Best Non-Fiction Books for Keeping It Real | Skimm Reads | theSkimm
Reads for Keeping It Real

For when you can't stop reading the news. Walk away for a second and dive into these non-fiction books that will take your mind into the center of someone else's story. 

 "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson
"The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson

This 622-page epic chronicles the Great Migration through the lives of three Black people in the South. Each individual represents a different part of the mass exodus that resulted in more than 6 million African Americans leaving the South from 1915 to 1970. Wilkerson spent 15 years working on this book and interviewed more than 1,200 people during the course of her writing.

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“Stray” by Stephanie Danler
“Stray” by Stephanie Danler

Stephanie Danler’s new book gives you a first-person fix. The “Sweetbitter” author’s memoir reads like a novel: lyric, engrossing, and page-turning. It’s about her parents’ substance abuse and finding forgiveness. But above all, it’s about how places—for her, Southern California—hold memories and truths that we can only see when we let ourselves live in them.

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"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This 2015 book is a profound and powerful examination of being black in America. Written as a letter to his 15-year-old son, it chronicles Coates’s life as a child in Baltimore to his college years at Howard and into his adult life as a journalist. Through it all he reckons with his place in the world and the racism that exists within it. Toni Morrison has called it “required reading” ...in case you needed more convincing.

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“Brave, Not Perfect” by Reshma Saujani
“Brave, Not Perfect” by Reshma Saujani

Challenge accepted. Saujani’s book stresses the importance of raising young girls to be (you guessed it) brave, not perfect. It’s part personal journey—charting her failed run for political office before becoming the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. And part manifesto for women and girls everywhere. The message? Take risks. Be bold. And the world will be better for it. Oh, and it’s available in paperback now. 

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“My Life So Far” by Jane Fonda
“My Life So Far” by Jane Fonda

Enter Jane Fonda’s 2005 book. It’s everything you want from a celebrity memoir: Hollywood confessions, insight into her childhood, and some BTS moments that’ll have you glued to the page. She also gets candid about her entry into political activism and feminism, her longtime struggle with bulimia and body image, and more.

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“Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay
“Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay

Try this out for taste. Gay, who writes with such insight and rigor simultaneously takes us along through her personal reflections as she makes observations about the pop-culture and politics happening around her. Her essays touch on everything from “Girls,” and “The Help,” to what it means to be a good or bad feminist. It’s political, sharp, and the ultimate contemporary portrait of American womanhood.

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“All You Can Ever Know” by Nicole Chung
“All You Can Ever Know” by Nicole Chung

Nicole Chung can relate. Her memoir follows her adoption story — from childhood to adulthood —  as she navigates some hidden truths about her birth family. It’s all about the struggles of fitting in, and figuring out who you are. And is one you’ll desperately want to talk about after reading. Book club approved.

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“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb
“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb

Gottlieb’s book is a behind-the-curtain look at her own life—both as a person in therapy, and as a psychotherapist helping her own set of patients. It’s about what happens when she gets raw, real, and open—and you’ll be laughing and crying along the way. Oh, and Eva Longoria’s turning it into a TV show so now’s your chance to get ahead.

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“Where to Begin” by Cleo Wade
“Where to Begin” by Cleo Wade

Welcome Cleo Wade’s “Where to Begin,” into your life. Dubbed the “millennial Oprah” Wade’s famous for her positive affirmations, poetry, and Instagram presence. “Where to Begin,” is her answer to things like anxiety, fear, and feelings of helplessness. Perfect for getting your holiday zen on. PS: it’s also a great audio option for anyone on the go. Wade narrates the poetry herself and is as calming as it gets.

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“Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel
“Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Add this iconic one to your list. Wurtzel wrote “Prozac Nation” when she was 27, reflecting on her dizzying college years at Harvard. The book made waves for its open dialogue about paralyzing depression and the wounds of prolific drug use. Her prose is raw and unapologetic and is one of those books you just can’t stop reading once you start. Wurtzel went on to be considered “a voice and a target for an anxious generation,” and a pioneer of the confessional memoir style. It’s a heavy, addictive read in the best way and is one that cleared the path for more open conversations about mental health and psychopharmacology. 

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“Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion
“Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion

Turn to this for help. This book is what happens when Grief meets one of America’s best modern writers. It’s based on one of the most relatable topics in the world yet is written in a way that feels uniquely personal. It specifically charts Didion’s mourning after the death of her husband. In this one, you’ll marvel at Didion’s sentences. Each word feels like it matters in a way few other writers are capable of.

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“Notes from a Young Black Chef” by Kwame Onwuachi
“Notes from a Young Black Chef” by Kwame Onwuachi

The book’s always better. In this rags to riches story, Onwuachi chronicles his almost unbelievable journey from a former drug dealer with a troubled adolescence, to one of the most talked about chefs in the food world. His memoir has been repeatedly hailed by critics for its portrayal of what it's like to be a black chef in American today. It’s a sobering look at Onwuachi’s experiences—gangs, college expulsion, and racism, to a run on “Top Chef,” and stints at elite restaurants in NYC and DC. PS: it’s being turned into a movie and Lakeith Stanfield signed on to star in the A24 film. Chef’s kiss.

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“Just Kids” by Patti Smith
“Just Kids” by Patti Smith

Patti knows a thing or two about it. The legendary musician published her National Book Award Winning-memoir in 2010, recapping her time in NYC during the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a window into the old days of the city when rock, sex, art, and politics were colliding. It jumps from Smith’s innocent start in NYC to her not-so-innocent nights at the Hotel Chelsea and beyond. For any fan of music, counter culture, and old NY this one’s a must-read.

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“She’s Not There” Jennifer Finney Boylan
“She’s Not There” Jennifer Finney Boylan

Order a copy of this. Boylan's memoir became the first bestseller by a transgender American. It tells the story of the author's transition from James to Jennifer, touching on her family life, heavy sacrifices, and her role as a professor at a liberal arts college in Maine. It does all the things a good memoir does: bring you along through someone’s most intimate moments.

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“Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge” by Sheila Weller
“Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge” by Sheila Weller

Try out something you'll be able to agree on: the magic of Carrie Fisher. Sheila Weller’s new biography of the “Star Wars” actress is your next great conversation starter. Weller is a famed profiler in her own right (she’s penned a biography on other VIP women like: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon.) Her newest book covers Fisher’s life growing up as Hollywood royalty, her titular role as Princess Leia, her relationship with Paul Simon, and more. May the reading force be with you.

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“Me” by Elton John
“Me” by Elton John

Elton John will do the trick. The “Tiny Dancer” singer is out with his first and only autobiography, “Me.” For prime happiness, listen to the audiobook instead of picking up the hard copy. John narrates the stories along with Taron Egerton, the actor who played him in the movie “Rocketman.” In it, John covers everything from his career and famous friendships with Freddie Mercury and John Lennon, to his struggle with addiction and his collaboration with his longtime song-writing partner. Headphones on, stomach full = the mood we’re heading into the holidays with. 

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“More Than Enough” by Elaine Welteroth
“More Than Enough” by Elaine Welteroth

The trailblazing former magazine editor, social media influencer, and current “Project Runway” judge is here to help. Her debut memoir is about growing up biracial, being an underdog, and finding success. She chronicles her childhood in California and her super successful career, which she forged while being the only black woman in most of the rooms where it happens. She went on to become the youngest editor-in-chief at “Teen Vogue,” and the second ever African American person to hold the top title at Condé Nast. 

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“The Book of Eating: Adventures in Professional Gluttony” by Adam Platt
“The Book of Eating: Adventures in Professional Gluttony” by Adam Platt

Adam Platt knows a thing or two about that. “The Book of Eating: Adventures in Professional Gluttony” is the perfect conversation starter for your next family gathering. Platt, who’s the restaurant critic for New York Magazine, is out with a memoir about his life growing up around the world and eating his way through it. He writes about everything from dim sum in Hong Kong to pierogies in Moscow. It'll make you want to book a dinner and a flight.

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“Vanity Fair: Women on Women” by Radhika Jones with David Friend
“Vanity Fair: Women on Women” by Radhika Jones with David Friend

Talk about these women instead. It’s an anthology of past “Vanity Fair” archive pieces from women about women. Think: Gail Sheehy on Hillary Clinton. Jacqueline Woodson on Lena Waithe. You get the idea. They’re telling the female stories of the last few decades and is a perfect gift for anyone who loves history, magazines, women, and good writing. Oh and they’re short so you can read a section in between family activities, holiday parties, or even meal courses. 

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“The Sixth Man” Andre Iguodala
“The Sixth Man” Andre Iguodala

Talk to them about this Sixth Man. Iguodala, who’s played on a number of teams in the NBA (most famously for the Golden State Warriors), is also known for his off-the-court tech ventures. In his writing debut, he covers his wins on and off the court, and sheds light on his experiences with race in America, mental health, and what it was like being the “most hated athlete in town.” It gets emotional and breaks the mold for what you think life as a professional athlete looks like. 

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“Little Weirds” by Jenny Slate
“Little Weirds” by Jenny Slate

Jenny Slate can relate. “Little Weirds,” is Slate’s memoir-meets-funny essay-meets short story collection. It reads like a subconscious transcript of her brain and lets you in on both her heavy moments (heartbreak, depression) and some lighter ones (ghosts and croissants). No better time to get weird than right before bed. 

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"Inheritance" by Dani Schapiro
"Inheritance" by Dani Shapiro

So does Dani Schapiro. Her memoir, “Inheritance,” is all about what happens when you find out your biological father isn’t who you thought he was. It dives into the complexities of fertility treatments and sperm donors and turns into an intimate story of self-discovery and forgiveness. It’s deeply moving, and one we couldn’t put it down.

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"Horror Stories" by Liz Phair
"Horror Stories" by Liz Phair

Add Liz Phair’s “Horror Stories” to the list. Its told through 17 essays that shine a bright light on the some of her life’s biggest pain points. In it, she covers her 32-hour labor, her extramarital affair, and her experiences with the #MeToo movement. It’s no shock the world fell in love with her songwriting, because in this one, the prose is as powerful as the stories themselves. 

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"Save Me the Plums" by Ruth Reichl
"Save Me the Plums" by Ruth Reichl

Paging Ruth Reichl. She’s known for her role as the beloved HBIC at Gourmet magazine (RIP) and is out with a memoir reflecting on the golden years of the magazine, and her role as editor-in-chief.  Even if you don’t care about food or magazines, it’s a story of an outsider making her way in, and leading one of the most successful brands in the modern publishing era. It sheds light on the juicy behind-the-scenes world of Condé Nast and is filled with descriptions of food that will make your mouth water. 

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"The Witches Are Coming" by Lindy West
"The Witches Are Coming" by Lindy West

They’ll love this. The "Shrill" author, whose book was turned into a Hulu show, is back with more cultural criticism. It is all about what it’s like to live in the US as a woman, covering everything from the #MeToo movement and cancel culture, to Goop and HGTV. The essays are just as bingeable as her show, and is one of the best books to end the year with.

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“Tough Love” by Susan Rice
“Tough Love” by Susan Rice

Here’s the inside scoop. Susan Rice, the former US ambassador to the UN and national security adviser to Barack Obama is speaking her truth. Her 500-page memoir is an account of her resilience, learnings, and foreign policy stories from her time in Washington. She writes about some of the biggest national security moments from her tenure like Benghazi, the US conflict with Syria, the Ebola Crisis, the rise of ISIS, Edward Snowden, and more. Plus it reads like a persuasive love letter to public service. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work for the government...here's your answer.

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"In the Land of Men" by Adrienne Miller
"In the Land of Men" by Adrienne Miller

"The Bold Type" hive assemble. This is the real version of what making a magazine was like in the glory days. Except set in the '90s. And filled with sexism. This memoir follows Adrienne Miller's path from a 22-year-old assistant at GQ to the first female literary editor at Esquire. Along the way, there's a lot of big egos, male-dominated rooms, and a defining relationship with one of America's greatest writers. It's an irresistible glimpse into the glory days of print magazines and the not-so-glorious behind-the-scenes moments.

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"Uncanny Valley" by Anna Wiener
"Uncanny Valley" by Anna Wiener

Memoir alert. This behind-the-curtain debut charts one millennial’s move from a publishing job in New York to the San Francisco tech bubble. What comes next is a wild ride in startup land full of glamour and excess, toxicity and caution. Calling all fans of “The Social Network” or “Brotopia.”

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"Wild Game" by Adrienne Brodeur
"Wild Game" by Adrienne Brodeur

This memoir is what happens when your mom asks you to keep her big, explosive secret: an epic affair with her husband's best friend. It's written from the perspective of the now-adult daughter and the writing is as gorgeous as its Cape Cod background. It's juicy and complex and feels too 'wild' to be true.

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"Dear Girls" by Ali Wong
"Dear Girls" by Ali Wong

Netflix comedy special(s)? Check. Write, star, and produce her own rom-com? Check. Author? Check. Ali Wong is out with her first book—a collection of essays written to her daughters. It covers everything from motherhood to making it in the comedy world. Warning: you'll laugh in public while reading.

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"The Line Becomes a River" by Francisco Cantú
"The Line Becomes a River" by Francisco Cantú

This is the non-fiction story of a man who joins the US Border Patrol to better understand the place he grew up (the Southwest US border). It's equal parts personal reflection and timely meditation on a topic you're hearing a lot about: immigration.

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"Trick Mirror" by Jia Tolentino
"Trick Mirror" by Jia Tolentino

Meet New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino. She's described as "what Susan Sontag would have been like if she had brain damage from the internet” and this collection of essays will have you down an Internet rabbit hole. She dissects everything from self delusion, the cult of Sweetgreen, marriage, reality TV, and more. Trick (mirror) and treat yourself to this one.

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"The Yellow House" by Sarah M. Broom
"The Yellow House" by Sarah M. Broom

This memoir is an intimate retelling of her family story—one affected by Hurricane Katrina. Her family's, yup, yellow house serves as a physical symbol of her family, but also a metaphorical symbol of New Orleans, family, race, and inequality.

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"Inconspicuous Consumption" by Tatiana Schlossberg
"Inconspicuous Consumption" by Tatiana Schlossberg

This one examines how our everyday lives—from what we wear to the food we eat—impacts the environment. It's divided into four main parts: technology, food production, fuel and fashion. Oh and did we mention Schlossberg is JFK’s granddaughter? A former NYTimes science reporter too. 

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This Will Only Hurt a Little
"This Will Only Hurt a Little" by Busy Philipps

You guys. Busy Philipps has a memoir. The "Dawson's Creek" alum and everyone's favorite Instagram follow gets into everything from what it's like being a woman in Hollywood to her friendship with Michelle Williams to dealing with postpartum anxiety. Spoiler: she's not afraid to call people out along the way. Get busy.

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Educated
"Educated" by Tara Westover

This book is a memoir about a young woman from a survivalist family in Idaho. She doesn't set foot in a classroom until she's 17. But eventually winds up at one of the best colleges in the world.

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We're Going to Need More Wine
"We're Going to Need More Wine" by Gabrielle Union

Gabrielle Union is here. Tuck into her collection of essays. She tackles what it's like to be a woman in Hollywood, working with Heath Ledger, supporting an ex that doesn't deserve her, and much more.

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When Breath Becomes Air
"When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi

A 36-year-old neurosurgeon gets diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Turns out, the surgeon is also a brilliant writer who will make you cry in public. This book, published posthumously, will make sure you don’t take your health for granted. Just in time for our New Year, Healthy(ish) You week.

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Grit
"Grit" by Angela Duckworth

If you've ever wanted to know what makes people succeed, this is the book for you. Spoiler: it's not talent. There's research, analysis, and reflection from famous psychologist Angela Duckworth. Perfect for a career slump or the next time you need some motivation.

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The Source of Self-Regard
"The Source of Self-Regard" by Toni Morrison

Fact: there can never be too many Toni Morrison books on your shelf. Her latest collection of essays, speeches, and reflections on money, race, female empowerment, and more was released earlier this week. Psst...it includes the Nobel lecture she delivered after becoming the first black author to win the award for literature. Cue the chills.

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March, Book Three
"March, Book 3" by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Meet the graphic memoir trilogy you'll binge like your favorite TV show. It chronicles the life of Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. In 2016, the third book of the series became the first graphic novel to win a National Book Award. NBD.

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How To Skimm Your Life
"How to Skimm Your Life" by theSkimm

Want to own every aspect of your life? Meet your manual. Our book has tips on everything from going green, to investing your cash money, picking out the right bottle of wine, and more. Plus, it includes advice we've received from inspirational women.

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Life Will Be the Death of Me
"Life Will Be the Death of Me" by Chelsea Handler

Memoir alert. Memoir alert. Chelsea Handler’s back to drop some more of her truths. This one’s all about her year of reflection as she enters therapy, grapples with politics, and takes a stab at domestic life.

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The Honey Bus
"The Honey Bus" by Meredith May

This memoir goes down like honey. Because it's about beekeeping. Stick with us. When a young girl escapes a troubled childhood and goes to live with her unconventional grandfather, she learns a lot about how to take care of herself...and how to take care of bees.

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The Gifted School
"The Gifted School" by Bruce Holsinger

The novel that’s telling this year’s college admissions scandal 'hold my SAT score.' It’s about families in a fictional town in Colorado where everyone’s competing to get their kids into a new, exclusive magnet school. Think: “Big Little Lies” with a bit of introspection into the concept of privilege.

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My Friend Anna
"My Friend Anna" by Rachel DeLoache Williams

In 2018, you started reading about Anna Delvey, aka the "Soho grifter." She conned people into thinking she was a German heiress with an unlimited bank account. In this book, one of her former friends gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the scam and how she got away with it...until she didn't. This one's nonfiction but feels too wild to be true.

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Hey Ladies!
"Hey Ladies!" by Caroline Moss & Michelle Markowitz

For when you go to a veryyy early viewing breakfast…Hey ladies. This book is all about women planning a bachelorette party via emails. Warning: will make you laugh out loud.

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What If This Were Enough?
"What If This Were Enough?" by Heather Havrilesky

Meet the collection of essays to kick off your 2019. Havrilesky writes the “Ask Polly” advice column for NYMag. This collection brings her same wit to problems you may face this year. Think self-help sans cheesy mantras.

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The Uninhabitable Earth
“The Uninhabitable Earth" by David Wallace-Wells

This is the real life version of “The Day After Tomorrow” meets “Silent Spring.” All about Global Warming and Climate Change. It’s based off of Wallace-Wells’ 2017 piece for New York Magazine. If you’re looking for a reason to start caring about the world, this one will do it for you.

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How to Do Nothing
“How To Do Nothing” by Jenny Odell

This is a poignant critique on the way we spend our time and where we devote our attention. Odell questions how we view productivity and what we’re missing out on as we fail to see the world around us. Doing nothing is hard and she makes the case for why doing nothing can be the best form of resistance. It’s smart, challenging and timely AF.

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Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
“Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls” by T Kira Madden

In this book, Madden (niece of Steve) navigates the privilege of her upbringing while reckoning with her parents’ absence, alcohol addictions, and her own identity as a biracial queer teen.

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The Collected Schizophrenias
“The Collected Schizophrenias” by Esmé Weijun Wang

This read is a personal and nuanced collection of essays all about schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, and Lyme disease. Wang, who was a former lab researcher at Stanford, weaves her personal essays on diagnosis and psychosis, with notes on the medical industry and treatment practices. It’s eye-opening, honest, and a book you’ll want to share.

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An American Summer
“An American Summer” by Alex Kotlowitz

This read will reframe what you think you know about the city of Chicago and the people who live there. It’s a compressed look at one summer in Chicago and the gun violence, heartbreak, loss, and resilience that comes with it. This one’s nonfiction and will make you think… a lot. You might also need tissues. Crying is good for your head right?

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I Miss You When I Blink
"I Miss You When I Blink" by Laura Philpott

This read is what happens when you live life according to a piece of paper. It's a memoir about following the rules and what happens when you veer off track. Spoiler: happiness ahead.

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Rough Magic
“Rough Magic” Lara Prior-Palmer

Think: “Educated,” meets “Wild.” At age 19, Lara discovered the Mongol Derby—one of the toughest, longest horse races in the world. Most competitors spend years preparing and many don’t even finish. She joins in without any experience. Plot twist: she wins.

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PS: These are editorially selected, but if you purchase, theSkimm may get something in return. Thanks.