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December 7, 2010

Favorite Nonfiction of 2010

These are the nonfiction books I have most recommended to family and friends this year.

All links go to the authors' contributions to the Book Notes series or my 52 Books, 52 Weeks review. I have reposted my original review below each book.

What was your favorite nonfiction book of 2010?

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

G. Willow Wilson is my favorite comics writer. Her series AIR is one of only two comic books (along with Fables) I pick up every month, and her graphic novel Cairo is a book I often recommend to fledgling comics fans.

The Butterfly Mosque's subtitle, "A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam" is a bit misleading (but in a good way). Wilson's tale does include her own story of love and religious conversion, but her lyrical prose also illuminates the people and cultures she encounters along the way.

G. Willow Wilson's The Butterfly Mosque offers rare and important insight into the Muslim world and faith in one of the year's most important books.

Composed by Rosanne Cash

Having been a fan of Rosanne Cash's music as well as her essays and short fiction for years, her memoir Composed was one of my most anticipated books of the year.

Rosanne Cash may be a celebrity, but Composed is not a typical celebrity memoir. Crisply written, Cash openly shares her personal growth as a person, performer, and writer. The book's tales about pop culture icons (notably her father Johnny Cash and stepmother June Carter Cash) are always interesting, but it is her own story that fascinates.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The "best of 2010" book lists are popping up everywhere, and Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks seems to be on them all (and deservedly so).

Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells live on long after her death. These HeLa cells have become key facets in modern health research, and Skloot's research uncovers not only Henrietta Lacks' life, but also that of her her family and the medical advances her cells have helped bring. The book doesn't shy away from questioning medical ethics, but Skloot doesn't preach, she clearly provides the facts and lets the reader make up his own mind.

Simply put, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the most arresting work of nonfiction I have read since Dave Cullen's Columbine, and is an always engaging and important book, an arresting combination of biography, science, and ethics.

Listen to This by Alex Ross

Alex Ross has long been my favorite music critic. In fact, every week when The New Yorker arrives, the first thing I read (after the fiction, of course) is his classical music column. Ross informs, educates, and entertains with every essay, and though I don't listen to much classical music, I always find myself delving into the week's subject matter.

Ross also writes about popular music, and his new essay collection Listen to This combines essays about Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Chinese classical music, Cecil Taylor, and more. His alternative takes on modern popular music as serious art dovetail perfectly with his explorations of classical music's place in modern culture.

Impressively, you can stream music samples for each chapter while you read at the book's audio guide.

If you enjoyed Alex Ross's first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (which I consider to be one of the finest music books ever published), then you will love this one. I rarely read books about music, but Alex Ross fascinates with every page.

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman

Elif Batuman's The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them is an essay collection that delightfully combines literary criticism with personal history. Batuman writes with crisp elegance and unfailing humor of the lives of the great Russian authors as well as the academics (including herself) who love them.

Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh

Kristin Hersh has always been one of my favorite musicians. As a lyricist, she is one of music's best storytellers, and whether with her bands Throwing Muses or 50 Foot Wave or as a solo act, her music is always striking and honest. Her memoir Rat Girl, shares these same traits.

From its iconic cover cover (drawn by cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame) to its last page, Rat Girl is the arresting story of a year in Hersh's life in the mid-1980s, her music, her bipolar disorder and first pregnancy. Lyrical, funny, and always poignant, Rat Girl stands next to Rosanne Cash's recently published book Composed as one of the most thought provoking, enjoyable, and well-written musician memoirs I have ever read.

also at Largehearted Boy:

online "best of 2010" book lists

Largehearted Boy favorite graphic novels of 2010
Largehearted Boy favorite novels of 2010
Largehearted Boy favorite nonfiction of 2009
Largehearted Boy favorite nonfiction of 2008

previous lists at Largehearted Boy
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks book reviews