Electric Lit’s 15 Best Nonfiction Books of 2018

Staff and contributors recommend memoirs, essays, and reported work

Counting your blessings is a struggle in 2018, but this year did bring us a handful of good things: Black Panther, Dirty Computer, novelist Alexandra Kleeman’s dog being confused by a string bean, and a few new books we loved. We asked Electric Literature staff and contributors to vote for their favorite books of the past year, and here are their picks for essays, memoir, and reported work. (Read to the bottom for our #1 pick!) When you’re done, check out our picks for top collections and top novels of the year.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

This memoir of trauma and family dysfunction—and learning to write your way out—turns pain into poetry. Read our interview with Terese Mailhot.

And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell

O’Connell’s relatable motherhood memoir doesn’t sugar-coat the experience of having a child. Read our interview with O’Connell, and an essay about how her book’s sometimes brutal forthrightness helped ease the anxiety of motherhood.

Impossible Owls by Brian Phillips

This collection of essays about culture from the former Grantland writer ranges from princesses to Prince, and from sumo wrestlers to sled dogs.

The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy

Levy’s memoir in essays, about finding her place in the world after a divorce, is not only a personal reflection but a meditation on what is demanded of women.

The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

Expanding on their oral history of Tony Kushner’s masterpiece play Angels in America in Slate, Kois and Butler meticulously trace the play’s creation, reception, and legacy by talking to dozens of the people involved. For more, read Helena Fitzgerald’s essay about the book and its focus text.

Feel Free by Zadie Smith

Listen, we don’t have to tell you to love Zadie Smith! You already love Zadie Smith, and these are her essays about books, culture, politics, social media, and more.

Calypso by David Sedaris

Sedaris’s work, often informed by his character-packed childhood, has always been a little zany and a little sad. This collection, in which he grapples with aging and loss, leans more towards the poignant side.

The Reckonings by Lacy Johnson

This essay collection, which deals with bleeding-edge issues like sexual violence, social justice, and the misuse of power, feels like a necessary read for our times. For more, read our interview with Johnson.

Sick by Porochista Khakpour

What happens when your body starts to revolt, and nobody knows why? Khakpour’s self-revealing memoir deals with physical and mental illness, and also with the illnesses of our culture. Check out our interview with Khakpour.

Dead Girls by Alice Bolin

In her collection of essays, Bolin tracks the female corpse through books and TV, investigating how our love of female suffering shows up fault lines in our culture. For more, read our interview with Bolin, or Scarlett Harris’s essay about how the dead girl is now giving way to the killer woman.

Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson

Hodson’s debut essay collection combines threads of intimacy and longing with mediations on cultural artifacts from classical music to Grand Theft Auto. We caught up with her about why being a writer is such a slog.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

Adopted by a white family as a premature infant, Chung never really intended to look for her biological roots—until she got pregnant herself. Her book is an exploration of identity, belonging, and family. Here’s Chung on her own story and Taylor Moore on what the book meant to her as a transracial adoptee.

The Recovering by Leslie Jamison

Jamison’s ambitious memoir is not only about her own recovery from alcoholism, but about how intoxication, addiction, and recovery function in our culture. Read our interview with Jamison here.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

Dealing with family secrets, eating disorders, sexual violence, and other personal struggles, Heavy is heavy indeed—but it’s also lofty and elevating. Laymon talked to us about truth in personal writing.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

Chee’s essays look at the forces (and personal effort) that shaped him into a writer, but also the ones that shaped him into a human being. Find out the five books by non-men Chee recommends, or read a discussion among four Korean American writers about his influence.

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