love, heartbreak, sex, marriage, art, literature, family and nature: our favorite non-fiction reads this year cover a range of truly stimulating topics.
If you’re looking for something to get you thinking, here’s our edition of the best non-fiction to read this year. Looking for a fictional fix? You can find our roundup of the best new novels here.
Real Estate by Deborah Levy
Deborah Levy’s “Living Autobiography” series has become a kind of talisman for many readers. The final installment is packed with evocative writings on food and travel, meditations on the home, and hard-earned wisdom about being a woman writer.
Notes on mourning by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
After the death of her father last year, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote this powerful essay on loss. It is both a tribute to him and a raw, articulate study of mourning.
Conversations about love by Natasha Lunn
This smart love study is full of smart nuggets that will have you underline sentences and turn corners of pages. It combines interviews with interesting personalities like Philippa Perry, Esther Perel and Lemn Sissay with the author’s own essays.
All Under the Sun from Molly Oldfield
What are the toes used for? And why can’t penguins fly? These are just a few of the (actually very good) questions this wonderful collection has answered, full of curious questions from children. QI Elf Molly Oldfield based this book on her best-selling podcast, in which experts answer children’s questions. It comes with beautiful images from 12 different illustrators and makes a wonderful gift for families.
First comes the love of Tom Rasmussen
What is marriage these days – a beautiful symbol of commitment, an excuse for a fancy party or an outdated patriarchal institution? Tom Rasmussen, who is queer, non-binary and in a relationship with a man but grew up in a working-class community where marriage was extremely important, grapples with the question in this intriguing new book.
My mess is a bit of a life by Georgia Pritchett
Georgia Pritchett is TV royalty – Succession, Veep, The Thick of It, Smack the Pony, and Spitting Image are just a few of the shows she’s written for. We can probably also consider her literary royalty now, since her new memoir, documenting her struggles with anxiety, is already this year’s most Instagrammed book cover.
Oh what a beautiful century! By Roderic Fenwick Owen
If you’ve got a penchant for posh gossip, don’t miss these tumultuous memoirs from Roderic Fenwick Owen, an Etonite who became a well-connected travel writer. Fans of Anne Glenconner’s Lady in Waiting will love it.
Tomorrow sex will be good again by Katherine Angel
These excellent essays on female desire, consent, and vulnerability are must read for anyone looking for a more nuanced perspective on sex in a post- # MeToo world. One of the most important books that you will read all year round.
Everyone by Olivia Laing
Olivia Laing uses the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich as the pivot of this free look at bodies and freedom. She elegantly switches from artists to thinkers to light up the topic in a way that makes your brain buzz and always feels fun.
All the Young Men of Ruth Coker Burks
The remarkable life of Ruth Coker Burks is set to hit the big screen – next year she will be played by Ruth Wilson in a new film. Before he arrives, read her memoir, in which she recounts how she cared for hundreds of men with AIDS in the 1980s, when she was a single mother in her twenties.
Many Different Types of Love by Michael Rosen
This deeply touching record of Michael Rosen’s experience of being hospitalized with Covid-19 might make you cry a little sob. He spent a month in an induced coma, during which the nurses wrote messages of hope in a journal at the end of his bed. They are included here along with Rosen’s own memorabilia, poems and illustrations by Chris Riddell.
One two three four from Craig Brown
Craig Brown’s playful, collage-like style made his biography of Princess Margaret Ma’am Darling a must read. He uses a similar style for his Beatles story, which includes fan letters, diaries, interviews, news announcements and essays, and won him the Baillie Gifford award last year.
An extra pair of hands by Kate Mosse
Kate Mosse is best known for her haunting historical novels and for being the founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, but her foray into memories should become important reading as well. Here, she writes with hope and humor about taking care of her aging parents and stepmother, showing that taking charge is a feminist issue.
Too young, too strong, too different ed. Maisie Lawrence and Rishi Dastidar
Twenty years ago, poets Malika Booker and Roger Robinson created a meeting place for poets in Booker’s Kitchen in Brixton. From there was born a revolutionary collective for marginalized writers elsewhere, known simply as Kitchen. A new anthology celebrating his work includes poems by Booker and Robinson as well as Inua Ellams, Warsan Shire, Kayo Chingonyi and Dean Atta.
Consumed by Arifa Akbar
This moving memoir from journalist Arifa Akbar is a touching love letter to her sister, who died of tuberculosis at just 46 years old. Akbar tells not only the perplexity of the doctors throughout the ordeal, but his journey to better understand his sister’s life. .
Lounge chair by Baxter Dury
Sex, drugs and rock and roll, Ian Dury sang, but not the school run. His son Baxter, also now a musician himself, wrote a memoir about his bohemian upbringing, from which Dury often went missing, leaving Baxter overseen by a depressed drug dealer called the Sulphate Strangler. A must read for fans of pop culture.
Small bodies of water by Nina Mingya Powles
Fans of nature writing will love this collection of lyrical essays by award-winning writer and poet Nina Mingya Powles. Crossing Borneo to New Zealand to north London, he explores what bodies of water have meant to her while sailing in childhood and growing up.
The Burning Man: The Rise of DH Lawrence by Frances Wilson
At a time when it feels like you don’t always know what to do with the work of complex historical literary figures, this new biography goes beyond the hype around DH Lawrence to present an illuminating portrait of a contradictory man.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
After his unstoppable Say Nothing, the story of a woman’s disappearance in the 1970s in Belfast, Patrick Radden Keefe deciphers the story of the Sackler family and their controversial fortune. Art galleries, prescription drugs and drug addiction combine in a shocking story that is told in compelling ways.
Hype: How crooks took to the internet by Gabrielle Bluestone
Has there ever been a better illustration of Instagram versus reality than the hot mess that was the Fyre Festival? If you can’t get enough of the stories about scammers going viral, Hype should be next on your reading list.
Sister sister by Candice Brathwaite
Candice Brathwaite follows her first bestselling book I Am Not Your Baby Mother with a series of wise and witty essays on the things she would have liked to have been told to her as a young black woman.
The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne
If your idea of Barbara Pym is that of a bisexual novelist whose sick career was saved by Philip Larkin, this new Paula Byrne biography shows a very different side to her, including several passionate love stories.
Michael Wolff landslide
Trump who? Just when you thought it was safe to rekindle the news, Michael Wolff brings dispatches from the last days of the Trump administration. And yes, it was as messy as it looked on CNN.
All Together by Alwyn Turner
Struggling to make sense of our divided society? You will find many answers in Alwyn Turner’s very accessible and very enjoyable history of England from the year 2000. He traces the warning signs of fragmented communities that finally materialized in the Brexit vote, stopping to plot the famous cause and the time’s TV shows too.
Lost at Work by Amelia Horgan
The pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home for many of us, so this new book by Amelia Horgan seems timely. He promises to explain “how work has stolen our lives and what we can do about it”.
The Barbizon: the New York hotel that frees women by Paulina Bren
Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, Grace Kelly, and Liza Minnelli are just a few of the notable guests who have stayed at the Barbizon, an iconic women-only hotel in New York City. Paulina Bren’s new story shows how she became an important place for ambitious women.