbotham. (Peter Eavis, Simon & Schuster Canada)

Midnight in Chernobyl tells the story of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, and looks at how propaganda and secrecy have shaped the story we think we know. Carefully researched by journalist Adam Higginbotham, it is also a story of human resilience and the important lesson of what happens when humanity tries to exert its power over nature. 

Midnight in Chernobyl is a finalist for the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. 

Higginbotham's work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times and Wired, among others. Midnight in Chernobyl is his first book.

Hard to Love by Briallen Hopper

Hard to Love is an essay collection by Briallen Hopper. (Bloomsbury Publishing, submitted by Briallen Hopper)

New York-based writer Briallen Hopper says that we put way too much focus on our romantic relationships and friendships simply aren't honoured in the same way. In Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions, Hopper makes the case that we need to invest more in the important platonic relationships in our lives. 

Hopper teaches creative nonfiction at Queens College, CUNY. Her writing has appeared in several publications including The New Republic, New York Magazine and the Washington Post. Hard to Love is her first book.

New York-based writer Briallen Hopper was always taught that romantic relationships were the most important of all. In her new collection of essays Hard to Love, she challenges that old narrative and imagines a full rich life where friendships come first.

Good Talk by Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob is an American novelist and author. (Penguin Random House)

American author Mira Jacob is of Indian descent and her half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything. In Good Talk, Jacob looks at her relationship with her son and ways to honestly discuss issues such as race, politics and sexuality in the changing world. 

Jacob's writing has appeared in the New York Times, Vogue and Glamour. She's also the author of the novel The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing.

Make it Scream, Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison

Make It Scream, Make It Burn is a nonfiction book by Leslie Jamison. (Beowulf Sheehan, Little, Brown & Company)

Leslie Jamison's latest essay collection, Make it Scream, Make it Burnexplores loneliness, longing and obsession. Along the way, she touches on how we tell stories and how we internalize and understand the stories of others. Make it Scream, Make it Burn is a smart, surprisingly and insightful collection.

Jamison is the author of the novel, The Gin Closet, the memoir, The Recovering, and two essay collections — the other is The Empathy Exams. She teaches in the Columbia University MFA program.

For several years, Leslie Jamison struggled with addiction to alcohol. She's sober today. But getting to that point was a complicated journey. In a conversation with Piya, illustrated with an intimate personal essay, she expresses her thoughts on the nuanced nature of "rock bottom" and how the truth about most addictions is that you have to say 'I'm done' multiple times.

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

How We Fight for Our Lives is a memoir by Saeed Jones. (Simon & Schuster, John Premosch)

Saeed Jones, an award-winning poet, describes the boyhood and adolescence of a young, gay black man from the American South in How We Fight for Our Lives. Over a series of vignettes, Jones tells stories of his family and romantic encounters, building a portrait of how identity, race and sexuality interact and manifest in America.

Jones is a New York-based writer. His previous book is Prelude to Bruise, which won the 2015 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry and the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award.

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Patrick Radden Keefe is author of Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. (Philip Montgomery, Doubleday)

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland looks at the 1972 murder of Belfast woman Jean McConville. The widow and mother of 10 was dragged from her home in December that year by IRA militants, as her children clung to her legs. She was driven across the border to the Irish Republic. Her body was found 30 years later in 2003, when a storm washed away part of an embankment at a beach in County Louth.

Keefe is an investigative journalist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, Slate and New York Times magazine. He has written two other books, Chatter and The snakehead.

In the second part of a two-part interview with Ibram X. Kendi, the author and historian explains how he thinks we should redefine racism and breaks down antiracism, his proposal to overcome it.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Ibram X. Kendi is the author of How to Be an Antiracist. (Jeff Watts/American University, One World)

Ibram X. Kendi thinks there are three major "lethal weapons" threatening human existence: climate change, nuclear war, and racism. In How to Be an Antiracist, he argues that people are being either racist or antiracist, there is nothing in between. And depending on their actions, ideas or the policies they support, people — regardless of their background or race — can fall into either category. 

Kendi is a historian and author who currently teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. He is also the author of Stamped from the Beginning, which won the 2016 U.S. National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Robert MacFarlane says his work explores the relationship between the landscape and the human heart. With his latest award-winning book, he writes about the most mysterious and mythical landscape of all: The Underland -- the underground realm that holds the hidden infrastructure of everyday life, the natural resources our economy runs on, our secrets, and the bones of our dead.

Underland by Robert MacFarlane

Robert Macfarlane is a writer and scholar at the University of Cambridge. His latest work of nature writing is Underland. (@RobGMacfarlane/, Hamish Hamilton UK)

Having explored the most stunning landscapes that the world above ground has to offer, Robert Macfarlane's latest work delves into the visceral and haunting experience of the universe underneath us. Underland charts Macfarlane's travels underground, how he slipped, squeezed and pressed through portals into what he calls the "Underland."

Macfarlane is a British nature writer. His other books include The Old Ways, Landmarks and The Lost Worlds.

Carmen Maria Machado takes a new approach to memoir with her latest book, In the Dream House. She details her personal experiences of domestic abuse at the hands of another woman and weaves in pop culture references like her favourite queer Disney villains, as well as historical research and splashes of humour.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House is a memoir by Carmen Maria Machado. (Strange Light, Art Streiber)

Carmen Maria Machado examines her story of domestic abuse in her memoir In the Dream HouseShe uses narrative tropes like haunted houses and bildungsroman to understand the volatile progression of her relationship. Machado also reflects on the stereotype of utopian lesbian relationships, exploring the history of abuse in queer relationships.

Machado is a writer from Philadelphia. She won the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Prize for her short story collection Her Body and Other Parties.

The Nobel Prize-winning American author is being celebrated around the world following her death on Aug. 5th, 2019, at age 88.

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is a memoir by T Kira Madden. (Jac Martinez/, T Kira Madden)

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is T Kira Madden's coming-of-age memoir. In it, she chronicles a childhood of immense privilege — including private school and horse-riding lessons — but also extreme instability, as her parents battled drug and alcohol addiction. Along the way, Madden comes to terms with being queer, biracial, who she is and what she wants out of her life.

Madden is a photographer and writer. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is her first book.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Know My Name is a memoir by Chanel Miller. (Viking)

Chanel Miller was known as Emily Doe, the student who was sexually assaulted on campus by Brock Turner at Stanford University. Her victim impact statement, published online at Buzzfeed, went viral and ignited an international conversation about on-campus sexual assault, rape culture, student safety and more. Miller has written a powerful memoir, Know My Name. In it, she tells her story and explores all the topics everyone was discussing when her statement was shared online.

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and professor emeritus at Princeton University. (Penguin, Getty)

Toni Morrison's nonfiction collection The Source of Self-Regard, is a work divided into three parts. The book's first part features a prayer for the dead of 9/11, the second is a meditation on Martin Luther King Jr. and the last offers a eulogy for James Baldwin. Morrison's commentary on today's social issues — including female empowerment, human rights and the black presence in American literature — holds relevance today more than ever. 

Morrison is one of America's most beloved and iconic writers. Her other books include Song of Solomon and Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Morrison recieved the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993. She died in Aug. 2019.

Few conditions provoke as much existential dread as schizophrenia. Most of what we hear about it comes from clinicians or caregivers, struggling to make sense of an experience they cannot share. But Esmé Weijun Wang’s new book The Collected Schizophrenias, is something valuable and rare: a first-person portrait of life with schizoaffective disorder.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl's new book is called Save Me the Plums. It's a memoir of her time as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. (Michael Singer, Appetite by Random House)

Ruth Reichl is a giant in the world of food writing. Her new book, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, chronicles her 10-year tenure as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. Reichl brought a new perspective to the magazine that turned food writing on its head and she explains how being an outsider and a novice in the world of food writing was the key to reinvigorating and revamping Gourmet.   

Reichl has written several bestselling memoirs, including Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires. She is also the author of the novel Delicious!

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Three Women is a nonfiction book by Lisa Taddeo. (Simon & Schuster, J. Waite)

For Three Women, Lisa Taddeo spent eight years travelling across the U.S., hearing the stories of ordinary women from a variety of backgrounds and learning about their complicated perspectives on desire. Three women are featured in this book: Lina, a suburban mom from Indiana who ends up having an affair after her husband refuses to kiss her on the mouth, Maggie, a 17-year-old high school student from North Dakota who describes having a physical relationship with her married teacher, and Sloane, a successful business owner whose husband enjoys watching her have sex with others.  

Taddeo is an American journalist and a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize for her short stories. Three Women is her first book.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Trick Mirror is an essay collection by Jia Tolentino. (Random House, Elena Mudd)

Trick Mirror is a collection of insightful and humourous essays from New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino. With each essay, Tolentino tackles some phenomena of popular culture — from social media to female literary characters — and explores the way they interact with our own self-delusions.

Tolentino was born in Toronto, but grew up primarily in the U.S. Trick Mirror is her first book.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

Esmé Weijun Wang is an American writer. (Graywolf,

Esmé Wang looks at the lasting effects of coping with mental and chronic illness in The Collected Schizophrenias. The author examines the nature of schizophrenia with an eye on understanding her own schizoaffective disorder along with the conflicting procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness. Wang does extensive research and analysis in order to dispel misconceptions and misunderstandings.

The Collected Schizophrenias won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize.

Wang is a novelist and essayist. She is also the author of the novel The Border of Paradise.

One Day by Gene Weingarten

Gene Weingarten's new book One Day tells weaves together the incredible stories behind the headlines from Dec. 28, 1986 — an insignificant date he plucked from a hat. (Sheena Goodyear/CBC)

Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten has a mantra: if you've got the patience to find it, and the skill to tell it, there's a story behind everyone and everything. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has now applied that credo to his book One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America. The idea was simple: pull a random date out of a hat and find as many compelling stories from that day as possible.

Weingarten is also the author of I'm with Stupid: One Man, One Woman, a collection of his humour columns, the nonfiction book The Hypochondriac's Guide To Life. And Death, and the children's book Me & Dog.

Solitary by Albert Woodfox

Albert Woodfox is the author of Solitary. (Ben Shannon/CBC, HarperCollins Canada)

In 1971, Albert Woodfox was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 50 years in Angola prison, a facility notorious as one of the most vicious in North America. Then in 1973, he was convicted for the murder of a prison guard — he still maintains his innocence — and would remain in solitary confinement until 2016, when he was released. For all that time, he spent 23 hours a day in small cell, measuring 6-feet wide, 9-feet long and 12-feet high. Woodfox has written about his time in prison in his new book Solitary: My Story of Transformation and Hope.

Woodfox is now an activist and speaker. Solitary is his first book.


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