10 More New Nonfiction Titles Coming in 2021

I’ve got a roundup of new nonfiction that’s especially heavy on mysteries, medicine, and magic. Onward!

The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370, by Florence de ChangyLe Monde journalist de Changy investigates the “Kafkaesque” March 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. I watched an episode of Drain the Oceans about this story (right before a transatlantic flight; what’s wrong with me) and was so intrigued by it. The description calls it “one of the most profound mysteries of the 21st century,” and it’s one of those internet late-night rabbit hole type of stories. This isn’t out in the US but I think it’ll be worth ordering the UK release. (February 4, Mudlark)


Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India, by Suchitra Vijayan — This is touted as narrative nonfiction, a genre I find irresistible, and the “first true people’s history of modern India, told through a seven-year, 9,000-mile journey along its many contested borders.” India is a major blind spot in my knowledge and reading areas. Vijayan is a lawyer and political analyst with lots of impressive-sounding academic and research experience, so seems well-positioned to write on the subject, with extensive personal travels that “document how even places just a few miles apart can feel like entirely different countries.” (February 16, Melville House)

Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing: Essays, by Lauren Hough – Hough was born into the notoriously horrific Children of God cult and grew up in seven countries around the world before she was able to get out of the cult and settle in the US. These essays sound like a funny yet meaningful mishmash of life stories about her upbringing in a cult, queer identity, and the myriad odd jobs she’s worked, and Roxane Gay loved it, so. (April 13, Vintage)

Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?: Essays, by Jenny Diski – I hadn’t heard of Diski but I’m intrigued by a New Yorker quote that she “expanded notions about what nonfiction, as an art form, could do and could be.” “From Highgate Cemetery to the interior of a psychiatric hospital, from Tottenham Court Road to the icebergs of Antarctica, Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told? is a collective interrogation of the universal experience from a very particular psyche: original, opinionated—and mordantly funny.” That sounds amazing. Are you familiar with Diski already? My curiosity’s piqued. (April 20, Bloosmbury USA)

The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story, by Kate Summerscale – “London, 1938. In the suburbs of the city, a young housewife has become the eye in a storm of chaos. In Alma Fielding’s modest home, china flies off the shelves and eggs fly through the air; stolen jewellery appears on her fingers, white mice crawl out of her handbag, beetles appear from under her gloves; in the middle of a car journey, a turtle materializes on her lap. The culprit is incorporeal.” Enter Nandor Fodor, a Hungarian ghost hunter with the International Institute for Psychical Research (positive they’ve come up on Last Podcast before), and, unsurprisingly, a darker story than anything supernatural — one of abuse, trauma, and mental turmoil. Summerscale is an award-winning author but I haven’t read her yet, and supernatural debunking tales are my absolute fave so very excited for this one. (April 27, Penguin)

White Magic: Essays, by Elissa Washuta – In Washuta’s latest, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe member writes about her Native legacy of witchcraft and how she adapted it to her own use, especially following her own bipolar misdiagnosis and “a decade of abuse, addiction, PTSD”: “She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life—Twin Peaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.” Skeptical about witchcraft-anything but fascinated by the topics (and this would be a great choice for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Indigenous Cultures category). (April 27, Tin House)

The Memory Thief: And the Secrets Behind How We Remember: A Medical Mystery, by Lauren Aguirre -“How could you lose your memory overnight, and what would it mean? The day neurologist Jed Barash sees the baffling brain scan of a young patient with devastating amnesia marks the beginning of a quest to answer those questions. First detected in a cluster of stigmatized opioid overdose victims in Massachusetts with severe damage to the hippocampus—the brain’s memory center—this rare syndrome reveals how the tragic plight of the unfortunate few can open the door to advances in medical science.” This sounds fascinating, and is an evolving corner of scientific study. The research also leads to Alzheimer’s, a still-mysterious illness despite its prevalence. This is described as “genre-bending and deeply-reported,” which sounds perfect. (April 27, Pegasus)

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Uninterrupted, by Suleika Jaouad – Jaouad was diagnosed with leukemia before her 23rd birthday, uprooting the life she was building for herself as a war correspondent based in Paris. After years of chemo and intense treatments, she was “cured” but it led to the realization that “a cure is not where the work of healing ends; it’s where it begins.” She embarked on a cross-country road trip to meet people she’d corresponded with during the years of her ordeal: “a teenage girl in Florida also recovering from cancer; a teacher in California grieving the death of her son; a death row inmate in Texas who had also spent years confined in a room.” This sounds so powerful and important, and early buzz around it is strong. (April 30, Random House)

Uncaring: How the Culture of Medicine Kills Doctors and Patients, by Robert Pearl – Reading about problems in medicine, healthcare and patient treatment has become a major interest, and topics that I’m afraid we ignore at our own peril, especially in the US. Pearl, an MD and Stanford professor, unpacks a number of problems, like doctors facing burnout, navigating the influence of big pharma and insurance companies, and a highly competitive culture. “In our rush to express gratitude for “frontline” doctors, we are also neglecting their humanity, for better and worse. If we want to improve medical outcomes, for doctors and patients alike, we need to start seeing health care professionals as the real and flawed human beings they actually are.” (May 18, PublicAffairs)

The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Parasite and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease, by Daisy Hernández – “Why do some infectious diseases make headlines and others fall by the wayside?” If this past year has taught us anything, it’s the disturbing lesson of how differently economic and social groups were affected by the coronavirus even within the world’s wealthiest country, and how fucked up that is. This looks at Chagas disease, a potentially lethal insect-borne infection affecting 300,000 Americans — more prevalent than Zika virus. It “tells the story of how poverty, racism, and public policies have conspired to keep this disease hidden—and how the disease intersects with Hernández’s own identity as a niece, sister, and daughter; a queer woman; a writer and researcher”. Thoughts of deadly infection-carrying bugs make my skin crawl, but this is an important public health topic and I’m intrigued by the detail that only the US and Latin America are homes to this insect. Seems like something we should better understand. (June 1, Tin House)

Do any of these pique your interest too? What new nonfiction is on your radar this year?

40 thoughts on “10 More New Nonfiction Titles Coming in 2021

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    1. Oh what a shame on both fronts! Thanks for sharing the review…interesting that it didn’t hold up for you on rereading it. I was curious about who she was having never heard of her, yet apparently she’s had such an impact on nonfiction as a form in general. I think she must be very UK-centric. It’s a big collection so I don’t want to invest in it but would check it out from the library if it comes around.

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    1. I’m so drawn to reading about cults too, even though that particular one is pretty stomach-turning. It sounds like she uses a lot of humor so that must help! And I’ll give anything Roxane Gay endorses a try!

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  1. I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath for my titles so wait no longer!

    As you well know, my tastes run more towards narrative nonfiction and the next 6-7 months have a bonanza for readers such as myself.

    THE HAUNTING OF ALMA FIELDING is high on my list as is an earlier title you mentioned, HYPE. I wasn’t sure LEAVING ISN’T THE HARDEST THING would appeal to me so didn’t download it but just did after reading your description. The Children of God cult has always fascinated me as an old library friend joined them back when they were first getting organized. I’ve often wondered what happened to her. [Side note, if you are interested cults, watch HBO’s Heaven’s Gate, which is very well done and fascinating.]

    OK, so here is my rather lengthy list. Let me know what appeals to you.

    CRYING IN H MART by Michelle Zauner. Librarian pals are already raving about this memoir.

    WE CAME, WE SAW, WE LEFT by Charles Wheelan. I love travel narratives and this is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. A nice combo of travel and site descriptions along with some family dynamics. There was some introspection but it didn’t hinder the pace of the story.

    SECRET LIFE OF DOROTHY SOAMES by Justine Cowan.

    LIKE STREAMS TO THE OCEAN by JedIdiah Jenkins. Son of Peter Jenkins (WALK ACROSS AMERICA author), I liked his bicycle travel chronicle, TO SHAKE THE SLEEPING SELF.

    FINDING FREEDOM by Erin French. Food memoir.

    SUNSHINE GIRL by Julianna Margulies (celebrity)

    NOWHERE GIRL by Cheryl Diamond. Contender for fans of LIAR’S CLUB by Mary Karr

    EASY CRAFTS FOR THE INSANE by Kelly Williams Brown. Local author whose first book, ADULTING, was popular.

    ALMOST LEGENDARY MORRIS SISTERS by Julie Klam. I loved Klam’s previous book, STARS IN OUR EYES.

    UNFIT HEIRESS by Audry Clare Farley

    WOMAN THEY COULD NOT SILENCE by Kate Moore. For those who love her previous book, RADIUM GIRLS. This one sounds absorbing.

    Life after death: AFTER by Bruce Greyson

    MADE IN CHINA by Amelia Pang. Eye-opener about who and how our goods from China get made. Librarians are raving.

    MANGO AND PEPPERCORNS by Katherine Manning. More foodie stuff.

    EVERYBODY FIGHTS by Kim Holderness. By the lovable couple whose family made videos kept many of us entertained over the past year.

    THE BARBIZON by Paulina Bren. History of the NYC hotel for “ladies.”

    COME FLY THE WORLD by Julia Cooke. Life of flight attendants in 1960s (I think on TWA).

    INSIDE COMEDY by David Steinberg. Because we all need a few laughs right now.

    BRING YOUR BAGGAGE AND DON’T PACK LIGHT by Helen Ellis. I loved this book of musings about her life with many laugh out loud moments. Loved her early book SOUTHERN LADY CODE.

    BICYCLING WITH BUTTERFLIES by Sara Dkyman. Following the migration of monarchs for thousands of miles. (Think that’s it.)

    WORLD TRAVEL by Anthony Bourdain. Always a delight to read, this compilation of thumbnail descriptions of world destinations will whet travel appetites.

    ON THE TRAIL OF THE SERPENT by Richard Neville. Reprint of the story of the notorious murderer in Asia. Set to be a Netflix series. I read Thomas Thompson’s SERPENTINE years ago and remember it well. Scary stuff.

    DON’T CALL IT A CULT by Sarah Berman. About NXIVM

    And last but not least, what I’m reading right now, GORY DETAILS by Erika Engelhaupt. Content is pretty much what the title states. Very much in the vein of Mary Roach. It’s a little too detailed in places but it’s absolutely fascinating.

    I think that’s about it for now. I need to post this on my own blog, I think. Unfortunately, I’m having problems with the site I used to format my covers so need to find something new to use that is fairly intuitive.

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    1. ROBIN!!! You are a TREASURE! I missed so many of these that I wish I could go back and reorganize my lists. How do you even do it? As usual I’m in awe.

      I wasn’t sure about Crying in H Mart or Nowhere Girl, I had those on a sort of mental maybe list, but you’re making me reconsider. (I’ve been feeling less than enthusiastic about most memoirs lately, not sure why.) But a Mary Karr comparison intrigues me! Immediately adding After, Made in China, Mango & Peppercorns, We Came, We Saw, We Left and Finding Freedom. I forgot about Don’t Call it A Cult, I got a reviewer of that one and just finished the recent NXIUM docs on HBO and I think the other was Showtime? I didn’t know the half of that story, good grief.

      I’m intrigued by On the Trail of the Serpent, I also read Serpentine years ago and am so surprised that that story isn’t very widely known…insane! The rest of these are all on my keep-an-eye on list, every single one sounds appealing. Thank you so much for sharing these, Robin!! What would I do without you!!!

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      1. PS are you using WordPress for blogging, or another outlet? I’m not loving their recent block editor change, it’s made it much trickier and more time-consuming for me to work on posts and arrange photos as well. Frustrating.

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      2. Yes, I am using WordPress and I hate the new editing format. I have yet to figure it out which is one reason I haven’t posted anything for a while and also I was using iPiccy for my cover collages but it doesn’t work very well since Flash has been reduced or eliminated and I haven’t been able to figure out Canva or PicMonkey. Frustrating as I paid for my year of WordPress and don’t want to migrate to another platform.

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      3. I’ve been so frustrated with it too. I’ve wasted a lot of time writing posts that won’t save either, there’s some issue with it when I’m using the computer I use for work, which is a PC. If I use my macbook it’s better, and mine is even ancient but still works better than on a PC. But I still find the whole setup really clunky and not intuitive.

        For pictures I had to switch as well, as the collage maker program I used changed to paid. I’ve just been using photocollage.com for the last few that have collage posts. It’s very simple in terms of what you get as an image but easier and intuitive to use, at least.

        I paid for a WordPress subscription one year (instead of just the domain) and the benefit of it was that if you email them with an issue, you can get in-depth support. I believe there was a chat feature as well. I would try that if I were you, with some points about the new layout format to see if they can help solve them that way, or give you some tips. Maybe you have some more options of working with the new editor since you have it paid for the year.

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    2. And PPS: glad I could convince to try Leaving. We’ll have to compare notes on that one later. So intrigued that you knew someone in that cult!! It’s a stomach-turning one, and somehow it’s still operating…I just find that so unbelievable and reprehensible. I wonder what happened to your friend! I hope she got out of it, I don’t think anything good could come from that one…

      I haven’t watched the Heaven’s Gate one yet but thanks for the tip, I will do!

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    3. Wow thanks for this wonderful list! And yes to The Serpent, have been obsessed with the TV series and so can’t wait to read the book.

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      1. Yes a dramatisation currently on BBC, can be found on BBC iPlayer, excellent cast of actors

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    1. Doesn’t it sound so fascinating! Behind the Beautiful Forevers is I think the most well-known narrative nonfic about India, but I read some criticism about it awhile back so haven’t bothered to read it myself. I was so impressed with this author’s work and background so really interested to experience her writing and this journey through her eyes. So happy I could share that title with you!!

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  2. You know, I knew better than to click on this … I swear, every single one of these sounds like something I want to read this year. So I guess my TBR pile is just going to suffer a little more. Really, really interested in Uncaring—definitely the kind of medical focused book I think I can stomach. And The Disappearing Act—what an absolutely wild story.

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    1. Don’t they both sound so good? I think Uncaring sounds like it’s one we can stomach and should actually be helpful. I can only imagine it’s beneficial as a patient to be more aware of what doctors are facing. I hope so, at least. The state of our healthcare system has me so down and frustrated lately!

      Sorry to add so many to your list — mine is totally overwhelming at the moment! — but at least we have something to look forward to this year?

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    1. Agree 100%. It’s so messed up. I think everyone (outside big pharma and private insurance companies) knows how much we need a change but we’re so deep into this system I don’t know how we can change it as drastically as it needs. I just finished Obama’s book and he lays out essentially how difficult it is considering how involved all of these systems are. We’d have to burn it all to the ground and start over but there are too many financial/economic interests for that to happen. It is so disheartening.

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      1. It would definitely be difficult but it’s something that desperately needs to happen, even if we do have to burn it down. One major thing is that both of those industries line politician pockets, on top of having virtually no regulation. If an insurance company sets a policy, even if it’s horseshit, there is no one stopping them. The US pays more for prescription medications than anywhere else in the world. Because I live near in Michigan, I hear all the time about the price difference in Canada. When my patients tell me how much they pay over there, it’s usually less than it costs me to purchase the drug. There is no way to compete with those prices. I essentially have to say, “Yeah it really sucks that you have to do that but I can’t come near those prices.”

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      2. I agree completely, and there’s nothing I’d love more than to burn it down and start from scratch but I try to be realistic about it since we’ve had so many setbacks. Obama gives a very clear and thorough explanation in his book about why the system is at is now (besides the main one, just: capitalism) and why it’s near impossible to do that. I’ve seen the differences in prices having lived in Europe, and it’s ridiculous. Less so for drugs, which basically have a set price through the state insurance, but for procedures as well. A routine exam was billed through my hospital insurance in the US at more than $4,000, whereas the same procedure was charged to me through a private doctor in Europe, in an instance when I chose this private doctor, therefore carrying all the costs myself instead of using the public insurance system, at 100 euros. That kind of price inflation is nothing short of insane. I can’t imagine what you see dealing with pharmaceuticals. It is all just so, so disheartening.

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      3. My dad recently had minor knee surgery and his total bill was $12,000. He has insurance but the deductible is of course, extremely high, so he’s going to have to pay a large portion of it. I understand by people travel to Mexico for procedures and at the same time, I hope to never have to make that decision because I’ve heard sketchy things about the clinics there. (Could be entirely false, it’s not like I’ve researched it.)
        I’m always skeptical when anyone outside of the healthcare system says it cannot be changed as most people who work within the system recognize that it can be and it usually starts with insurance not being in charge of patient healthcare over doctors.

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      4. I’m so sorry he has to deal with that. That’s exactly what disheartens me though, even if you have insurance which costs you a ton you still end up on the hook for major costs and the insurance companies find every way to screw us into paying more of our own expenses. When I moved back and did all the calculations and realized I could work full time (but I’m self employed so have to pay my own) and buy the insurance on a tier that allows me to go to the doctor when I need to, which costs a small fortune, but then still wouldn’t actually be able to go because of the additional costs it would entail and the deductible(s) (there were two different ones, somehow…it was confusing but when I finally worked it out it was, of course, just a way for me to have to pay more and them less) I felt nauseous. Just the realization that having insurance here isn’t even the same thing as being able to get medical care. I fucking hate everything about it and the insurance companies are villainously evil. But Republicans pumping out their messaging about socialism and individual choice and all that bullshit is practically brainwashing people, even those who would benefit massively from a single-payer system. I just…I hate it all.

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  3. What a great list! I’m particularly drawn to The Disappearing Act- I wasn’t aware there was any book about that flight coming out but it’s going straight to my must-read list, that’s a mystery that crosses my mind quite a lot.

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    1. I only just recently heard of it, I think it won’t get much attention in the US without a US release. I’m so intrigued by the story though…as I guess we all are with plane crashes, a morbid curiosity! But there are so many unexplained elements to that one. It crosses my mind quite often too. Glad I could introduce you to that one!

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  4. So glad I clicked through on this as Midnight’s Borders is definitely going on my list. I am just now finishing a nonfiction read about India (a children’s overview of 4,000 years of history but a good basic introduction) but it was fairly weak on modern history. It’s very humbling to read about the scope of an area which was almost non-existent in my historical education.

    The rest probably won’t be for me although White Magic looks interesting (I’ll wait for your review) as I have so many books waiting from last year or backlist titles and need to get back into the habit of daily nonfiction reading. I DNF’d a Diski a few years ago so definitely won’t be attempting hers. Thanks for the challenge link as it might be just what’s needed to keep nonfiction going this year!

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  5. Am tempted by almost all of these. For me Diski is a blast from the past, I remember reading her first novel Nothing Natural on my daily commute about 10000 years ago, a very unsettling read about a sado-masochistic relationship, especially when one is on the 7.55am train into Waterloo surrounded by City types. I did not know she had died.
    Not sure about the Kate Summerscale one, sounds great but I seem to recall finding Mr Whicher hard-going. I need to read the one about India. Was just talking to my husband about how woeful History was in our schooldays, completely obsessed with Tudors and Stuarts, when really we should have been taught about Ireland and Northern Ireland, and India and Pakistan. Am fairly ignorant about what the British got up to in those countries but have definite sense of guilt…

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    1. Oh, that does sound creepy and unsettling! I mean early morning city types alone are always a bit weird, but still. Isn’t it funny how you remember the circumstances you were in around reading certain books so strongly? I was just so surprised that I’d never heard of her at all despite her apparently having such an impact on nonfiction (not that I’m really so widely knowledgeable, but what a claim to make, right?) and I think it must be that she’s not as well known outside the UK.

      I hadn’t read anything else by Kate Summerscale because all the reviews I read were quite drastically mixed, and I think one is about a kid who’s a murderer, which didn’t appeal much at all. The topic was more interesting to me here so we’ll see. And I agree, it’s the same in the US, our history education really glosses over all the parts where we did very bad things. It’s embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst.

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  6. These all sound so good! For the sake of a TBR I’m trying to shrink, I think I’ll be adding just the two that sound most interesting to me – The Disappearing, which covers a story I followed when it happened, and Uncaring, which feels extra important given the burdens put on physicians today by the pandemic.Thanks for a great list 🙂

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    1. Glad I could give you at least a couple good ones 🙂 I’m trying to be conservative with my list lately too, as I seem to be reading slower and finding more and more titles I want to read. A forever dilemma. Here’s hoping those two are good!

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  7. The Memory Thief sounds good.
    The 2 nonfiction I am really looking forward to reading so far in 2021 are
    The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race
    by Walter Isaacson
    and A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life
    by George Saunders

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    1. I had added The Code Breaker to my list, I think that was an earlier recommendation from you as well! It sounds so interesting. I’m really intrigued by A Swim in a Pond in the Rain too, thanks for reminding me about that one.

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