Friday 19 January 2024

My Top 10 Non-Fiction Reads of 2023

A new year is upon us and you know what that means?! MORE BOOKS! Okay I should calm down. I’ve already shared my top 10 fiction books of 2023, and you can see what those were here. However, I also love a good non-fiction read. Whether that’s a book on climate justice, a personal story or memoir, or a deep dive into a particular topic, I love getting stuck in. Here are some of my favourites from this year! I’d love to know your recommendation too. 

An Extra Pair of Hands: A story of caring and everyday acts of love by Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse’s portrayal of care and love is deeply touching. My heart ached when I finished this book, it was beautiful. Mosse shares her experiences living with and caring for her parents and her mother-in-law in their elderly years and of losing both her mother and father. In some ways this is a sad book, and I did get teary every now and again, but wow it’s so full of hope and joy. I especially loved when Mosse discussed the close friendship between her mother and mother-in-law developed particularly after her father died, and of the companionship her and her mother-in-law found in each other in lockdown. It’s a truly gorgeous look at love and connection. But Mosse doesn’t view her experiences in isolation. The Covid-19 pandemic looms large in the background of this book, as it still does in many if not all of our lives. When looking at the concept of caring, Mosse highlights the systemic inequalities that face paid and unpaid carers in the UK, including working conditions and exposure to disease. 

“No Offence But…”: How to have difficult conversations for meaningful change by Gina Martin & co.

“No Offence But…” is one of the most useful books I’ve read this year. Gina Martin highlights the importance of individual conversations in social change and equips us as readers in how to undertake them in an impactful way. Each chapter begins with a problematic phrase such as “Boys Will Be Boys”, “To Play Devil’s Advocate”, “Men Aren’t Doing Anything to Help Feminism”, “I Don’t See Colour” and “It Was a Different Time”, which are subsequently unpicked and debunked it such as a way that you can never see them as valid ever again. Gina and her guest writers are incredible at doing this. In Martin’s chapters, she shares experiences from her own life, such as her first memory of experiencing misogyny as a child or a friend’s sexist behaviour. The situations described by Martin (and her guest contributors) are so every day and really share the frustrations of regular and normalized discrimination. However each chapter highlights the exact arguments that can be used to counter this kind of behaviour, certain key facts to remember and tips on how to challenge these situations. “No Offence But…” is a crucial read for anyone wanting to make the world a better place.


Strong Female Character by Fern Brady


This copy of Strong Female has gone through many different hands as it has been passed around a friendship group and beyond. Strong Female Character has many reviews saying that it’s incredibly funny and has been marketed in that way too, which makes sense as Brady is a well-known comedian. However, (and I know friends of mine who’ve also read the book agree with me) that is not the word I would use to describe this book. Of course there are moments of humour, but oh my god this book is heartbreaking and intense and stressful. There is so much trauma in this book I don’t think it’s really fair to call it funny. It is, though, a brilliant portrayal of undiagnosed neurodivergence, poverty, mental illness, addiction, and harmful relationships. It’s a lot and I would through a ton of trigger warnings in there. But it’s so incredibly raw and honest – perhaps one of the most open memoirs I’ve ever read.   


A Trans Man Walks Into a Gay Bar by Harry Nicholas

A Trans Man Walks Into a Gay Bar is a beautifully written story of self (and sexual) discovery. Harry Nicholas charts his experiences figuring out his gender and sexuality (or as he puts it ‘The Lesbian to Straight Man to Gay Man Timeline’), navigating Grindr and the gay dating scene as a trans man as well as figuring out the rest of life. Nicholas states at the beginning that this is not in any way a guidebook or ‘how-to’ of being trans or gay (not that there is any one way of being either those things anyway) but that he wanted his story to be out there as he had only seen memoirs or accounts of being either gay or trans, very rarely being both gay and trans. This book is intimate and tender, with Nicholas showing amazing vulnerability and openness. It shows the duality of the difficulties that come with being trans in a transphobic society and trans joy. I loved it. 


Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

As I’ve been trying to understand my own brain and mental illness, I’ve been trying to read more stories about OCD and people’s experiences with living with it. Bryony Gordon’s experiences with OCD are intense. It’s a lot. But it also felt like she was not holding back and was being very raw in bearing her all – the good, the bad and the ugly. I want to widen my perspective and read the experiences of other people with OCD and also those with other mental illnesses. A good and interesting read, but a lot. 


Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

This is potentially my favourite non-fiction books of the year. It’s one of those books where I feel like I grunt with enthusiasm when I try to describe it rather than using my words. However, that’s not really helpful when I’m trying to describe it to you using the written word. But rest assured if I’ve already made some strange noises trying to figure out how to tell you how much I loved this book.


In a sentence, this book is a biography of George Orwell, centring on his relationship to nature. But it’s so much more than that.  Solnit uses Orwell as a springboard to discuss a whole range of topics including beauty, joy, aestheticism, workers’ rights, the rise to fascism, our connection to nature, Stalin’s lemons, colonialism, slavery and gender inequality. There’s so much in this book it feels like it spills from the pages. I read this as I was studying nature and power in Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier for my Master’s dissertation, and although she focusses on a completely different author, so much of Solnit’s writing here felt relevant. Orwell’s Roses heavily influenced my dissertation and brilliantly highlights the connection to human action, nature and systemic power structures. To say I adored it would be an understatement. 

Radical Intimacy by Sophie K. Rosa

This book was everywhere on my social media at the beginning of the year, and it looked fascinating so of course I crumbled to the inevitability of advertising. It was worth it though. Radical Intimacy looks at the relationship between capitalism and well, our relationships, of all kinds, our physical and mental health and our outlook on social connections. I have made notes, underlines and scribbles all over this book, which is always a good sign. Sophie K. Rosa covers all sorts of relationships in this book - from friendships, romantic and sexual relationships, family, and even our relationships with strangers, all of our interactions are impacted by capitalist ideology, which separates and isolates us from each other. Rosa breaks this down brilliantly. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.


Tell Me the Truth About Love: 13 Tales from the Therapist’s Couch by Susanna Abse

I love books about love, relationships and human connection. I also love books that analyse the way our brains work and how we think. Tell Me the Truth About Love is a combination of all of those things. Abse’s laid back writing style draws you in and the compelling stories keep you there. Each chapter plays on a fairy tale and shares a different story of a couple Abse has worked with (with names changed and other identifying characteristics removed). Let’s admit it, it’s entertaining reading about other people’s struggles, but it’s also fascinating delving into understanding behaviour.  


Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit is a theme on this list. I absolutely adore her work. It really resonates with me and gets my mind whirring. 


Hope in the Dark should be mandatory reading for anyone involved with climate activism, anyone who deals with eco-anxiety or climate doomism – basically anyone who is worried about the climate crisis and wants to make the world better. So much of this book also applies to so many other social justice movements too – basically anywhere that we need hope. Solnit characterises hope not as a passive feeling that happens to us but an active one which needs effort and action to sustain it. This book helped me feel so much better about the world, about climate activism and really informs a lot of what I do. Where there is no action, there is no hope. 


Life in the City of Dirty Water: A Memoir of Healing by Clayton Thomas-Müller

I read Life in the City of Dirty Water at the beginning of the year as part of Shado Mag’s Book Club. Thomas-Müller came to speak to us as part of our book club and it was amazing to hear him speak. His words and his story is beautiful and touching and I’m so grateful that he took the time to speak to us.


A Life in the City of Dirty Water is Clayton’s memoir, following him throughout his childhood in Winnpeg and the systemic discrimination facing indigenous people in the land colonially known as Canada. At times, this book is difficult to read as we look back at Clayton’s experiences. He covers incidents of sexual assault and rape, domestic abuse, intimate partner violence, drug use, gang violence, suicide and suicidal ideation and environmental racism. Heavy as the subject matter might be, it is also profound and raw, yet inspirational and comforting. It is a warning against burnout and hustle culture as is so prevalent in activist spaces. It is a lesson that we are all part of one ecosystem. It is a reminder to reconnect to the earth, to ourselves, and our heritage, in whatever that may mean to us. It is also reminder that if we are fuelled purely by anger we will burn up ourselves and those around us - that when hatred drives your work, you eventually turn into the thing you’re fighting against. 


This blog has been neglected somewhat while I completed my Master’s, but now I have so many ideas for blog posts I would love to share with you and I hope to post more regularly in 2024. To help me have more time to spend on this blog, it would be amazing if you could buy me a cuppa or two to keep me going! It would mean the world to have your support and would also help keep my cat warm. 


See you soon,


If you liked this post you might like: My Top 10 Non-Fiction Books of 2022

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