Friday, December 10, 2010

The Nonfiction Reading List

I was just reading this post over at HTMLGIANT and it occurred to me that I've seen a lot of these lists for fiction, but I've seen very few nonfiction equivalents (and, to be honest, those lists all seemed fairly inadequate in terms of variety of styles/gender/ethinicity/nationality/etc).

Anyway, the last week of my nonfiction workshop is next week and I'm going to try and compile some type of master reading list over the next few days to give them all as a going away present. With that said, I'm not nearly as well read as some of y'all here and I'm wondering: what books you would include if you were making a list that adequately covers the entire spectrum of creative nonfiction?

Post your lists/ideas in the comments section or email me and I'll make a master list that I can share with anyone who's interested.


  1. Here's an older version of a list that the nf faculty at UA made of Some Essential Nonfiction. Hardly covers it all, but what does?

    Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
    J.R. Ackerley, My Father, Myself and My Dog Tulip
    James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
    Augustine’s Confessions (I prefer the Pine-Coffin translation)
    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
    James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket (collected essays)
    Roland Barthes, Mythologies
    Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
    John Berger, Photocopies
    Wendell Berry, Recollected Essays / What Are People For?
    William Blake
    Bible, New Oxford translation, Revised Standard Version (RSV)
    Harold Bloom, The American Religion
    Charles Bowden, Any and all
    Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
    Bernard Cooper, Maps to Anywhere
    Clark Blaise, I Had a Father
    Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy
    Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
    Edwin Bryant, What I Saw in California
    Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
    Evan Connell, Son of the Morning Star
    John D'Agata, Halls of Fame
    Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle
    Guy Davenport, Geography of the Imagination
    Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red
    Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
    Cabeza de Vaca, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
    Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
    Bernal Diaz, Conquest of Mexico
    Joan Didion, Collected Essays
    Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, A Slave
    Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
    W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
    Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging
    Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
    Loren Eisley, The Immense Journey
    Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane / Myth of the Eternal Return
    James Ellroy, My Dark Places
    Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays
    Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

  2. And part 2:

    MFK Fisher, The Art of Eating, or How to Cook a Wolf
    Nick Flynn, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
    The Diary of Anne Frank
    James Galvin, The Meadow
    John Gardner, On Moral Fiction
    Atul Gawande, Complications
    Geronimo: His Own Story
    Albert Goldbarth, Many Circles
    Ulysses Grant, Memoirs
    Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face
    Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twenty Days with Julian and Little Bunny by Papa
    William Hazlitt
    Dave Hickey, Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy
    Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation
    Jeanne Watsuki Houston, Farewell to Manzanar
    William James, Varieties of Religious Experience
    Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior
    William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky
    Charles Lamb
    Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac
    Doris Lessing, Prisons We Chose to Live Inside
    Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip
    Primo Levi, Survival at Auschwitz / The Periodic Table
    Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local
    Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men
    Norman Mailer, The Executioner’s Song
    Javier Marias, Written Lives
    Beryl Markham, West with the Night
    Michael Martone, The Flatness and Other Landscapes
    Mary McCarthy, Stones of Florence
    H. L. Mencken, A Religious Orgy in Tennessee, or A Mencken Chrestomathy
    Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain / New Seeds of Contemplation / Asian Journals
    N Scott Momaday, The Names
    Michel de Montaigne, Essays
    Susan Brind Morrow, The Names of Things
    Gary Paul Nabhan, The Desert Smells Like Rain
    Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory
    Maggie Nelson, Bluets
    George Orwell, Selected Essays
    Elaine Pagels, Gnostic Gospels
    Blaise Pascal, Pensées
    Octavio Paz, Labyrinth of Solitude
    Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces
    Lewis Powell, Voyage down the Grand Canyon . . .
    Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Men Walking
    Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory
    Arundhati Roy, War Talk
    Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation
    David Shields, Remote and Reality Hunger
    Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman and A Beauty of the Spirit
    Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams
    Jeffrey Steingarten, The Man Who Ate Everything
    Abigail Thomas, Safekeeping
    Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell, or The Fragile Species
    Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience
    Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans
    Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth
    Luis Urrea, The Devil’s Highway
    Abraham Verghese, My Own Country
    David Foster Wallace: Consider the Lobster, A Supposedly Fun Thing...
    Eliot Weinberger, Karmic Traces
    Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings and The Eye of the Story
    Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder
    E.B. White, Collected Essays
    Walt Whitman, Specimen Days / Democratic Vistas
    Joy Williams, The Florida Keys
    Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge
    Wm. Carlos Williams, In the American Grain
    E.O. Wilson, On Human Nature
    Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life
    Virginia Woolf, Collected Essays
    Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols of India

  3. I'd throw Frank Conroy's Stop-Time in there...

  4. Good stuff so far, here's part of my list (I took out overlapping stuff from the UA list)

    Claudia Rankine Don't Let me be Lonely
    Anne Carson Nox
    Joan Didion A Year of Magical Thinking
    David Sedaris Me Talk Pretty One Day
    Thomas Lynch The Undertaking
    Tom Bissell Why Video Games Matter
    Hunter S Thompson Hell's Angels
    Lauren Slater Lying
    James Frey A Million Little Pieces
    Patricia Hampl The Florist's Daughter
    Jamaica Kincaid My Brother
    David Small Stitches
    John Mcphee Oranges
    Frank McCourt Angela's Ashes
    George Orwell Some of his essays, names escaping me at the moment
    F Scott Fitzgerald The Crack Up
    Eula Biss Notes from No Man's Land
    May Roach Stiff (I really hated this book, but it fits a genre not well represented so far so I figure it ought to be included)

    The Next American Essay (although a compilation, I think reading it as a whole—getting the D'Agata commentary, etc—does inform the genre in useful ways)

  5. As a bit of a follow-up, I'm curious as to what others see as the value of these lists. True, I'll be giving one out to my class in the next few days, but I'm still not sure whether or not this is a good idea on my part.

    Can a list be too long and be more daunting than empowering? Is it wrong to submit a list when I myself haven't read all the books?

  6. I head to the lists to find new (or new to me) books. I also enjoy tracking whoever's showing up on lists for a given year, and watching the names morph between different there's a collective at work and always changing pieces here and there.

    When I hand out lists to classes I usually give them 15 or so book titles that are currently on my mind for a given things I like, standards I've found to be good models, etc. I try to make it as random as possible with the hope that a student will follow a lead somewhere and come up with their own wacky list someday.
    As a student, I never took a list to heart or got past a couple recommendations before wandering off in another direction.

    I guess I still follow that model...pick and choose, not stick to any particular list for very long.

  7. As a student, I always resented lists. Nothing infuriated me more: not only am I am slow (but dedicated) reader, but the instructor actually has the audacity to give me a list of things to read *after* class is over. I figure that if it is truly important for me to read, it'd be taught in class. This is almost using power coercively, manipulatively. Not all students will care.

    However, if you want an excellent list, perhaps consider the twenty-three "Ten Greatest Essays, Ever" lists on

    And, as far as listing goes, I think there is something here to be said for the "list essay"....

  8. Interesting that a student would resent a list of good books.
    I know it's too late for your purposes, but I would add:
    Diane Ackerman, a natural history of the senses
    Ellen Meloy, anthropology of turquoise
    Kristin Hersh, rat girl
    and Barbara Kingsolver, animal, vegetable, miracle