CULTURE & ARTS
12/14/2015 09:49 am ET Updated Dec 20, 2015

20 Notable Non-Fiction Books You Might've Missed This Year

Get thee to a library (or a bookstore).
Jillian Capewell/HuffPost

It's both the blessing and the curse of the modern book lover: great titles come out at lightning speed each month in buzzy lists and flashy blurbs. We add them to our reading queues, promising to check out each interesting one when there's time, but as the churn of publishing never stops, we soon realize there's simply never enough time.

That interesting book about Beanie Baby economics is forgotten for the Ta-Nehisi Coates that finally came in for you at the library, or the latest Ferrante that your friend pushed into your hands.

Alas, don't punish yourself for having obligations outside reading 24/7 that prevent you from absorbing all of the books. Instead, rejoice at the wide range of literary options we have each year (added to the many still available to read from the last few thousand years of the written word -- no pressure, though). If you're looking at the calendar and realizing you're craving the voyeuristic pleasure of getting in another's head, or want to stock up on fun facts to share at the holiday office party, these 20 options published in the last 12 months will do you good. 

  • 'Hammer Head' by Nina MacLaughlin
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>9-to-5-ers who dream of escaping the cubicle.<br><br>This memoir is a tender, articulate look at t
    W. W. Norton
    For: 9-to-5-ers who dream of escaping the cubicle.

    This memoir is a tender, articulate look at the physical labor of carpentry work, told by a woman who left her job in journalism and found her place as a carpenter's assistant. MacLaughlin shows us how meditative -- and, at times, tedious -- the constant measuring, cutting and laying of carpentry can be, and she extracts beautiful meaning out of her daily tasks. Get a taste of the author's work at her blog, Carpentrix.
  • 'The Soul of an Octopus' by Sy Montgomery
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Those who are ready to welcome our octopus overlords.<br><br>Sy Montgomery's 2011 article about an
    Atria Books
    For: Those who are ready to welcome our octopus overlords.

    Sy Montgomery's 2011 article about an octopus she befriended and, later, grieved over sparked an uptick in interest over these mysterious, intelligent creatures. For this book, Montgomery explores the interest further, traveling to meet octopuses (not octopi!) around the world and documenting scientists' studies. But this is far from a dry text, as the author infuses it with heart and humor.
  • 'Trace' by Lauret Savoy
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Genealogy buffs and those who love them.<br><br>An earth historian by trade, Lauret Savoy journeys
    Counterpoint
    For: Genealogy buffs and those who love them.

    An earth historian by trade, Lauret Savoy journeys through the landscape -- and her own roots -- in this sweeping book that's part memoir, part travelogue, part scientific text. Savoy digs into her Native American, European and African-American history and maps her discoveries against our thoughts about place in this fascinating book.
  • 'Out on the Wire' by Jessica Abel
    <strong>For:</strong> "This American Life" addicts.<br><br>Cartoonist and lover of narrative radio Jessica Abel follows the v
    Broadway Books
    For: "This American Life" addicts.

    Cartoonist and lover of narrative radio Jessica Abel follows the voices behind some of the biggest shows today: the aforementioned "TAL," "Radiolab," "Planet Money" and more. Abel herself isn't immune to the inspiration offered up by these sound leaders, as the book led to her own podcast, where she shares tips on how to create a compelling story and workshops listeners' ideas.
  • 'Thunder & Lightning' by Lauren Redniss
    <strong>For:</strong> Artistic souls who love weather reports.<br><br>From the author who previously documented Pierre and Ma
    Random House
    For: Artistic souls who love weather reports.

    From the author who previously documented Pierre and Marie Curie's relationship in the 2011 NBA-nominated Radioactive comes another gripping treatise, this time on the heavens. While recounting historical weather events (the Biblical flood, for example), Lauren Redniss travels to the most extreme climes for this project and connects weather in its grandest forms to the minute ways it affects us daily.
  • 'Naked at Lunch' by Mark Haskell Smith
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Those who find wearing pants at home oppressive.<br><br>Some appreciate the flattering threads, wa
    Grove Press
    For: Those who find wearing pants at home oppressive.

    Some appreciate the flattering threads, warmth and general societal acceptance clothing can offer. Others simply don't. Mark Haskell Smith dives into the "clothing optional" world, exploring naturism and even embarking on a nude cruise and an attire-free hike through the Alps. What emerges is a thoughtful look at the complications -- and positive outcomes -- of taking it all off. Read our review here. 
  • 'The Argonauts' by Maggie Nelson
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>People in the middle of big life changes.<br><br>The author of the much-loved&nbsp;<i>Bluets</i> d
    Graywolf Press
    For: People in the middle of big life changes.

    The author of the much-loved Bluets dives into an exploration on identity, gender and transformation. Maggie Nelson chronicles her relationship with her partner, the gender-fluid artist Harry Dodge, and her pregnancy, imbuing both with well-wrought looks at the limitations of language. Read our review here.
  • 'Yo, Miss' by Lisa Wilde
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Educators, or anyone hoping for a jolt of inspiration.<br><br>Set in a New York City second-chance
    Microcosm Publishing
    For: Educators, or anyone hoping for a jolt of inspiration.

    Set in a New York City second-chance high school -- where students are sent after extended absences, pregnancies, or suspensions -- this graphic memoir follows Lisa Wilde's journey as a teacher within its walls. Wilde skips the "teacher-as-savior" cliches and draws her students with a compassionate and realistic eye. Read our review and an excerpt here.
  • 'I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son' by Kent Russell
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Enthusiasts of the off-kilter.<br><br>Kent Russell (whose sister is, yes, <a href="http://www.huff
    Knopf
    For: Enthusiasts of the off-kilter.

    Kent Russell (whose sister is, yes, Karen Russell) serves up both deeply personal meditations and vivid set pieces in this wholly unique essay collection. He shares tales of his father and his childhood alongside synopses of Juggalo gatherings, a zombie makeup artist and an Amish baseball game. Russell's world is strange and wonderful, and worth the trip.
  • 'Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe' by Lori Jakiela
    <strong>For:</strong> Those grappling with how to map out their lives.<br><br>In this vivid memoir, Lori Jakiela examines th
    Atticus Books
    For: Those grappling with how to map out their lives.

    In this vivid memoir, Lori Jakiela examines the story of her adoption as a child and the subsequent search for her birth family later on. Don't expect a treacly affair, though: when Jakiela's birth mother connects with her online, the correspondence is rough and jarring. As the author comes to terms with this new information, she focuses on her own life and relationships as an adult.
  • 'Notorious RBG' by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Anyone who has <a href="http://www.racked.com/2014/8/1/7583601/ruth-bader-ginsburg-has-decoded-her
    Dey Street Books
    For: Anyone who has separate jabots for assenting and dissenting with the majority.

    Your favorite feminist meme has been turned into an informative coffee table book. Despite its cheeky name, the book's co-authors -- the lawyer behind the "notorious" moniker and a journalist -- provide a thorough, serious rundown of the Supreme Court's coolest judge.
  • 'Witches of America' by Alex Mar
    <strong>For:</strong> Anyone who rereads <i>The Crucible</i>&nbsp;every fall.<br><br>The director of 2010's "American Mystic,
    FSG
    For: Anyone who rereads The Crucible every fall.

    The director of 2010's "American Mystic," Alex Mar was no stranger to explorations of spirituality, which makes her an ideal raconteur for this book following Paganism from its roots up to its modern iterations. But Mar is not just a detached observer, as her investigations led to a questioning of her own faith. Read our review here.
  • 'Tender Points' by Amy Berkowitz
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Sufferers of chronic illness, and those who want to understand them.<br><br>Amy Berkowitz is a poe
    Timeless, Infinite Light
    For: Sufferers of chronic illness, and those who want to understand them.

    Amy Berkowitz is a poet, which lends itself seamlessly to her careful, cutting memoir about fibromyalgia, trauma and identity. In this short, lyrical work the author takes an unflinching eye toward dark moments, bringing about understanding and resilience underneath.
  • 'The Monopolists' by Mary Pilon
    <strong>For:</strong> People who fall asleep before ever getting to collect Free Parking.<br><br>The board game Monopoly is a
    Bloomsbury USA
    For: People who fall asleep before ever getting to collect Free Parking.

    The board game Monopoly is as well known as it is famously long to play. Luckily, Mary Pilon's investigation into the history of our favorite game to argue over isn't a drag at all. Listen to the "99% Invisible" podcast episode where she's featured and tell us we're not right.
  • 'The Great Beanie Baby Bubble' by Zac Bissonnette
    <strong>For:</strong> '90s kids waiting to cash in on Peanut the Elephant.<br><br>It sounds like the setup for a bizarre alte
    Portfolio
    For: '90s kids waiting to cash in on Peanut the Elephant.

    It sounds like the setup for a bizarre alternate universe, one in which grown adults arm wrestle in stores, online bidding wars escalate, and factory defects are prized -- all over soft toys with an MSRP of roughly $5. Yet it was real, and Zac Bissonnette takes a deft lead on the consumer craze that will leave future generations scratching their heads.
  • 'Cat Is Art Spelled Wrong' edited by Caroline Casey, Chris Fischbach, and Sarah Schultz
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Anyone in need of a justification for all those hours spent watching <a href="https://www.youtube.
    Coffee House Press
    For: Anyone in need of a justification for all those hours spent watching Maru.

    Perhaps its best to start with a description of this book from Coffee House Press' Kickstarter: "The most interesting writers we know, all asking and answering the same question: why can't we stop watching cat videos?" What results is a compendium of essays on taste, critical judgment and, yes, a lot of thoughts about kitties.
  • 'Blackout' by Sarah Hepola
    <strong>For:</strong>&nbsp;Sufferers of addiction and critics of cultural attitudes about drinking.<br><br>How does one write
    Grand Central Publishing
    For: Sufferers of addiction and critics of cultural attitudes about drinking.

    How does one write a memoir of unremembered nights? Sarah Hepola answers this question deftly in her examination of alcoholism, and the perfectionism and desire for release that it provided her. Aside from being a deep, personal investigation, this book also examines the line between addiction and the way Americans view their vices.
  • 'The Dead Ladies Project' by Jessa Crispin
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Those needing a push to shake things up.<br><br>Jessa Crispin, who many in lit circles likely kno
    University of Chicago Press
    For: Those needing a push to shake things up.

    Jessa Crispin, who many in lit circles likely know as the founder of Bookslut, hit the road when she turned 30 and felt confined by her settled Chicago life,. More accurately, she hit the sky, heading to Europe with a single suitcase. Crispin uses literary icons as her atlas, traveling around in search of meaning. Crispin is thoughtful and funny, dealing with travel mishaps and difficult-to-answer questions in both relatable and unexpected ways.
  • 'The Odd Woman in the City' by Vivian Gornick
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>People watchers bound for the big city.<br><br>Critic and prolific memoirist Vivian Gornick gave u
    FSG
    For: People watchers bound for the big city.

    Critic and prolific memoirist Vivian Gornick gave us this quiet exploration of urban life in 2015. She weaves in encounters with the everyday people of New York -- some of which are, undoubtedly, true characters -- but one main thread is the friendship between Gornick and Leonard, a 20-year connection.
  • 'The Folded Clock' by Heidi Julavits
    <strong>For:&nbsp;</strong>Reluctant journalers.<br><br>If reading someone's diary excites you as much as hearing about someo
    Doubleday
    For: Reluctant journalers.

    If reading someone's diary excites you as much as hearing about someone's dream, this book is for you. Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers and co-editor of 2014's Women in Clothes, takes her keen writer's sensibility to the quotidian: musings on "The Bachelor" sit alongside ideas about what it means to be a person and a writer. Read more about Julavits and diary-keeping here.

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