These Are The Books That Helped Me Understand 2018 Politically & Personally

It would be a bit of an understatement to say 2018 has been a difficult year. Like so many other Americans, I have spent the last 12 months trying to understand what is happening in the country, in the world, and in my own personal life. Keeping up with the news, talking with friends and family, and engaging in my community has been helpful, but what has provided me true clarity over the past year are nonfiction books. From political histories to personal memoirs, these titles were my guide through what was truly a trying time.

Over the last year, Americans have had to digest one devastating news story after another. There were mass shootings and horrific natural disasters, shocking reports about climate change and horrifying revelations about election tampering, an ongoing immigration crisis and increasing racial violence. Of course, this is to say nothing of the ongoing political instability and rising tensions, both at home and abroad. With so much going on in the country, and so much going on in the world, how is one person supposed to keep up, let alone cope?

This last year has been trying to say the least, but these are the nine nonfiction books that helped me understand 2018, politically, personally, and beyond.

'Rage Become Her' by Soraya Chemaly

Like so many other women, I spent a lot of the last year feeling angry and not exactly knowing how to express those emotions, or what to do with them. Luckily, I read Soraya Chemaly's Rage Becomes Her, a powerful essay collection that explains why so many women are angry, how we do (and more often don't) show that anger, and what embracing it can lead to. The answer: personal, political, and societal change.

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'Heartland' by Sarah Smarsh

Sarah Smarsh's memoir received a mountain of praise from everyone including the New York Times, NPR, and the National Book Award, but for me, Heartland was so much more than a critical success. This emotionally wrenching book about working-class poverty in America helped me better understand the way class shapes our country, and the many ways in which it has shaped my own life. After reading it, I spent a lot of time reframing my idea of the "American Dream" and reassessing the beliefs I had about wealth, success, and the people allowed to pursue them.

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'One Person, No Vote' by Carol Anderson

In 2016, Carol Anderson's White Rage completely reshaped my understanding of race in America and forced me to look at the ways I, as a white woman of privilege, was responsible for the unjust systems that keep inequality alive and well in this country. Her 2018 book One Person, No Vote, which chronicles the rollbacks of African American participation in the vote following the 2013 Shelby ruling by the Supreme Court which all but dismantled the Voting Rights Act of 1965, further deepened that understanding. It also served as a perfectly timed call to action before the midterm elections, and a guide through its aftermath and the ongoing election fraud allegations in North Carolina and beyond.

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'What If This Were Enough?' by Heather Havrilesky

In her latest book of essays, critic, memoirist, and advice columnist Heather Havrilesky gave me something of a wakeup call. What if, instead of constantly wanting for more, instead of constantly pushing myself to reach impossible perfection, I embraced who I was and what I had? What If This Were Enough? inspired me to examine my career goals, my personal relationships, and my perception of self without the framing of society's standards of happiness and success, but my own.

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'So You Want to Talk About Race?' by Ijeoma Oluo

I've said it before, and I will say it again: every white person needs to read Ijeoma Oluo's So You Want to Talk About Race? It's a powerful book that can dismantle your misconceptions about everything from race and police violence to oppression and privilege, and leave in their place the knowledge and tools you need to effectively talk about race and serve as a better advocate and ally. For me, 2018 was a year of learning the hard lessons, of doing the work I should have been doing as an ally all along, and this book was key.

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'Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful' by Stephanie Wittels Wachs

The opioid epidemic has touched nearly every household in America, but that doesn't mean it's a crisis that is easy to understand, to cope with, or to solve. That is what made Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful one of my favorite, though most heart wrenching, reads of the year. It allowed me to explore my experiences with drug abuse through the story of someone else who truly understands what it means to love someone dealing with substance abuse. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me realize me and my family are far from alone.

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'Everything's Trash, But It's Okay' by Phoebe Robinson

The world and our country may be a dumpster fire, but Phoebe Robinson's newest essay collection has been there to help me see through the smoke and the flames. Bursting with humor, heart, and honesty, Everything's Trash, But It's Okay was like a balm, one that soothed my soul and inspired me to keep fighting for what I (and other women) want, what I need, and what I deserve.

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'Retablos' by Octavio Solis

It is so easy to feel desensitized listening to one devastating news story after another, but reading Retablos was a stark reminder that for millions of people, the ongoing struggle at the Mexican-American border is so much more than a headline. This book was truly eye-opening, and it helped me better understand the growing rift between not only political parties and countries, but the families and communities that live where this conflict rages on every day.

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'First, We Make the Beast Beautiful' by Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson's gorgeous book was something of a godsend to me and many anxious readers. Part memoir, part practical guide, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful helped me better understand anxiety, from its triggers to effective treatments and beyond. I keep it on my nightstand as a reminder that living with anxiety doesn't mean I can't live a full life, it just means I might have to work a little harder at it.

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