Sunday, November 16, 2014

Outstanding Nonfiction Books Written By Women

As I looked at my latest library book sitting on the kitchen table, I was surprised by the author’s name:
– Beth Macy – 

Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Townwas written by a woman.

Despite going out of my way to read mostly nonfiction books written by women for the past several years, I find it interesting that a business book authored by a woman is still enough of an anomaly to cause me to pause.

In light of the perceived/actual shortage of nonfiction books written by women (that don't come with a purse or a shoe on its pink cover), I’ve decided to share a few of my favorite nonfiction books written by woman:

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc:
In addition to being one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read written by a woman, this is also one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read. This moving and powerful account of two girls coming of age in the South Bronx has changed my understanding of how the circumstances into which you are born affects your economic future. Here is my original discussion of the book where I ask if it is possible to change the course of a young girl's life.

Special Exits by Joyce Farmer
This book written in comic form is considered a fictionalized memoir, but since it is based on Farmer’s real life experience taking care of her elderly parents as their health declined I am including it here. When I originally read it, I was reminded of my husband’s parents as he and his sister managed their care in their later years. Now as I attempt to care for my own mother I am again reminded of this book. I wrote about it here.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Lifeby Anne Lamont
I’ve read other books on writing: Steven King’s On Writing and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, this book is so much more than a book on writing. It is a memoir Lamott wrote based on lessons she learned over the years working as a writer and teacher of a writing class. She provides advice on the craft of writing as well as humorous antidotes about life especially the life of a writer. Her chapter on jealousy is outstanding.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Culturesby Anne Fadiman
This book, the story of a Hmong girl with epilepsy and the conflict between the Hmong community and Western medical personnel, is narrative nonfiction at its best. Fadiman explores in detail what can go wrong with cultural assumptions and misunderstandings.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
This one follows the stories of six "ordinary" North Koreans who defect to South Korea beginning in the late 1990s. It is another eye-opening book – what living in North Korea may actually be like. Here I include an excerpt from the book in my post about making a mistake at work.

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie
Coco Chanel covered up much of her past and told enormous lies about her life. What I love about this book is Picardie sorted through personal observations and interviews with surviving friends, employees and relatives; Chanel’s abandoned memoirs and tabloid rumors to uncover the truth and give us an accurate portrayal of Coco Chanel’s life.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Leadby Sheryl Sandberg
This book has its faults, but I’m including it here because it has inspired so many women to begin talking and thinking about their career choices: leaning in and opting out.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
This book has its faults too. It is long and repetitive and like Lean-In is written from a white middle-class perspective, but this is the book that reignited the feminist movement. Plus, it helped me realize how much influence advertisements had on women’s lives – so much so they abandoned their careers to buy the latest carpet sweeper.

I know there are many more outstanding nonfiction books written by women. What are your favorites?

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  1. I loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Imperfect Harmony by Stacy Horn. Love your blog!

  2. Celtic Julia,
    I own The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but have never got around to reading it. Funny how that happens with the books we actually buy. I've read a couple of Stacy Horn's books, but not this one. I just looked it up and it sounds fabulous. I hope to read this one too in 2015.

  3. Great list! I loved Lean In and would like to get to more of the books you mention. Recent nonfiction reads by women which I enjoyed include The Woman Who Would Be King and Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy.

  4. Ohhh… these sound great!
    The second book sounds like an awesome read, it makes me think of Rosie Perez's book. Have you read Rosie Perez's book? She powered through so much adversity, I honestly had no idea.

  5. Hey Savvy,

    I am going to have to read Book #2, but my personal thought on it is "If there is a will there is a way" I came from nothing, and worked my ass off, live half way around the world and while not super rich am doing a lot better than I ever thought I could.

  6. I've read and reread Anne Lamott's book just because I like it so much, especially the section on plot treatments and how she had to keep rewriting the story to get it right. I actually got my picture taken with Anne Lamott when she came to Chicago a few years ago; she was very nice. I also like Natalie Goldberg's books on writing.

  7. This is a really interesting list - I need some new books. Looking a couple of these up on my nook now!

  8. always give a nice little list of books for my weekly run to the library!! Needed this! Thank you!!

  9. I have Factory Man checked out from the library now too, but I don't think I'm going to get to read it before I need to take it back. I had the same thought you did though -- it's not common to see a business book by a woman, which made me curious.

  10. One of my friends recommended Lean In. I think I'm going to read it soon. These other books are unfamiliar to me. I think I need to check them out.