ARTS & CULTURE

27 Nonfiction Books By Women Everyone Should Read This Year

Memoirs, essay collections and other bits of nonfiction we're very excited about in 2017.

01/09/2017 01:28 pm ET | Updated Jan 10, 2017
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New year, new books. At least, that’s what we wrote back in December, when we were just starting to add titles to our 2017 reading lists.

Now that we’re nine days into the new year, our to-read list has only grown. And while our first book preview was filled with all the fiction you could handle, we wanted to take a moment to talk about the incredible wave of nonfiction we’re expecting this year, too.

Particularly, we’re talking about nonfiction from women authors ― because a single year that includes memoir and essay collection releases from the likes of Roxane Gay, Patricia Lockwood, Joan Didion, Yiyun Li, Mary Gaitskill, Samantha Irby and Camille Paglia is worth celebrating.

Behold: 27 nonfiction books by women everyone should read this year.

JANUARY

Scribner

Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear

For many of us working full time in urban environments, the prospect of studying mushrooms or catching fireflies seems like a faraway fantasy. In 2012, writer Kyo Maclear was inspired by a musician she met who had fallen in love with birds ― one of those rare natural spectacles readily available in cityscapes. The author spent the year devoted to the winged things, observing them and documenting the changes she underwent along the way. Birds Art Life chronicles her journey, exploring the many shapes passion can take, and the many spaces natural beauty can occupy. ― Priscilla Frank

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore Jan. 3.

Simon Schuster

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin

Earlier this year, Merritt Tierce, author of critically acclaimed 2011 novel Love Me Back, surprised readers with an essay detailing what she’s been up to since the buzz about her book quieted. “I promptly went broke,” she stated in Marie Claire. Now, she’s delivering mail. It’s not a tragic anomaly, but a new reality for writers ― including those who have achieved some sort of objective success ― is confronting laughably low pay. So, what’s a writer to do? Manjula Martin, founder of WhoPaysWriters.com, edited a collection of essays by the likes of Jonathan Franzen, Emily Gould and Alexander Chee, doling out practical advice. ― Maddie Crum

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore Jan. 3.

St Martins Press

The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady by Veronica Chambers

“Whenever I think about Michelle Obama, I think, ‘When I grow up, I want to be just like her. I want to be that intelligent, confident and comfortable in my own skin,’” author Roxane Gay, one of the 16 writers included in this timely homage to forever first lady Michelle Obama, proclaims. With a preface from Ava DuVernay and more essays from people like Phillipa Soo of “Hamilton,” this is a good book to help ease your way through the end of the Obama presidency. ― Katherine Brooks

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore Jan. 10.

Simon Schuster

How to Murder Your Life: A Memoir by Cat Marnell 

In an oddly perfect bit of timing, Cat Marnell — whose singular, manic style of beauty writing on the women’s site xoJane led to a certain brand of internet infamy — returns for public judgment with her long-awaited memoir just as that same site rings its death knell. Marnell wrote openly about her high-flying New York lifestyle, addiction and rehab stays, subject matter that attracted both fans and critics alike. Her memoir promises more relentless excavating of her life’s darker parts and glossy magazine juiciness. ― Jillian Capewell

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore Jan. 31.

FEBRUARY

Grand Central Publishing

All The Lives I Want by Alana Massey

The title of Alana Massey’s essay collection comes from a Sylvia Plath quote that reads, in part, “I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want.” Massey’s meditation on our cultural fascination with the iconic, prematurely deceased writer is a standout of her upcoming collection, in which she probes the lives of famous and infamous women and incorporates her own experiences to arrive at sharp insights on celebrity fascination and personal examination. ― JC

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore Feb. 7.

Farrar Straus and Giroux

This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin

“It is an affliction that often starts young and goes unheeded, younger than would seem possible, as if in exiting the womb I was enveloped in a gray and itchy wool blanket instead of a soft, pastel-colored bunting,” Daphne Merkin wrote in a 2009 piece for The New York Times Magazine. Merkin brings her longstanding affliction — depression — to life through her remarkably honest and visceral descriptions of the mental health condition that still remains largely cloaked in silence. In the essay collection, Merkin revisits childhood memories, therapist visits, hospitalizations and more, yielding an intimate portrait of life as a woman and a writer living with depression. ― PF

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore Feb. 7.

Random House

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li

Novelist Yiyun Li turns to nonfiction in 2017 with this literary autobiography. A love letter to her authorial influences, a memoir of her youth in China and her writing career in America, Dear Friend explores how language and literature help us shape who we are and what we hope to be. If you’re not convinced, check out the excerpt recently published in The New Yorker, which poignantly unravels her relationships to Chinese and English ― and why she chose to renounce one for the other. ― Claire Fallon

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore Feb. 21.

Bloomsbury USA

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos

The best memoirs, like the best novels, don’t lean on a fantastical life story but on the unforgettable prose of a born storyteller. Abandon Me is the second memoir of Melissa Febos; her first, Whip Smart, shed light on her experiences as a professional dominatrix. In her latest, Febos excavates the legacy left by her birth father, whom she didn’t know, and her close bonds with her mother and her adoptive father, a sea captain. Intermingled with this reexamination of her childhood and ancestry is a love story ― the aching, erotic saga of her affair with a married woman. Searing and eye-opening at every turn, this memoir will be a must-read. ― CF

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore Feb. 21.

Farrar Straus and Giroux

Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin

A “flâneur” is defined as “one who wanders aimlessly.” However, for most of cultural history, this someone was presumed to be male. Cultural critic Lauren Elkin challenges this assumption by celebrating the women throughout history who have dared to move throughout urban spaces on foot. Elgin explores the personal and political implications of a woman moving through a city alone: who she looks at, who looks at her, and what happens when she makes her primary place outside the home. Elkin intersperses her own personal experiences wandering through Paris with the many flâneuses who came before and the types of self-transformations that can only occur on foot. ― PF

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore Feb. 28.

MARCH

Abrams ComicArts

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

In The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui tells the story of her family’s departure from South Vietnam to the United States in the 1970s, providing a Vietnamese perspective on a war that rocked the cultures of both countries. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen described it as “a book to break your heart and heal it.” Bonus: The entire memoir is illustrated. ― KB

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore March 7.

Knopf

South and West by Joan Didion

Joan Didion, the great author of books like Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The Year of Magical Thinking, is a lifelong notebook addict. She uses them to record overheard conversations between strangers and her own banal observations, to jot thoughts about interviews and potential new works. This collection of never-before-seen bits from her notebooks includes musings on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976, a road trip with her late husband, a ladies’ brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention, a meeting with Walker Percy, and much more. As HuffPost writer Maddie Crum wrote last year, “If you’d like to keep on nodding terms with the person Didion used to be, you can read South and West.” ― KB

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore March 7.

Random House

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Right now, you could summon almost any material good you’d like ― 50 delicious tacos, a new book, a yearly supply of cat food ― and have it at your door within seconds. You can even secure a potential hookup while sitting alone in your apartment. We take these comforts for granted, and sometimes forget that not everything in life is conveniently bendable to our whims. That’s the premise of New Yorker writer Ariel Levy’s new memoir, which posits that we can’t have it all. We still can’t have children past a certain age; it’s still tricky to maintain a healthy relationship while still seeing other people. What you can have is this book that’s both personal and urgent. ― MC

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore March 14.

Haymarket Books

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

Writer, historian and activist Rebecca Solnit is the mind behind Men Explain Things to Me, hailed as the “antidote to mansplaining.” The Mother of All Questions has been ambiguously described as the former’s follow-up, involving ― as you might have guessed ― new essays on feminism. All we can say at this point is that Solnit knows how to write an intriguing book title. ― KB

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore March 14.

Pantheon

Free Women Free Men by Camille Paglia

Since the 1989 release of her first essay collection, Sexual Personae, Camille Paglia has continued to confound categorizations as a feminist who thinks women’s studies is “a comfy, chummy morass of unchallenged groupthink,” an art historian who thinks “Star Wars” is the best artwork of all time, and a lesbian who “doesn’t get along with lesbians.” Free Women Free Men is a compilation of Paglia’s best, and most incendiary, previously published essays, guiding readers through her singular perspectives on culture, sex and femininity. At times infuriating, at times glittering, Paglia’s prose is always biting and relentless. It’s more effective, however, when praising Madonna’s sexuality than defending date rape. ― PF

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore March 14. 

Ballantine Books

How to be a Bawse by Lilly Singh

Lilly Singh produces a popular YouTube channel, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before the actress and comedian wrote a book. Described as “the definitive guide to being a bawse: a person who exudes confidence, reaches goals, gets hurt efficiently, and smiles genuinely because he or she has fought through it all and made it out the other side,” the book will likely reflect aspects of Singh’s #GirlLove initiative. ― KB

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore March 28.

APRIL

Pantheon

Somebody With a Little Hammer by Mary Gaitskill

The author of Bad Behavior, Veronica, and Two Girls Fat, and Thin made a name with herself with her stories that explore power dynamics between men and women. She writes, also, about beauty standards, performance and the pressure women feel to compete with one another. Occasionally, she’s applied these thoughts to nonfiction essays, on everything from Bjork to Gillian Flynn. Finally, they’ve been collected, and fan girls everywhere are squee-ing. ― MC

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore April 4.

Harper Perennial

Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard

Sarah Gerard was a shining voice in fiction with her experimental, reeling debut Binary Star, about a teaching student struggling with anorexia and her toxic boyfriend while on a road trip. Now, readers are treated to Gerard’s insight and emotional probing into nonfiction matters in an essay collection focusing on the place where she was raised — Florida’s Gulf coast. ― JC

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore April 11. 

FSG Originals

Too Much and Not the Mood: Essays by Durga Chew-Bose

The title of Durga Chew-Bose’s upcoming essay collection Too Much and Not the Mood comes from one of Virginia Woolf’s journals, referring to the endless editing and tweaking writers self-inflict to make their voices pleasing and meaningful to readers. For young women, who, as Chew-Bose has written, are used to “self-editing from the day we’re little girls,” the task appears especially eternal. In her essay collection, partly inspired by Maggie Nelson’s balance of the personal and the theoretical, Chew-Bose explores what it means to be a writer as a young woman of color today. ― PF

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore April 11.

Pantheon

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

In her debut book, Kristen Radtke undulates between public and deeply personal observations. Her story begins when she attends her uncle’s funeral near a dilapidated mining town; from there, she sets out to explore abandoned places while contemplating a heart disease many members of her family have suffered from. Loss echoes throughout its illustrated pages, threading disparate corners of the globe together into a touching narrative. ― MC

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore April 18.

Farrar Straus and Giroux

American Originality: Essays by Louise Glück

Louise Glück is known as a brilliant poet, but in the course of her long and storied career, she’s also turned her hand to prose. Her first collection of essays, published in the early ‘90s, won a PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction ― so there’s every reason to expect good things from her upcoming essays on contemporary poetry. ― CF

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore April 18.

Farrar Straus and Giroux

A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley

There probably isn’t a better teaser for this book than the short and succinct statement that appears on Amazon ― the summary describes it as “an essential book for all Grace Paley fans.” The late Paley, born in 1922, is known widely for her short stories, essays and poetry, so for those interested in acquainting themselves with a literary legend, this is the reader for you. And it doesn’t hurt that it kicks off with a introduction by George Saunders. ― KB

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore April 18.

MAY

Picador

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays by Scaachi Koul

This is Scaachi Koul’s debut essay collection, centered on her experience growing up as the daughter of Indian immigrants and a woman of color in the West. On Twitter, she urged readers to “preorder my book and laugh yourself into an early grave.” If you’re looking for equal doses of humor and outrage in 2017, we suggest you check this out. ― KB

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore May 2.

Riverhead Books

Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood’s rule-breaking, creative poetry hints that she’ll offer a memoir bursting with rule-breaking, creative prose. Priestdaddy, like much of her poetry, tackles issues like religion, gender norms, class and, above all, her relationship with her eccentric, deeply Catholic family. As the title indicates, her father is a Catholic priest ― skirting the celibacy mandate, it seems, by seeking the priesthood only after marrying and starting a family. Funny and gorgeously written, with scenes so witty and zany they could be lifted from a Broadway show, Priestdaddy will be one of the major prose debuts of the year. ― CF

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore May 2.

Vintage

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby is the kind of essayist who can make readers cry with laughter and tear up with emotion within pages. It only takes a few moments reading her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat, to understand how compelling her voice is ― one that earned fans with the 2013 collection Meaty and surely will again with this year’s offering, which promises both madcap and life-affirming tellings that cover Irby’s pitch for herself as the “Bachelorette,” a trip to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, and more. ― JC

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore May 30.

JUNE

Sarah Crichton Books

Can I Borrow That?: Essays by Jenny Allen

You might know Jenny Allen’s work from the humorist’s show “I Got Sick Then I Got Better,” an emotional and witty one-woman show about grappling with an ovarian cancer diagnosis and subsequent recovery. If not, allow the writer’s new essay collection to introduce you to her singular voice, which her publisher describes like “a female Dave Barry.” In the book, Allen touches on middle age, living with a serious illness, and more quotidian experiences like being a houseguest and attempting a craft project. ― JC

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore June 6.

Desiree Navarro via Getty Images

Firsts: How My Twenties Helped Me to Redefine Realness by Janet Mock

Author and activist Janet Mock wrote Redefining Realness in 2014, outlining her path from a poor, multiracial, trans kid in Hawaii to one “the most influential people on the Internet.” We don’t even know yet what the book cover looks like, but we do know that Firsts will focus on Mock’s 20-something years, recounting “her stint as a stripper, her first-generation college experience, her move to New York, and her start in journalism.” ― KB

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore June 6.

Harper

Hunger by Roxane Gay

This is a big year for Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay. Her book Difficult Women, a collection of short stories about women of all origins and aspirations, came out earlier this month. While we’re poring over that, we’re also anxiously awaiting Hunger, subtitled “A Memoir of (My) Body” and described by HarperCollins as “a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself.”

“I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe,” she writes. “I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere ... I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.” ― KB

Available on Amazon or at your local bookstore June 13.

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19 Nonfiction Books From 2016 That Will Expand Your Mind
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