Non Fiction Essay Books

We continue our “Best of 2017″ series curated by the entire CCM-Entropy community and present some of our favorite selections as nominated by the diverse staff and team here at Entropy, as well as nominations from our readers.

This list brings together some of our favorite nonfiction books published in 2017.

(For last year’s list, click here.)

In no particular order…


1. Afterglow (a dog memoir) by Eileen Myles (Grove Press)

Afterglow is a mutt elegy in a million . . . Myles gets at something no other dog book I’ve read has gotten at quite this distinctly: The sense of wordless connection and spiritual expansion you feel when you love and are loved by a creature who’s not human . . . It’s raw and affecting, and in its wild snuffling way, utterly original. ―Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, NPR

2. After Kathy Acker by Chris Kraus (Semiotext(e))

This is a gossipy, anti-mythic artist biography which feels like it’s being told in one long rush of a monologue over late-night drinks by someone who was there. As such, we learn as much about Kathy Acker as we do about the mores of the artists and writers who surrounded her in the last three decades of the twentieth century. Acker emerges as an unlikely literary hero, but an utterly convincing one. —Sheila Heti

3. 300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso (Graywolf Press)

This tiny gem of a book is jam-packed with insights you’ll want to both text to your friends and tattoo on your skin. It’s an intimate portrait of a woman at work, and a sweeping view of a human mind trying to make order of the world around us.”Omnivoracious

4. They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib (Two Dollar Radio)

It’s a little bit of comfort when you think about it, that with They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Abdurraqib has provided us with an essay collection that might help make some small sense of what’s going on. That maybe, hopefully, one day soon we can step back into the light with an understanding of how to be a little better. That the voices that emerged over the last decade helped forge a path towards something better, and that things can be good. —Vol. 1 Brooklyn

5. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (Harper)

Searing, smart, readable. . . . “Hunger,” like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” interrogates the fortunes of black bodies in public spaces. . . .  Nothing seems gratuitous; a lot seems brave. There is an incantatory element of repetition to “Hunger”: The very short chapters scallop over the reader like waves. —Newsday

6. Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard (Harper Perennial)

These large-hearted, meticulous essays offer an uncanny x-ray of our national psyche, examining that American mess of saints and conmen, the peculiar, culpable innocence that American mess of saints and conmen, the peculiar, culpable innocence that confuses money and moral worth, charity and personal aggrandizement. Gerard’s prose is lacerating and compassionate at once, showing us both the grand beauty of our American dreams and the heartbreaking devastation they wreak. —Garth Greenwell

7. Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder (Ecco)

Electric Literature’s 15 Best Nonfiction Books of 2017

We polled staff and contributors on their favorite factual writing

The United States publishes about 300,000 books a year. From this wealth of options, how is a person ever supposed to choose which ones to read? Well, we can’t tell you which books from 2017 you’ll like best, but we can tell you which ones we liked best. We polled Electric Lit staff and regular contributors on their favorite books of the year, and we’re bringing you the winners, starting with nonfiction. Below are the essay collections, memoirs, and histories that made the biggest impressions on us in 2017.

When you’re done, check out Electric Lit’s favorite short story collections and favorite novels of the year.

300 Arguments, Sarah Manguso

Manguso’s latest book is not an essay collection—it’s a series of aphorisms, like a modern Poor Richard’s Almanack or a serious Jack Handey. But the arguments build on each other to offer revelations about love, desire, success, and everything else that matters.

Abandon Me, Melissa Febos

Febos’ second book of memoirs dissects some of her most intimate relationships: with her absent birth father, with the man who raised her, and with the woman she turbulently loved. This is for people who love essays that haul great truths out of deep vulnerability.

Book of Mutter, Kate Zambreno

This volume is not exactly memoir and not exactly criticism; publisher Semiotext(e) calls it “an accumulative archive of myth and memory that seeks its own undoing.” Light beach reading.

Bunk, Kevin Young

In this day and age, how can we know what truth is? Don’t worry, says Kevin Young: we never could. Bunk traces the history of American hoaxes, forgeries, fakes, and frauds—and in the process, shows us that race is the biggest long con of all.

Caca Dolce, Chelsea Martin

Chelsea Martin’s darkly funny, unsparing memoir deals with class, family, mental illness, sex, and basically every other source of twentysomething neurosis with a sense of humor and a gimlet eye.

Read our interview with Chelsea Martin.

Hunger, Roxane Gay

This memoir, by the author of bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist, takes an unflinching look at food, weight, and body image. It’s about fat bodies, but also black bodies and female bodies, and in general about living as a body in the world.

Read a discussion of Hunger.

Read our interview with Roxane Gay.

Imagine Wanting Only This, Kristen Radtke

Kristen Radtke’s graphic memoir is also an exploration of disaster, death, and decay; it depicts Radtke’s life, but also her fascination with ruined and abandoned buildings and cities. A great choice for people who want to lean really hard into their conviction that there’s nothing funny about comics.

Read our interview with Kristen Radtke.

Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann

This history, which The New York Timescalled “disturbing and riveting,” investigates what happened when the Osage tribe, forced onto a nearly unlivable piece of land, find that the land sits on top of tens of millions of dollars worth of oil. It will not make you feel good about the United States, but we all need to be clear-eyed about our country right now.

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

This is easily the funniest book about online harassment, rape, xenophobia, sexism, body image, and getting the silent treatment from your parents that you’ll ever read. But it’s not just whistling in the dark; Koul also writes lovingly about immigrant families, longstanding friendships, and romantic relationships.

Priestdaddy, Patricia Lockwood

This is the first work of prose by poet (and prolific, wonderful tweeter) Patricia Lockwood, and it’s a doozy. It’s a memoir about moving back in with her (married) priest father, but it’s also a searing critique of Catholicism and what it can do to its adherents. And it’s wildly funny and in love with the possibilities of the sentence.

Somebody With a Little Hammer, Mary Gaitskill

Fiction writer Mary Gaitskill dives headfirst into cultural criticism in this collection of essays, which cover topics from poetry to politics to porn. Whether she’s writing about Bjork or Hillary Clinton, she takes her subjects apart and puts them back together so deftly that you’ll never look at them the same way again.

Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, Michael Ausiello

Imagine if your partner of nearly 13 years was diagnosed with cancer on the day of your wedding, and lived for less than a year after that. If you’re not already in tears, you will be after reading TV journalist Michael Ausiello’s memoir about love and death.

Read our interview with Michael Ausiello.

Sunshine State, Sarah Gerard

Sarah Gerard’s book of essays is an encomium to all things Florida, from seabirds to sex to Amway sellers. While plumbing the mysteries of her home state, Gerard also investigates her personal history, including her childhood best friend, her teenage drug habit, and her parents’ involvement in a fringe religion.

Read our review of Sunshine State.

Read our interview with Sarah Gerard.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib

These essays are about music, but they’re also about politics and personal history. Poet and journalist Hanif Abdurraqib juxtaposes Bruce Springsteen with Michael Brown and Harriet Tubman with N.W.A. to draw broad conclusions about society and culture.

Read our interview with Hanif Abdurraqib.

We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates

If you’re mourning the Obama years and need someone to help you make sense of what happened, you couldn’t have a better tutor than Ta-Nehisi Coates. His incisive analysis helps illuminate what’s gone wrong in this country, not just in the last year but in our history. You probably won’t feel any better after reading this, but you’ll see with clearer eyes.

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