As much as I love reading, there is an activity I love equally. Learning. I enjoy discovering new things and building my knowledge — about people, history, science, and topics I’ve never even heard of before. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you might remember that I did a post once where I shared some of my favorite TEDTalks. These talks introduce me to all sorts of ideas, topics, and people.
“LIVE AS IF YOU WERE TO DIE TOMORROW. LEARN AS IF YOU WERE TO LIVE FOREVER” -Mahatma Gandhi
Sometimes my love of reading runs headlong into my love of learning. I split my reading between fiction and nonfiction. There are stretches of time when my nonfiction reading certainly outpaces my forays into the fictional world. That only makes sense when you think of all the different kinds of books nonfiction encompasses. Think about your favorite bookstore and how the shelf space is utilized. I read biographies and memoirs, history, psychology, and science. I read books that will help me grow spiritually and will help me to learn more about my other interests like cooking.
I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite nonfiction reads which I will divvy up by broad categories. Check them out yourself — and remember that they could just make some good Christmas gifts since that season is coming up soon.
BIOGRAPHIES & MEMOIRS – I seldom read biographies of actors, athletes, musicians, and others of the “rich and famous.” The exception on this list is Trevor Noah’s book. Noah’s book is about growing up in South Africa and doesn’t touch on his adult life, how he came to America, and his fame. All of that makes it all the richer. The other thing I would suggest is the audible version of Born a Crime which is read by the author. It makes the names and words in other languages easy to understand and fluid. Besides, he is just wonderful to listen to!
I also read memoirs of people who weren’t famous for anything before writing. Two books I didn’t include but liked very much are The Cork Boat by John Pollack and The Unlikely Lavender Queen by Jeannie Ralson. They were picked up on a whim, enjoyed, and never gained much attention. I’m not sure that they are even available anymore. They are kind of odd ball and probably not for a wide audience.
Many of the books on this little list are old enough that I recommended them to my students who read and loved them. With my success rate at getting teens to read these, I’m pretty confident you’ll like these books too.
- Mitch Albom – Tuesdays With Morrie
- Maya Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
- Laurie Halse Anderson – Shout
- Ishmael Beah – A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
- Jon Hall – Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together
- Jame McBride – The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
- Trevor Noah – Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood
- Michelle Obama – Becoming
- Alice Ozma – The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared
- Joni Eareckson Tada – Joni
- Jeannette Walls – The Glass Castle
- Jacqueline Woodson – Show Way AND Brown Girl Dreaming
- Malala Yousazai – I Am Malala
FOOD & COOKING – Not all cookbooks make good reading. These do. Ruth Reichl’s books aren’t necessarily cookbooks, but they are all about food and a love of cooking. If you love reading about food, I’d like to also suggest The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister and Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. They are novels, but, hey, these are my recommendations and I make the rules.
- Maya Angelou – Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes
- Pat Conroy – The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes and Stories of My Life
- Michael Pollan – Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual
- Questlove – Something to Food About
- Ruth Reichl – Comfort Me With Apples AND Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table AND Save Me the Plums
- Alice Waters – The Art of Simple Food
HISTORY – For a very long time I read books about the Revolutionary War and loved many of them. No one writes better than David McCullough about the founding fathers and many other historical figures. I’ve read more books about World War II than I really wanted to. Other than Elie Wiesel’s Night, I don’t have a particular recommendation there until you look under the sports category. This list encompasses a smattering of different eras and styles (including one written for kids) and reflects my eclectic interests.
- José Andrés – We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time
- Jim DeFede – The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland
- Doris Kearns Goodwin – Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
- John Robert Lewis – March (Books 1, 2 and 3)
- David McCullough – any book
- Jim Murphy – Blizzard: The Storm That Changed America
- Lynne Olson – Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour
LIVING – I gave this name to the category because I don’t really know what to call these books. Some are kind of psychology. Some a little bit of self-help. Some seem to me to defy categorizing. While it isn’t an education book necessarily, Ken Robinson’s book changed my view on teaching and on children. It made me think about what I enjoy and how I can get so lost in an activity that I lose all track of time. Read anything and everything by Brené Brown. Watch her TEDTalk and other videos — she’s readily available on youtube. And Jason Reynold’s book is an extremely thin book that packed a lot of food for thought. I’ve read it a few times.
- Brené Brown – ANYTHING by her but especially The Gifts of Imperfection AND Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
- Malcolm Gladwell – Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know AND Outliers
- Anna Quindlen – A Short Guide to a Happy Life
- Jason Reynolds – For Every One
- Ken Robinson, Ken – The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
PARABLES FOR GROWTH AND SUCCESS – I wasn’t sure what to call these little books either. They tell a story in order to make a point. I read them on the recommendation of my principal and another teacher who’s advice I found good. In the case of Andy Andrews, I found his books after hearing him speak. I only listed one of his books here, but I really like all of them. I especially love his children’s book The Boy Who Changed the World. These are short but will give you something to ponder for a little while.
- Andy Andrews – The Traveler’s Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success
- Kenneth H. Blanchard – Gung Ho! AND The Generosity Factor
- Spencer Johnson – Who Moved My Cheese?
- Stephen C. Lundin – Fish!: A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results
SCIENCE & MATH – There are many who would be surprised to find anything on these topics on my bookshelves. They’d be even more surprised that I’m recommending them to others! But here they are!
- William Kamkwamba – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
- Margot Lee Shetterly – Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped With the Space Race
- Neil deGrasse Tyson – Letters From an Astrophysicist AND Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
SPIRITUAL GROWTH -The books in this category are Christian books I recommend for growth in your walk. I didn’t call this category Christian for a couple of reasons. First, some of the books in other categories are also Christian books. These are books that separate themselves from the other Christian titles I have recommended in that they have made an impact on what I believe, how I think about God and my daily life, or how I do things. In the case of The Ragamuffin Gospel, I’ve read it a couple times and know that I will go back to this one again.
- Rachel Held Evans – Inspired
- Kathie Lee Gifford – The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi: My Journey Into the Heart of Scriptural Faith and the Land Where It All Began
- Liz Curtis Higgs – 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path, AND 31 Verses to Write on Your Heart, AND all of her “Bad Girls” books
- T. D. Jakes – Crushing: God Turns Pressure Into Power
- C. S. Lewis – The Four Loves and other books
- Max Lucado – any book but I especially enjoyed When God Calls Your Name AND He Still Moves Stones
- Brennan Manning – The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out
- John Ortberg – Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them
- Lysa TerKeurst – Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely AND It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered
- Ann Voskamp – One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
SPORTS – Okay, so sports is as surprising a category as science for me to have here. I am not a sports fanatic. I enjoy watching live games and the occasional televised Steelers game. Like my choices in memoirs, you won’t find me fan-girling over famous athletes. What I really enjoy here is the story of a life in sports especially if it involves overcoming the odds, living with character, and not compromising the vital things..
- Daniel James Brown – The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
- Tony Dungy – Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning Life
- Laura Hillenbrand – Seabiscuit: An American Legend
OTHER – I already had two categories that kind of defied standard categories, and yet I don’t know where these would fall, but I know that I really enjoyed them. They gave me inspiration and pause for reflection. One developed a depth of knowledge about something I really thought I understood but had no clue about.
- Ellen Bryan Obed – Twelve Kinds of Ice
- Neil Gaiman – Art Matters
- Ruby K. Payne – Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities
- Daniel Pink – A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
- Questlove – Creative Quest