May 2016's Best Nonfiction Books For Warmer Days Ahead

Spring is in full swing, but while the weather has gotten better, one thing hasn’t changed: Excellent new nonfiction books just keep coming. It doesn’t matter if you’re combing for book club recommendations or opting for personal reading material — the offerings are awesome this month.

One of the beautiful aspects of nonfiction books is how they can transport you into someone else’s world, and many of May’s new arrivals fit that bill. You may be glad to return to your own life at the end, but the literary journeys will be worthwhile while they last. Among the memoirs to be released over the next four weeks are the story of a man who ends up heading his family’s crack empire, a woman’s experience joining her mother’s bridge club, and Michael Brown’s mother’s account of her son’s death and the subsequent trial.

Other authors focus on broader issues, from exploring how preferences are shaped to food in America. One writer even uses Star Wars to examine real life. The material is varied, to say the least.

If you’re looking for great reads this month, below are 17 of May’s best nonfiction options. 

1. In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero (May 3; Henry Holt and Co.)

Diane Guerrero has been busy in recent years with roles on Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, but not so busy that she couldn’t find time to write a memoir. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided shares her experience as an undocumented resident living in the United States, left here without her family at age 14 when her parents and brother were deported. It’s a story with a lot of heartbreak, but it highlights a reality that shouldn’t be ignored.

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2. Devoured by Sophie Egan (May 3; William Morrow)

Food writer Sophie Egan looks at American eating habits and how they are shaped in her debut book, Devoured: From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies--How What We Eat Defines Who We Are. Rather than tear apart the entire system, she thoughtfully examines the good and the bad of eating in the United States. Her analysis incorporates a variety of lenses, from food science to economics to anthropology.

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3. The Cook Up by D. Watkins (May 3; Grand Central Publishing)

D. Watkins’ The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir tells the story of how he ended up bailing on plans to go to Georgetown University to instead take over a drug empire. His journey takes a turn, however, when he meets a woman who makes him rethink everything. There’s a lot that would justify self-pity in his story, but he manages to be both entertaining and inspiring.

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4. We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler (May 3; PublicAffairs)

Bitch Media’s Andi Zeisler tackles the evolution of feminism in We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl?, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. She argues that the movement has been rebranded into “marketplace feminism” — something that detracts from its power. Her picture isn’t totally bleak, though; she offers solutions to reclaim it.

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5. The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner (May 3; Harper Wave)

A generation gap is crossed in The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner. She recounts how she came to join her mother’s bridge club and the lessons she learned about loyalty, friendship, and family. Both touching and at times comical, it’s a perfect one to read with your own mom or maternal figure.

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6. A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai (May 3; Twelve)

The challenges Maria Toorpakai describes facing in A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight will make you count your blessings. While following her dream of playing squash, she ends up gaining the dangerous attention of the Taliban and has to flee Pakistan for Canada. Her terrifying path requires unimaginable courage, and her book serves as a reminder of all of the women around the world who aren’t able to pursue their passion.

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7. You May Also Like by Tom Vanderbilt (May 10; Knopf)

Tom Vanderbilt’s You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice raises questions about what we like and why. He offers answers too, of course, pulling in psychology, marketing, and neuroscience. He also uses real-world examples, touching on Netflix suggestions, “likes” on social media, food choices, and more. Best of all, his fascinating analysis applies to us all, so we can examine our own preferences.

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8. Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil by Lezley McSpadden (May 10; Regan Arts)

By now you’ve heard the story of Michael Brown and his death in Ferguson, Missouri, at the hands of a police officer. His mother, Lezley McSpadden, shares her perspective on his murder and the subsequent trial in Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown. Naturally, it’s absolutely tragic, but it celebrates the memory of her son and makes the case for change.

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9. So Much to Be Done by Barbara Brenner (May 11; University of Minnesota Press)

Breast cancer can affect any of us, which is something that the late Barbara Brenner knew well. So Much to Be Done: The Writings of Breast Cancer Activist Barbara Brenner allows us to arm ourselves with information on research, activism, and the experience of fighting the disease. A survivor herself, Brenner’s collection of columns and blog posts is personal, touching, and smart.

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10. On Being Stuck by Laraine Herring (May 17; Shambhala)

Anyone who has ever tried to write knows that it’s hard. Laraine Herring takes on a common struggle in On Being Stuck: Tapping Into the Creative Power of Writer's Block. Her book examines the roots of the problem, but better still, provides practical ways to overcome it.

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11. Shrill by Lindy West (May 17; Hachette Books)

Women’s speaking habits often unfairly come under fire, and that’s just one annoying part of being part of the “fairer sex.” Through a series of personal essays, Lindy West explores this and other relevant issues. The book, Shrill: Women Are Funny, It's Okay to Be Fat, And Feminists Don't Have to Be Nice, is for every body positive, social justice-minded feminist out there.

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12. Jane Doe January by Emily Winslow (May 24; William Morrow)

A hunt for justice is the subject of Emily Winslow’s Jane Doe January. The real-life crime memoir stems from a brutal sexual assault and continues more than 20 years after the fact, when the serial rapist is finally caught. Winslow’s story is engaging and revealing, especially as she dives into the investigation herself.

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13. It's Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort (May 24; Dey Street Books)

Nora McInerny Purmort’s It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) touches on a number of emotional topics: life, love, loss, depression, and motherhood. The book candidly mixes humor and pain as it follows Purmort’s relationship with Aaron, her late husband, who was diagnosed with brain cancer while they were dating. It’s impossible not to be affected by how they handle his illness, not to mention how she moves forward after his death.

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14. Available by Matteson Perry (May 24; Scribner)

Matteson Perry illuminates dating from the straight cis male perspective in Available: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Hookups, Love and Brunch. After having his heart broken, he decides he needs to shake up his approach to relationships by dating a lot of women for a year, without hurting anyone’s feelings. There’s plenty of awkwardness and bumps along the way, but it’s interesting to see what he learns about love and life.

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15. How to Make White People Laugh by Negin Farsad (May 24; Grand Central Publishing)

Stand-up comedian Negin Farsad explores race in America through essays in How to Make White People Laugh. Her unabashed writing touches on her own experiences as an Iranian-American-Muslim and raises key questions about identity, battling racism, and more. Naturally, her memoir incorporates plenty of humor and shows how comedy can be an effective tool for change.

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16. The World According to Star Wars by Cass R. Sunstein (May 31; Dey Street Books)

Star Wars — so hot right now. Cass R. Sunstein uses the famed franchise to discuss examine everything from constitutional law to fatherhood in The World According to Star Wars. Whether or not you’re a fan of the films, you’ll be impressed without how well the lessons tie in to a host of real-life issues.

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17. The Art of Tough by Barbara Boxer (May 31; Hachette Books)

Barbara Boxer looks back on her long and notable career in Congress in The Art of Tough: Fearless Facing Politics and Life. The issues she’s fought hardest for naturally get their time in the spotlight too; she uses the book to inspire readers to fight for change. We millennials aren’t as apathetic as we’re made out to be, but a little extra encouragement never hurts.

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Image: Fotolia

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