In the proliferation of year-end book roundups, journalistic nonfiction and novels dominate the lists. And there are usually a few memoirs, especially if the author is Barack Obama or Mariah Carey.
What often gets left out are collections of essays. And of course, if a book wasn’t published that year, it won’t make the cut.
But as an avid reader of essays and a teacher of creative nonfiction, I prefer to read — and share with my students — a mix of new and not-so-new. With that in mind, here’s a list of ten nonfiction titles that stood out for me in 2020. All but one are collections of essays, and the other is a very different take on memoir. Half of the selections are anthologies that I would especially recommend to aspiring essayists and students of nonfiction who would like to delve deeper into the possibilities of the genre.
Note: The links to the books are all affiliate links. Bookshop is a new online bookstore that supports local, independent bookstores, many of which have been particularly struggling during the pandemic. Any purchases through these links will help support indie bookstores and also me, an indie writer.
The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction edited by Zoë Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore (Rose Metal Press)
The literary journal celebrates an under-recognized genre: very short nonfiction, also known as flash nonfiction, also known as micro-essays. This new anthology, released just last month by the wonderful small press Rose Metal, comprises eighty-four exquisite pieces from the two decades and counting of the journal’s publications as well as a genuinely useful teaching guide. Even though the essays are tiny, collected together the selections reveal the expansiveness of the flash nonfiction genre: some lyrical and meditative, some evocative of the kind of killer anecdote that you hear from someone else and then retell yourself (“One time my friend’s cousin’s friend…”), some that manage to be both poetic and narrative at once. In ten years of teaching nonfiction, Brevity is the online literary journal I return to the most to find instructive examples…