My Year in Nonfiction

Hello nonfiction fans! One of my favorite seasons has arrived — time to look back on our nonfiction reading from the past year and start loading up the TBR based on others’ suggestions. This week’s post linkup is hosted by What’s Nonfiction.

I was surprised to discover how many nonfiction books I’ve read in the past twelve months. It’s getting close to half of my total reading, which I find quite amazing considering I used to consider myself almost solely a fiction reader.

This year, I read a lot of memoirs and biographies, a good number of books about spirituality, and a scattering of other topics. This included some acclaimed titles from recent years that I do highly recommend: Hidden Valley Road, When Breath Becomes Air, The Library Book, Prairie Fires, and Reading Lolita in Tehran. But in this post, I’d especially like to highlight a few that might not be so well known.

Act One by Moss Hart was a reread for me, but I was struck all over again by this wonderful American story of dramatic self-transformation, and I hope it will find more readers.

Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto was a vividly poetic depiction of a life lived in partial darkness, and of the inner journey that brought him light.

From The Moralist by Patricia O’Toole I learned much about a president whose hidden inner weaknesses and moral failings still resonate in our culture today, helping me to understand where we are now.

The Choice by Edith Eger was a beautiful and harrowing memoir of a woman who came through horrors to become a champion of life, relationship, and meaning.

What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan is simply literary candy for Austen lovers, a work of popular criticism that is both academically respectable and compulsively readable.

Here’s the rest of what I read in nonfiction this year (you can find more notes and reviews on my Goodreads shelf if so inclined). How has your year in nonfiction been? What do you recommend?

(*=read in November and December, added to this list after NFN)

Biography and Memoir

  • P.G. Wodehouse in his Own Words by Barry Day
  • Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, edited by Leonard Marcus
  • Beyond the Miracle Worker by Kim Neilsen
  • Dance to the Piper by Agnes de Mille
  • Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh by Leslie Brody
  • Swinging on the Garden Gate by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
  • Missed Translations: Meeting the Immigrant Parents Who Raised Me by Sopan Deb
  • The Incomparable Rex by Patrick Garland
  • Myself When Young by Daphne Du Maurier
  • Year of the Fat Knight by Antony Sher
  • Year of the Mad King by Antony Sher
  • The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne
  • Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper
  • See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur*

Spirituality and Religion

  • Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault
  • The Heart of Centering Prayer by Cynthia Bourgeault
  • The Wounded Healer by Henri J.M. Nouwen
  • Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Meaning of Mary Magdalene by Cynthia Bourgeault
  • The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
  • Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr
  • The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr
  • Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating
  • Falling Upward by Richard Rohr
  • Invitation to Love by Thomas Keating
  • Unlocking Your Self-Healing Potential by Josef Ulrich
  • Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hahn
  • Sources of Religious Worship by Bastiaan Baan*
    Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis*

History / Travel

  • The Year of Lear by James Shapiro
  • Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes
  • A Libertarian Walks into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling*


  • The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
  • What Happened To You? by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey
  • The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce D. Perry and Maja Szalavitz
  • Born For Love by Bruce D. Perry and Maja Szalavitz
  • It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn
  • In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté*
  • The Gift by Edith Eger*

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42 thoughts on “My Year in Nonfiction

  1. What a great year of nonfiction you’ve had so far! That looks like a good variety of different topics too. The five books you’ve highlighted all sound interesting – the Jane Austen one appeals to me most.

    1. I’ve read a lot of books about Austen and a fair number of them were lackluster bandwagon-jumping efforts, but this one is worth the time.

  2. It’s fun that there are so many nonfiction books out there I have no overlap with you, save the Pym biography! I also didn’t choose one favourite, as you know – impossible!

    1. It was very interesting as an expat’s view of Switzerland, though there were some areas I found lacking. It’s amazing how much there is to explore in this tiny country.

  3. The Moralist sounds very interesting. It’s always good to know how we got to where we are.

    And I’m very interested in Act One. I love stories of people who transform themselves.

    1. I think it’s one of the great American stories of self-transformation. Moss Hart went on to become an important writer and director, and it all started with his first play … the process by which that came to be was just fascinating to me.

  4. We’ve read several of the same spirituality books so I’ll trust your recommendations! 🙂 I’m getting a sample of Planet of the Blind sent to my Kindle now.

  5. Congratulations on your non-fiction accomplishments!

    Speaking of planet of the blind, have you read And There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran? He was a blind hero of the French Resistance. I’ve heard the book is excellent and it’s high on my TBR.

    Wow! I still can’t believe you were able to read so much! I aspire to be you! 🙂

    1. I was amazed too! I feel as though I’ve not been reading as much this year as usual, but maybe I’m wrong.

  6. I love Barbara Pym’s novels and a biography about her sounds fascinating. Thanks for the post!

    1. I had mixed feelings about the bio. But it inspired me to do a binge reading of the novels and they were great fun! It was interesting to know some of the story behind them too.

    1. I could not stop reading it once I started. Funny to have a page turner about books I already know so well.

  7. Moss Hart “Act One”…this is my selection from your non-ficiton list!
    I love the theatre and try to read many plays…..but this classic autobiography was a complete
    unknown to me.

  8. The Choice sounds wonderful, this is the first of many I’ll put on my TBR this month. The Jane Austen book sounds good too. I’m glad you had a great reading year. I felt like I read a lot of nonfiction, though it’s still a small percentage of my overall reading (not that it’s the quantity that matters). Hope you enjoy Nonfiction November!

    1. Glad to hear you’ll put The Choice on your TBR. I’m waiting for my hold on her next book, The Gift, to come in from the library — I may be sharing that in next year’s favorites.

    1. That was really a treat. I want to read his book about Dickens as well. Thanks for the Goodreads link, I’ll add you likewise!

  9. Holy Moly that it a lot of beautiful NonFiction Books! I have seen the Austen book everywhere but you have me convinced. I think one of my 2022 reading resolutions might be to finish reading all her books so this would be a perfect addition.

    Enjoy NFN! It really is the best isn’t it?

  10. This is a wonderful nonfiction reading year, Lory. Your DID read a lot! I was interested to see Cynthia Bourgeault. I have read several of her books, but she is challenging for me. She’s one of those writers I admire, but don’t always understand, yet I go back for more! Congratulations on a great writing year!

    1. Cynthia Bourgeault was a new discovery for me this year. I found her very interesting and provocative, though I do not agree with everything she says — there is a lot worth muling over though.

      It was a great year for nonfiction! I was really quite surprised. I had not realized how much I read over the course of the year.

    1. It would take a lot of patience to listen to the whole Old Testament. I’d like to go through it again but I’m not sure I could manage with listening (I’m so distractible with audiobooks). Maybe someday I’ll give it a try!

      1. It took me 18 months – though I did listen to lots of other things at the same time. I enjoyed using the oldest English audio recording of the Bible in the 1950s, narrated by Alexander Scourby. I chose another narrator for the Apocrypha

  11. When Breath Becomes Air is one I also enjoyed reading a couple years ago. Have you read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande?

    I haven’t read much this year, but a few non-fiction titles have stood out for me as well. One in particular is Lurking: How a Person Became a User, about the different ways people have interacted with the internet and formed online communities since its creation.

    1. Being Mortal was excellent, one of my top reads of the year some years ago. One of the few books I think everyone should read.

      Lurking sounds interesting! I’ll have to check it out.

  12. I think I read Act One by Moss Hart when I was a teenager in the 1970s. It was something I found in my Dad’s library and I remember really liking it. Seems like I am due for a reread.

    What Happens in Jane Austen is a terrific book. I read it in 2019 with my regional JASNA group and loved it and the discussions it prompted.

    I have The Year of the Mad King on my tbr shelf, probably based on reading your review!

    I am absolutely loving Nonfiction November — it’s a great way to catch up on so many blogs and great books.

    1. Nonfiction November is such a great event. I’ve been participating since my year one of blogging and it just gets better and better.

    1. It was a great year for me. I’m so glad to have discovered the joys of nonfiction, largely through this event. Missed Translations was a very moving and unusual story, I do recommend it.

  13. Wow, well done on read SO much non-fiction, Lory and even better to hear you were enjoying it so much you didn’t realise you read nearly as much of it as fiction! 😃 I had read a more modest 7 non-fictions when I did my post for this topic, but that is a good amount for me.

    1. I am surprised that I read so much this year, but I find the topics were a bit limited — I’d like to branch out more in the future. It doesn’t really matter how much we read as long as we find it satisfying and enriching.

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