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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Six Nonfiction and Memoir Reads I Loved in the Past Year

Six Great Bossy Nonfiction Reads

I promise that this is the last roundup list of 2023 favorites, which seems appropriate now that we have entered the month of May, 2024, ahem.

If you've read any of these books, I'd love to hear what you think!

You can find some of my many other lists of favorite nonfiction and memoir roundups here:

And you can click here for other memoir titles and here for more nonfiction titles I've reviewed on Bossy Bookworm.

What are some of your recent favorite nonfiction or memoir reads?


01 Solito: A Memoir by Javier Zamora

Zamora's memoir of his grueling journey from El Salvador to the United States without family at age nine keeps the reader within each immediate, breathless, uncomfortable, fear-filled moment through and to the unknown.

In Solito, the poet Javier Zamora shares the story of his grueling childhood journey.

Zamora keeps us in his nine-year-old perspective, which also serves to keep us focused on moment-by-moment sensations and concerns and makes the memoir feel immediate and breathless. Physical discomfort (he is tired, cold, hot, burned, thirsty, hungry), emotional turmoil (he feels loneliness, fear, concern, disconnectedness), and yearning (he is desperate for trust, for assurances, for safety and security, for reunification) are at the forefront.

Zamora takes us through what often feels like his literal step-by-step journey, without summarizing or skipping over impactful moments of need and want and despair. Yet he doesn't mine the difficult situation in an effort to build drama; his account feels honest and without emotional manipulation.

I listened to Solito as an audiobook. Click here for my full review of Solito.

You might also be interested in the titles on my Greedy Reading List Six Fascinating Books about Immigrants' Experiences.


02 Being Henry: The Fonz...and Beyond by Henry Winkler

Winkler is candid, charming, self-deprecating, and delighted by life and his experiences. I loved listening to him read the audiobook of Being Henry.

I listened to Henry Winkler read his irresistibly candid, funny, and poignant memoir.

Winkler explores his childhood and his critical, yelling, stressed parents, survivors of the Holocaust who were later concerned with wealthy appearances and often in terrible debt. He credits their appreciation for his fame but not for him as a person for his lifetime of insecurity, difficulty opening up emotionally, and need for ongoing therapy.

He also shares his lifelong joy in putting on other personas and his professional ups and downs, including the luck, grit, and adventures of starring in Happy Days, Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, and Barry.

Winkler brings heart and honesty to the story of his life, and I loved it.

I received a prepublication audiobook version of this title courtesy of NetGalley and Macmillan Audio.

For my full review, check out Being Henry.


03 You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith

Poet Maggie Smith's memoir traces the end of her marriage, and she weaves in history and hopes for the future while acknowledging that any story is only one person's reality and experience.

Life, like a poem, is a series of choices.

In You Could Make This Place Beautiful, poet Maggie Smith recounts her painful, prolonged divorce and her marriage, which was ending as she wrote this memoir.

The book is made up of many short sections, and much of Smith's exploration is focused on the way in which she chooses to write about and present her situation--both of which seem fitting for a writer and poet.

Smith deliberately presents the book not as a "tell-all" but a "tell-mine," repeatedly acknowledging that she can only tell her side of the story, built upon facts but only those she chooses to share; built on feelings, but only her feelings; built on resulting repercussions, but only those she chooses to acknowledge and share.

The author mentions much of the music she finds powerful and inspiring or comforting, and she references other poets' work and her own. I found myself noting and saving much of this gorgeousness.

Click here for my full review of You Could Make This Place Beautiful.


04 The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama

I listened to this audiobook and highly recommend immersing yourself in Michelle Obama's voice as she shares calm, wise, funny, or poignant reflections, personal practices, and gems of advice regarding retaining hope and being your best self.

I read Michelle Obama's wonderful book Becoming, but after my wise friend Katherine mentioned having listened to it, I immediately wished I had heard Michelle's calming voice read it to me too. So I decided to listen to The Light We Carry and was instantly sure audiobook was the right format for me.

Rather than pretending there are quick fixes for life's challenges and difficulties, Obama opens up her "toolbox" of emotional, meditative, and optimistic methods of coping, reminding herself of what's what, and ways in which she carries on in the face of adversity. While her White House circumstances are unusual and some of her related recollections are unique, her methods translate to the rest of us and daily life.

She builds her book around pivotal encounters with others or aims to answer questions that have been frequently posed to her, along the way sharing more of the story of her family, marriage, political life, friendships, frustrations, hopes, goals, and joys.

Her writing--deep self-reflection with sometimes poetic phrasing--is just beautiful. I loved reading this and loved spending time with Michelle Obama.

Please click here for my full review of The Light We Carry.


05 Unmasked: My Life Solving America's Cold Cases by Paul Holes with Robin Gaby Fisher

I was fascinated by Holes's account of the dogged determination and attention to detail--as well as the cost to his personal life--involved in discovering the identities of killers.

I have caught some of the most notorious killers of the twenty-first century and brought justice and closure for their victims and families. I want to tell you about a lifetime solving these cold cases, from Laci Peterson to Jaycee Dugard to the Pittsburgh homicides to, yes, my twenty-year-long hunt for the Golden State Killer.

Holes tracks for the reader the somewhat circuitous route he took in beginning to look into cold cases, the seemingly mundane clues he relied upon for answers, the persistent review of the facts and killers' potential motivations, and his dogged determination in comparing notes and working cooperatively with others--even when his full-time job was not meant to be focused on this particular work, but on more administrative concerns.

I was captivated by the often slow, sometimes shockingly swift realizations and their implications. The development of DNA analysis and technological possibilities was fascinating.

While the work almost certainly was tedious, Unmasked never is, and I never felt that Holes (with Fisher) was inserting drama that didn't inherently exist.

For my full review, check out Unmasked.


06 A Fever in the Heartland by Timothy Egan

In this narrative nonfiction, Egan explores the Klan's explosive growth and power in the 1920s in states like Indiana and beyond, while illustrating the unlikely heroine whose bravery began to bring justice to the evil leaders and implode the hate group.

In 1922, the Ku Klux Klan was roaring through states like Indiana, adding tens of thousands of members so that its ranks swelled to 400,000 in that state.

A Fever in the Heartland traces the horrifying and powerful growth of hate, buoyed by greed and intolerance, in the form of the Klan. The demonic con man at the heart of much of the Klan's spread is shown to be a monster with the worst imaginable faults of cruelty, ignorance, narcissism, and disregard for human life.

My blood pressure was way up as I listened to the audiobook of the book and learned about the many shocking atrocities that took place during the course of events explored here. The Klan's eventual comeuppance takes up a comparatively small portion of the book, but offers a beginning to justice being served.

For my full review, please check out A Fever in the Heartland.

You can click here to find other books I've read and reviewed that explore issues of race and politics or social justice as well as other fascinating nonfiction titles.


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