GUEST POST: Top 10 Non-Fiction Books


Hi, I’m Janet and I blog about books, music, craft, travel, and other daily goings-on at Words That Can Only Be Your Own.  I’m an avid reader, but as an English teacher my reading tends to be focused on fiction.  However, some of the books that have been most inspiring and life-changing were non-fiction, so I loved Daire’s idea for Non Fic November.  And so, without further ado, here are my top 10 non-fiction books (in no particular order)

non fic top 10


1. Ed. Michelle Tea It’s So You: 35 Women Write About Personal Expression Through Fashion & Style

A collection of essays musing on the often thorny topic of how clothes and make-up contribute to women’s personal identity and expression of self, I particularly enjoyed Diane di Prima’s (b.1934) essay Ideas of Fashion from the Great Depression to Today and A Torrid Affair by Cookie Woolner, who writes, “The mainstream fashion and beauty industries exist to keep us alienated from our bodies and desires, in a constant cycle of consumption and false expectations.  Fashion should be about joy and expression, not fear and loathing – loving and truly inhabiting our bodies, not hiding from them.”   She had me nodding along frantically!  I loved this book, which got me reflecting on the style choices I have made over the years (and made me excited about trying out red lipstick for the first time in my life: turns out it looks great, who knew?).  Be prepared for it to change the way you perceive the contents of your wardrobe and your make-up bag.

2. Tom Hodgkinson How To Be Free

I read How To Be Free two summers ago, just after returning from America. The trip had already got me thinking about the way I lived and my work-life balance (or lack thereof), and Tom Hodgkinson’s book – which is part comic writing, part political polemic, part philosophy, part manual for changing your life – was just what I needed to bring my thoughts into sharper focus.  It kickstarted my Not Buying It experiment in autumn 2011, and indirectly led to my £100 Challenge in autumn 2012. As a result of reading this book, I cut my hours at work and managed to pay off a large chunk of credit card debt. It genuinely changed my life.

3. Mark Salzman True Notebooks

An account of writer Salzman’s first year of teaching creative writing at Central Juvenile Hall – a lockup for Los Angeles’s most violent teenage offenders – this is a sometimes uplifting, often depressing, always inspiring book about the power of education, the power of the written word, the impact of teachers on young people’s lives, and more besides.

4. Jeanette Winterson Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Winterson’s autobiography covers much of the same ground as her debut novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. I loved this beautifully written, poetic account of Winterson’s childhood and her adult struggles with her past and her adoption. As much a paean to the power of literature to change lives as an autobiography, I especially enjoyed her musings on working class identity, the changing face of the North, and feminism.

5. Amy Raphael Never Mind The Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock

A seventeenth birthday present, this is a collection of interviews with the women who were making waves in music circa 1994-95.  From big stars such as Bjork and Courtney Love, to Britpop frontwomen like Echobelly’s Sonya Aurora Madan, reading these women’s own words was inspirational to me as a teenager.

6. Sara Marcus Girls To The Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

I can’t recommend Girls To The Front enough. It’s a heartfelt, passionate and beautifully written account of the genesis of Riot Grrrl, focusing on the Olympia and Washington DC scenes but encompassing the stories of girls and women from all over the USA. If you are at all interested in the 90s, in feminism, or in music history, then this is a great read.

7. Mark Yarm Everybody Loves Our Town: A History of Grunge

A really wonderful oral history of grunge and the Seattle scene that birthed it.  Full of great gossip and fascinating recollections, it’s a must-read if you enjoy early 90s music.

8. Tom Gallagher, Michael Campbell & Murdo Gillies The Smiths: All Men Have Secrets

This book was a Christmas gift almost 20 years ago (yes, I am actually THAT old).  A collection of fans’ stories about Smiths songs, my copy is full of penciled notes and underlinings in true adolescent style.  A lot of the tales are – rather like the songs themselves – rather keen to wallow in their own misery, but it’s a great reminder that when you think Morrissey is singing just to you in your loneliness and isolation, there’s no doubt someone next door thinking exactly the same.

9. Bill Bryson A Short History Of Nearly Everything

A book that should be required reading, it represents an incredible achievement by Bryson: to write a science book that is truly for the layperson.  Covering everything from quantum physics to geology and biology, it is as entertaining as it is educational.

10. Caitlin Moran How To Be A Woman

When I was a teenager I wanted to be Moran, who was a writer for Melody Maker by the age of 16 and presented Channel 4 yoof show Naked City in all her Doc Marten-ed, dyed red hair, size sixteen-glory. I loved her book – which is part memoir, part feminist polemic – and still can’t quite get over the fact that it won the Galaxy prize for best book of 2011. Even if this book was rubbish (which it’s not: it’s funny and moving and incredibly clever), I’m excited that a book about feminism is at the front of WH Smiths.

Thank you for posting for us today Janet! (But also, DAMN YOU for adding more to my ever-increasing ‘to read’ list!) D x


5 thoughts on “GUEST POST: Top 10 Non-Fiction Books

  1. Great list – I’m always trying to add more non-fiction to my reading, and I haven’t read any of these, so I’m adding some of them to my library just now!

  2. Pingback: 32 Before 32 (Part I) | Is That You Darling

  3. Thanks for the great recommendations in this post. My non-fiction recommendation would be What’s Next? by Joy Chudacoff.
    Very thoughtfully written with a clean and simple format the follow and a huge wealth of knowledge and experience packed in. For the business women in the family this book makes a great gift and has the potential to change lives.

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