Bookish Stuff

2020 Top 5 Nonfiction Reads

2020 Top 5 Nonfiction reads

Following on from last week’s top 5 fiction reads, it’s time for me to share my favourite nonfiction reads of 2020.

Maybe you should talk to someone by Lori Gottlieb

Have you ever found yourself blindsided by a loss in your life? Have you wondered what therapy was like? Have you suffered, been in pain, been stuck? If so, maybe you should talk to someone. Preferably, a therapist.

Maybe you should talk to someone’ by Lori Gottlieb is a memoir by a psychologist about her own visit to a therapist & her work as one. Following a sudden breakup, Gottlieb decides to talk to a therapist and uncovers her blind spots during the same. She also reflects on 3 clients in particular with different presenting issues – a young woman with terminal cancer, a man who appears brash & narcissistic, & an older woman who is depressed & finds no meaning in life. She weaves their stories & hers as a human first, & then a therapist uncovering life’s lessons.

I really loved this book! As a psychologist who has also been to therapy, I found almost everything in this highly relatable. I could relate to most of the author’s anxieties after the breakdown of a relationship but also, the intimate experiences of being a therapist. She explores issues of death, life, loneliness, connection, meaning, purpose, uncertainty, self-compassion, the therapeutic relationship among other things. I nodded, laughed & cried while I read this book.

Some quotes:
Therapy is hard work — and not just for the therapist. That’s because the responsibility for change lies squarely with the patient.
Therapists will be supportive, but our support is for your growth, not for your low opinion of your partner. (Our role is to understand your perspective but not necessarily to endorse it.) In therapy, you’ll be asked to be both accountable and vulnerable.”
Once we know what we’re feeling, we can make choices about where we want to go with them.”

I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s the kind of book I’d love to write.

I Choose Elena by Lucia Osborne-Crowley

How do you even begin to review a book about one woman’s experience of being violently raped & the aftermath of it all? In her essay, Lucia Osborne-Crowley writes about being raped at 15 when she was on track to be an Olympic gymnast. That violent assault not only ended her Olympic dreams but the untreated trauma, unknown to her back then, manifested itself in the form of chronic illnesses which she continues to battle. She takes the reader on her journey from the assault, to the untreated trauma, the physical & emotional pain, the hospital visits & misdiagnoses, the constant invalidation, the struggles with her mental health, the comfort she finds in literature & her road to recovery.

In this raw essay, she explores the still-growing area of the effects of trauma on the body, how women’s pain & illnesses continue to be dismissed by medical professionals, how society treats women who disclose abuse & rape by citing evidence as well as using literature to find the words. This book gave me goosebumps & had me in tears in some parts. {Note to self: don’t read books that make you cry on public transport!} The thing about Lucia’s story is that it’s one we hear often. In my work particularly, I have seen young girls who have been sexually abused when they were much younger except, by the time they’ve come to see me, they have complex mental health issues. I’ve heard stories of women’s physical health issues being dismissed as psychosomatic. I’ve seen systems constantly invalidating young women. And I’ve been helpless & can only offer them therapeutic intervention.

Despite not having gone through what Lucia has gone through, as a woman I’ve had my share of being harassed & felt up. Most of it was when I was a teen & a child – when I didn’t have a voice. Given the sexual assault statistics, I do consider myself one of the lucky few. Her writing is brilliant; she manages to convey brutal truths & deliver knockout punches in almost a matter-of-fact way. And this is what makes the book so much more powerful. This should be an essential read for women & men everywhere. Lucia has given a voice for the voiceless. Go read this brilliantly brutal book! 

Happy Never After by Jill Stark

Happy Never After by Jill Stark is part-memoir, part exploration & commentary about our obsession with happiness as an ultimate life goal. Stark talks about her own personal battles with anxiety in particular as well as depressive episodes while falling into this trap of needing to be happy & perfect all the time. She explores the research behind this happiness trap & how it is making us more depressed & anxious than content as we search for elusive perfection. She also attempts to uncover where her own anxiety stems from given her loving family environment. More importantly, she explores the research around poor emotion regulation, particularly for our current generation, the need for instant gratification, the constant trap of wanting to be liked & self-loathing, loneliness, being a single woman & being okay with that.

When I read this book, I found myself nodding along for most it. Stark explores a lot of what my colleagues & I in mental health have long-feared. The effects of the self-esteem movement, the lack of boundaries for young people, the lack of coping skills & language for emotions, the inability to tolerate discomfort. It’s stuff we are seeing constantly in the mental health field & it’s things I constantly think about.

I was also drawn to her personal story – while I consider myself functionally anxious, I do know what depression feels like. It’s awful to be in that dark place. And I may have teared up at some of her descriptions of her depressive episodes. I may have identified with her on several levels too – being a migrant who calls Australia home but has no family & relies on wonderful friends, living alone with a cat (two in my case), going through therapy & finding it life-changing in so many ways, being a recovering perfectionist who still has the inner self-loathing rear its ugly head on occasion – I know what that feels like. So yes, read this not just for Stark’s story but also for the wonderful research to learn that happiness is NOT a goal.

Intimations by Zadie Smith

Intimations by Zadie Smith is a collection of essays written during the early months of lockdown this year. Smith explores her feelings & questions prompted by this situation while observing the world around her.

This is my first Zadie Smith & I bought this collection after reading about it over Nell & just had to read it after Laura’s thoughts on it too. I must say I wasn’t disappointed. I especially loved ‘Something to do’ where she talks about writing & also how a lot of us were trying to fill time in lockdown, and ‘Suffering like Mel Gibson’ where she discusses how suffering is personal.

“By comparing your relative privilege with others you may be able to modify both your world and the worlds outside your world – if the will is there to do it. Suffering is not like that. Suffering is not relative; it is absolute. Suffering has an absolute relation to the suffering individual — it cannot be easily mediated by a third term like ‘privilege’” (p. 33)

If you enjoy thought-provoking essays that make you think long after, generate ideas for further discussion, and get lost in language, I recommend you pick this up. 

She I dare not name by Donna Ward

‘She I dare not name: A spinster’s meditations on life’ is a memoir by Donna Ward about living the single life. Ward reflects on what it is like to be unmarried, unpartnered & childless all the way into her sixties & the stigma that society attaches to that. She discusses the trials & tribulations of single life in a society built for families & marriage. And she reflects on how she has come to terms with it despite the inequality in society continuing to rear its head.

I read this book a few months ago before the lockdown as I was looking forward to seeing her speak at The State Library in person. The book hit home for me on so many levels! I may be 30 years younger than the author & while I have cats & want to remain childfree, there were so many other similarities in terms of my thoughts & experiences. Ward’s description of the silence & solitude is goosebump-worthy. The questions about why she is single are eyeroll-worthy. She speaks of the loneliness of being a single person in this coupled up & familied society of ours, the difficulty in not having an emergency contact or next of kin in forms we fill out, & sometimes, not using your voice for days.

The timing of this book was interesting as while I was reading it, we started working from home. While most people cherish that, for me, it meant a further disconnect, more loneliness. It was scary. As I write this review, I’ve accepted & adapted but I also know the overall journey is going to have its difficulties. Being single is not an inherent flaw but it can sometimes feel that way. You can start to feel something is wrong with you. And I appreciate Ward’s honesty as a lot of her thoughts & feelings mirror my own. Time will tell whether I reach a state of complete acceptance of what is.

There’s so much more I want to say but not enough space. I’ll leave you with one of her lines: “The grief & loneliness of divorce & widowhood are not comparable to the repeated rejection & disappointments inherent in the solitary life.”

So there you have it. My top 5 nonfiction reads for the year. There were other close contenders too but these probably stood out for me through the year. I’m hoping to post reviews on the blog from 2021 like I used to before.

Do you read nonfiction? What were some of your favourite reads this year?

Do share!

***Linking with Leanne for Lovin’ Life Linky***

Until next time,

You Might Also Like

  • Min @ Write of the Middle
    17 December 2020 at 11:27 am

    Fantastic summarising of what these books are about Sanch – thank you! They all sound like something I would enjoy reading and I wasn’t aware of any of them! Maybe I live under a rock? I’m not sure whether ‘I Chose Elena’ might be a bit traumatic to read? I usually like pleasant escapism … but I can relate to the topic somewhat because though I’ve not been sexually assaulted, I’ve been sexually harassed (and wrote about it on the blog). Thanks so much for doing these posts! They bring books to my attention I might otherwise not have known of and it’s really helpful to hear your summaries and thoughts! Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for a happy & healthy 2021! xo

  • Laurie
    18 December 2020 at 2:29 am

    Thank you for your reviews, Sanch. They ALL look good. I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction. I am writing these titles down for future reference. Happy Holidays!
    Laurie recently posted…What Good Is Freedom?My Profile

  • Goodbye 2020 #Yearinreview – Sanch Writes
    10 January 2021 at 5:02 pm

    […] the blog this year but chose Instagram instead. However, I did do a round-up of my top 5 fiction, nonfiction and YA reads for the […]