Mid-Year 2016: The Year’s Best Nonfiction (So Far)


It’s been a great year for nonfiction so far, with work that’s encompassed everything from memorable and harrowing true-life stories to formally bold takes on everyday topics. What follows is a look at some of the nonfiction books that have gotten our attention in the first half of this year.

laingOlivia Laing, The Lonely City
Olivia Laing could write about any subject and it would be interesting. Here we get the city as the only friend to some of the great eccentrics of our time. Andy Warhol, Henry Darger, David Wojnarowicz, and Edward Hopper are all invited to the part, and Laing explains why their lives and art centered so much around the emptiness of urban life.


Paul Lisicky, The Narrow Door
Paul Lisicky’s powerful memoir juxtaposes the end of his marriage with the life and death of a close friend. Here, Lisicky examines all of the complexities of two deeply close relationships, and transforms what he finds into art.


Melissa Broder, So Sad Today
Melissa Broder’s new essay collection shares the candor and literary deftness that have characterized her poetry over the years. It’s an incredibly powerful read, and one in which Broder investigates and interrogates questions of sexuality, intimacy, and desire. The result is a collection of work that’s hard to shake.


Scott Esposito, The Surrender
The Surrender makes for an interesting double bill with So Sad Today. Although Esposito and Broder are very different writers, both are rigorous in their self-examination, and relentless in how they explore questions of the body and identity. In the case of The Surrender, Esposito’s subject is his complex relationship to gender; the result is a dense and powerful read.


Brian Blanchfield, Proxies
Formally bold, emotionally taxing, and endlessly fascinating, Brian Blanchfield’s essay collection feels like a trip inside how one writer’s mind operates–but never sacrifices its power to the unique way in which it is structured.


Rich Cohen, The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones
Rich Cohen’s books frequently examine complex subjects from all sides, whether that’s the 1985 Chicago Bears, the history of Israel, or the United States’s 20th century involvement in Latin American affairs. Here, his focus is on a certain massive rock band, and how they evolved from a scrappy blues-influenced group to their current ominpresent status.


Mira Ptacin, Poor Your Soul
Mira Ptacin’s acclaimed memoir focuses on two generations of familial tragedy in the author’s own family. Writing about it earlier this year, Joe Winkler wrote that after reading it, “I felt not changed myself, but born to a new world larger than before.”


Rob Spillman, All Tomorrow’s Parties
Rob Spillman’s memoir tells two parallels stories, either of which would make a compelling work on his own. He tells the story of his childhood, and the array of cities and spaces where he lived with each of his two divorced parents; alongside that is the tale of his return to Berlin at the end of the Cold War, including a vivid portrayal of a fragmented city slowly becoming whole.


Alina Simone, Madonnaland
What do we really know about one of the biggest pop stars ever? Not a whole lot, apparently. And here, Simone uses all of her wit and journalistic smarts to uncover the world Madonna came from, the one she created, and in so many ways the one she’ll leave behind.


Ricardo Cavolo and Scott McClanahan, The Incantations of Daniel Johnston
Chronicling the life and art of cult musician like Daniel Johnston was never going to be an easy task. The approach chosen by collaborators Cavolo and McClanahan marries vividly surreal art with McClanahan’s stylized prose–a singular combination to evoke a singular artist.

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