14 New Nonfiction Releases Coming in 2020

2019 hasn’t shown itself out quite yet but I’m already looking forward to what new nonfiction 2020 has in store. Here are some upcoming new releases from the new decade that I have my eye on.

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F*ck Your Diet: And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me, by Chloé Hilliard (January 7) –Hilliard was cursed with the “fat trilogy”: “slow metabolism”, “baby weight”, and “big boned”. She burned through the usual suspects of diet pills and fad diets before “realizing that everything—from government policies to corporate capitalism—directly impacts our relationship with food and our waistlines.” These essays mix “cultural commentary, conspiracies, and confessions” on the familiar quest so many people have been on to lose weight and “feel better”, misguided as that may be. Sounds fascinating enough already, but she’s also a comedian and humor definitely helps this topic. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Of Morsels and Marvels, by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox (January 20) – Renowned French Caribbean author and 2018 winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize Maryse Condé’s writing on cooking is one of my most anticipated. Her food writing is connected to her travels in places like India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Australia. She defies the idea that “cooking is simply the mechanical act of reproducing standard recipes” and instead “implies creativity and personal invention, on par with the complexity of writing a story.” It’s translated by her husband, a detail I love. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Dressed for a Dance in the Snow: Women’s Voices from the Gulag, by Monika Zgustova, translated by Julie Jones (February 4) –  More translated nonfiction by women! I’m reading this oral history right now and so far it’s exceptional. Zgustova shares the stories of women who survived Stalin’s Gulag and it’s emotional and powerful in that Svetlana Alexievich way. It also may surprise you, like Alexievich’s work does, in that it’s not all bleak, rather there’s an emphasis on the power of resilience and survival: “Where one would expect to find stories of hopelessness and despair, Zgustová has unearthed tales of the love, art, and friendship that persisted in times of tragedy.” (Amazon / Book Depository)

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American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI, by Kate Winkler Dawson (February 11) – The author of 2017’s Death in the Air returns to historical true crime with a look at the life and groundbreaking casework of Edward Oscar Heinrich, one of America’s first forensic scientists, working in the 1930s. Each chapter explores one case Heinrich was involved with that was innovative or had long-lasting implications. He pioneered multiple disciplines and developed techniques and tools that are still in use today, but Winkler Dawson also examines how some were flawed or problematic — like blood spatter analysis. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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The Storm Before the Calm: America’s Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond, by George Friedman (February 25) – Geopolitical forecaster Friedman stresses that American history is cyclical, and that two major cycles – “institutional” and “socio-economic,” are converging in the 2020s, leading to foundational change. It “covers issues such as the size and scope of the federal government, the future of marriage and the social contract, shifts in corporate structures, and new cultural trends that will react to longer life expectancies.” Friedman is known for making these topics highly readable and this seems like an important primer for understanding issues we’ll soon face. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Gone at Midnight : The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam, Jake Anderson (February 25) – College student Elisa Lam died while staying at LA’s infamous Cecil Hotel, the onetime home to multiple serial killers, among other sinister details. Disturbing security footage of Lam behaving erratically in an elevator, possibly reacting to an unseen figure, deepened the mystery. Anderson delves into Lam’s writings, criticizes the investigation around her death, and experiences a “descent into one of America’s quiet epidemics.” Would that be our handling of mental illness? I’m wary since the author is part of the narrative, but this story is such a confounding mystery, and it sounds like he devotes considerable time to understanding who Lam was. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country, by Sierra Crane Murdoch (February 25) – A white oil worker, Kristopher “KC” Clarke, drawn by the North Dakota Bakken oil boom, disappeared from where he worked on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in 2012. A Native, Lissa Yellow Bird, investigates his disappearance when she felt others weren’t looking, in what’s also “a pursuit of redemption, as Lissa atones for her own crimes and reckons with generations of trauma.” Recent narrative works looking at crime on Native lands have been illuminating, and the different perspective this one takes sounds promising. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Uncovering Secrets, Reuniting Relatives, and Upending Who We Are, by Libby Copeland (March 3) – Journalist Copeland takes a “deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives” while exploring the implications of widespread at-home genetic testing, the background on companies offering it, like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, and what it means for the future. This sounds fascinating, and is a topic that’s holding ever greater importance for our lives and health. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir, by Rebecca Solnit (March 10) – Solnit’s memoir sounds more personally focused than the broader view her essays tend to take, although still with her keen eye on bigger sociocultural issues as she “describes her formation as a writer and as a feminist in 1980s San Francisco, in an atmosphere of gender violence on the street and throughout society and the exclusion of women from cultural arenas.” Her writing resonates widely but I haven’t fallen totally in love with it yet, so a turn towards memoir appeals to me more. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning, by Alex Halberstadt (March 10) – Halberstadt’s grandfather was “most likely…Stalin’s last living bodyguard,” which understandably means he’s confronted some issues of lingering ghosts in his family history. In this generational memoir and investigation of ancestry across Russia and Ukraine to Queens, he explores his family’s immigration to the US and ideas of identity in connection with their native region’s troubled politics and history. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Wow, No Thank You.: Essays, by Samantha Irby (March 31) – The hilarious Samantha Irby’s new essay collection, on the heels of 2017’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, is sure to be one of the year’s biggest. In dispatches from her life, she “goes on bad dates with new friends, spends weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “skinny, luminous peoples” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” and hides Entenmann’s cookies under her bed and unopened bills under her pillow.” I love her but I hope it has less poop than the last book. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Last Book on the Left: Stories of Murder and Mayhem from History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers, by Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski (April 7) – I’ve written enough about my love for Last Podcast on the Left, but just thinking about their book makes me excited in that kind of childhood way that seems to happen less and less as you get older. I’m beside myself with joy. It sounds like it’ll be Marcus’s meticulous research and writing about some of the bigger stories they’ve covered, but otherwise I’m not even sure what to expect. I don’t care though, I’m ready to love it! (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker (April 7) – Lost Girls author Kolker’s latest is a detailed look at an American family, the Galvins, whose six out of twelve children were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The family was studied by the National Institute of Mental Health, trying to understand if a genetic component was involved, and if so, what could be learned from it. It provides a stark look at mid-century American family dynamics that’s both intriguing and disturbing but very revealing of the era, and a brilliantly constructed narrative. (Amazon / Book Depository)

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Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back, by Mark O’Connell (April 14) – Irish writer O’Connell became obsessed with “worst-case scenarios”: climate change and the end of the world. He talks to right-wing conspiracy theorists, doomsday preppers and hopeful Mars colonizers, travels to rich people’s survival bunkers built in South Dakota, to New Zealand where billionaires plot their new civilization while scheming how to profit on the collapse of our current one, and to the Chernobyl zone of exclusion that’s already seen a world end. Lest it sound depressing, it promises a “surprisingly hopeful meditation on our present moment” “with insight, humanity, and wit” and relief of some collective anxiety. (Amazon / Book Depository)

Are you looking forward to any of these too? (P.S.: release dates were correct when posted, but keep an eye out as they can change.)

42 thoughts on “14 New Nonfiction Releases Coming in 2020

Add yours

  1. Lots of these sound great, but two in particular have caught my eye – American Sherlock, because I’m fascinated by forensic science (like basically all the sciencey people I know, I went through a phase where I wanted to be a CSI myself), and Dressed for a Dance in the Snow. I’m hoping to go travelling on the Trans-Siberian railway next summer through Russia and Mongolia, and although I’ve read quite a lot about Russia under communist rule, this is a very different set of perspectives than any I’ve heard before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read the advance of American Sherlock and it’s totally fascinating. I’m not even a sciencey person and I completely understand, I also wish I could work in that field! Just endlessly fascinating.

      And if you go on the Trans-Siberian rail trip you are living my dream!!! I would so love to make that journey too, it seems incredible. The perspectives in the book are very unique, and I love the emphasis they’re putting on literature, poetry, art, how much these things meant to them, along with the kindnesses that they showed each other. They’re meaningful testaments to humanity in spite of the horror of what they went through.

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  2. Fascinating list thank you. I will look out for Dressed for a Dance in the Snow. I have read the memoir of Russian poet Irina Ratushinskaya ‘Grey is the Colour of Hope’ about her imprisonment in a labour camp for daring to write poems about freedom. Also Shalamov’s ‘Kolyma Tales’ Such stories often have heartening and uplifting elements I find despite their context.
    Also any year with a new book by Rebecca Solnit is a year to celebrate.

    Happy festive season.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad I could share it with you! I’ve been wanting to read Grey is the Colour of Hope forever! I don’ think I’ve talked to anyone else who read it, I’m excited to hear you have!! Did you like it? I loved Eugenia Ginzburg’s memoirs, Journey into the Whirlwind and Within the Whirlwind, and was so impressed with what she drew from her experiences. I don’t think I know Kolyma Tales, I’ll look into that one, thank you for the recommendation! Wish you a happy festive season too!

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  3. Nice list! I actually do not believe they made a book out of the Elisa Lam story – should have respected that woman and what she went through. No mystery here whatsoever – if one does not take the relevant medications and suffers from this mental illness – that is exactly what may happen to one (including the paranoia and erratic behaviour (in the elevator)) (and hotels must always tell the truth and always make sure that their water containers are inaccessible to the public).

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    1. I’m not at all surprised that it was written, and it sounds like he’s attempting to write about who she was and what she went through, so I don’t view it in a negative light in that sense. It remains to be seen if the treatment is sensitive or not but if he’s exploring who she is instead of just the sensational news story, that’s certainly worth doing. And the mystery, from what I understand, is around how she was able to end up in the tank on her own, even if the roof was accessible.

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  4. Oh boy, I feel like I can strongly relate to ‘F@ck Your Diet’. Some have it worst than others but I think in general American’s have a rough relationship with food/weight.

    The other fascinating one is Hidden Valley Road. Six kids out of twelve were diagnosed with schizophrenia?! I know I just repeated what you wrote but that’s blowing my mind. Most definitely on my TBR now.

    Great list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re right, there is an especially unfortunate relationship between Americans and food issues. It’s a subject I always find really interesting, and I like hearing different perspectives on it. She sounds like she has a funny but thoughtful one!

      Isn’t that shocking about Hidden Valley road? I’d never heard of anything like that. Definitely a must read!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes me happy to hear! I really try to spotlight nonfiction that’s fun and engaging to read, it still has a reputation for being otherwise, it feels like. Glad I could introduce you to some that pique your interest!

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  5. Gone at Midnight, Yellow Bird and Last Book on the Left for me please! I am in true crime mode. Just read Ann Rule’s book about her friend, Ted Bundy, called The Stranger Beside Me and watched the Netflix programme. For light relief am now reading Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin as I am always years late to the party!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know why but it always seems like true crime reading/watching is always a string of them, never just one. The Netflix documentary was so interesting! I loved the woman who escaped him who testified and was interviewed there. And Stranger Beside Me was so creepy and unsettling. I still can’t believe he was able to fool the people closest to him THAT much. How are the Armistead Maupin books? I’ve never read them.

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  6. American Sherlock and Solnit are tempting. I have 2 nonfiction so far on my TBR, received thorugh Edelweiss:
    Lessons from Walden : Thoreau and the Crisis of American Democracy, by Bob Pepperman Taylor, | On Sale Date: March 30, 2020
    and one on Eastern Orthodox Theology:
    Theological Territories : A David Bentley Hart Digest, by David Bentley Hart | On Sale Date: April 15, 2020

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only read Men Explain Things to Me and although I liked the title essay I wasn’t as enamored with her writing as mostly everyone else seems to be. I did really like another essay of hers that was in a collection, so maybe it’s just topic or something? I don’t know, something just doesn’t really click with me there. But I think a memoir sounds more appealing, and omg that COVER!!

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      1. This is probably judgmental but was that collection a bit… basic? That’s kind of the impression I get from the title and summary. I really struggle with so much feminist nonfiction that I obviously agree with on a fundamental level but which kind of spells out very basic things that I’ve understood for years. Maybe it’s not that kind of book at all though?

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      2. It’s the same with me. It’s not that I think I know it all — I definitely don’t — but I understand it, I agree with it, I just can’t get into spending so much time on it. I don’t really remember that this one was so basic, and she’s clearly a smartie who can bridge the personal and universal as she discusses concepts, but it just didn’t spark anything for me. The title essay was interesting and highlighted how supremely insulting mansplaining is (I know, like we needed more proof) but basically all the rest felt kind of flat to me.

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      3. It’s definitely a ‘preaching to the choir’ situation. Like, sometimes these books take an angle where they’re trying to convince the reader and it’s like, I do not need convincing, I’m just looking for a deeper understanding and contextualization. That’s when I feel like I’m not the right audience, which is a shame when ‘books about feminism’ should be so up my alley in theory. But yes that also makes sense, it sounds like how I felt about Notes to Self by Emilie Pine – not necessarily basic in the way I was describing above, but definitely flat.

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