Mirror, Mirror: Favorites in Non-Fiction

During the summer, my mother would take my brother and I to the library every single week. We were voracious readers no matter the time of year, but there is something especially magical about summer reading. The long days spent by the pool, the family vacations, the school-free hours–they all begged to have a book or two or three.

Some of my favorite books were discovered on these weekly outings. I would take novel after novel lovingly off their dusty shelves and ask, “Mom? Can I get this one too?”

Never one to discourage reading, Mom always said yes. In fact, she only had one library rule: we had to check out at least one fiction book, and one non-fiction book.

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I loved books, but I hated this rule. In my mind, non-fiction was boring. It had no creativity, no soul. Non-fiction books were textbooks on steroids. If it wasn’t about animals or mythology, I probably wasn’t interested–which is a shame, because I was interested in a lot of things. It was just that those things weren’t usually presented to me in an engaging way.

Or so I thought.

I’m happy to say that I’ve discovered some wonderful non-fiction books since the summers of my childhood. Some were discovered at the library. Others were found while I was working particularly long shifts at the bookstore. I listened to a few of them during long Atlanta commutes. And I love them all dearly. If fiction allows us to see ourselves and our world through another lens, non-fiction allows us to take a good, long look in the mirror.

Read about some of my all-time favorites, and be sure to tell me about your own!

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Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy M.D.  

Now, I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I was drawn to Black Man in a White Coat immediately. The title struck me, as did the photograph emblazoned on the cover.

Dr. Tweedy begins his story during his first year of medical school, where he often studies diseases that are “more common in blacks than in whites.” From there, he examines America’s healthcare system and his own biases, and tells his patients’ stories. I read this within a few days, but is not necessarily an easy read; justice and medicine are so closely intertwined, and each chapter pulls at your heartstrings. It’s certainly a wake-up call, but it’s one that we all desperately need.

Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

This may be slightly sacrilegious, but there are a few religious leaders I think of as bros.

Pope Francis, for instance, is a bro. I would call Mother Teresa a bro. Jesus is most definitely a bro. And Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is totally a bro. Not in God’s Name is a beautifully written book that reminds us that the Abrahamic faiths are siblings. Unfortunately, we have often resorted to violence to fight with our siblings. Rabbi Sacks analyzes our shared stories, pointing out common mistakes we make when we read religious texts. I already knew that at their core, the Abrahamic faiths do not condone violence–but Rabbi Sacks makes a case for why they don’t, and it is completely fascinating.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee

Same-sex marriage is finally legal throughout the U.S, but we have a long way to go–especially within the church. It’s no secret that sexuality and religion have butted heads throughout history; in recent years, many religious organizations have taken official positions on LGBTQ-related issues. In all the noise, we often forget that there are many, many LGBTQ people who are also part of the church.

This is more than theological disagreement. This hurts real people, and it hurts the church, and it hurts the God that Christians claim to serve.

Enter Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network. In his book, he writes about his struggle between faith and sexuality–and proves that there is a much better solution than conversion therapy or the common plea to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’

I can’t recommend this book enough. No matter your faith (or lack thereof), this is an important story to hear.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

The only thing you need to know about Yes, Please is that Amy Poehler is a goddess and everything she does is perfect.

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Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean by Jackson Galaxy with Joel Derfner

I purchased Cat Daddy because I was looking for a new audiobook. Originally, my audibook app recommended A Dog’s Purpose, which I was this close to buying until I realized that I would probably end up sobbing in my car every day. But then  remembered that Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist from the show My Cat From Hell, had written a book about cats! It was the perfect solution: I would still have a book about animals, but I could learn about cat behavior instead of getting punched in the feels.

Spoiler alert: I got punched in the feels. And I cried.

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Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Another excellent read for my fellow Christians–or anyone who has felt ever felt burned out by church and religion, really (I’m willing to bet that’s most of us).

Rachel Held Evans reminded me that faith, doubt, and anger are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they co-exist more often than we would like to believe, and it’s completely normal. It’s human. 

“The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.”

-Rachel Held Evans

Searching for Sunday combines a bit of church history and culture with Evans’s own insights. It had been on my to-read list for a while, and I finally read it after snagging the digital version for two dollars. I don’t know if I have ever highlighted so many quotes in my entire life. I promise you won’t be disappointed (her blog is worth a visit, too!).

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date by Katie Heaney

This is the book I wish I had as a teen. I didn’t have my first boyfriend until my last year of college; before that, I just thought something was wrong with me. Naturally, I saw myself in these stories–and how could I not? The author and I even have the same name! Never Have I Ever is a wonderful reminder that romance is different for everyone. You don’t have to have your first kiss at thirteen or your first significant other at sixteen. You don’t even have to ever kiss anyone if you don’t want to. You just have to be you. Happy endings are for everyone, after all.

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton

Even though I’m not a mother, I can relate to almost every chapter in this book.  You see, Glennon and I are kindred spirits: we are afraid of inviting people over; we hate all the same chores; we live with people who are obsessed with dental hygiene. And I can most definitely see myself asking my future daughter to push her doll stroller across the carpet to create lines that made it look like I vacuumed. I laughed so hard at these stories, but I was also moved by Glennon’s thoughts on life, faith, and love.

I’ve already bought the audio version of her newest memoir, Love Warriorand at this point, Glennon feels like a close friend. That’s why I’m calling her Glennon. We’re on a first-name basis and everything.

“… a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”
― George R.R. Martin

For more book recs, feel free to add me on Goodreads! Talking about books is my favorite thing (after actually reading books, of course.).

What are some of your favorite non-fiction books? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter

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