The 10 Best Works of Nonfiction of 2013 So Far


There might be a yearly deluge of essay collections, biographies, memoirs, and other assorted nonfiction books that come out every year, but 2013 has seen a really exceptional class in these first few months, including books on the life and times of punk icons and bartenders, Depression-era cotton farmers, Yugoslavian novelists, and more. Here are ten of the best.

Drinking With Men, Rosie Schaap

Anybody who has spent a decent amount of time in bars can attest that you can hear a lot of good stories just sitting on a wooden stool while nursing a beer for a few hours. Rosie Schaap went ahead and did what a bunch of us probably drunkenly claimed we would someday do, and wrote a book based on many of her own experiences hanging out in bars, and the people she’s met throughout the years. This beautiful and heartfelt memoir will have you fighting back tears, wanting to make new friends, but most of all, it will leave you wanting a Jameson on the rocks.

This is Running for Your Life, Michelle Orange

In a world where anybody can publish a personal essay, piece of journalism, or cultural criticism with the click of a mouse, Michelle Orange has rocketed past most of her contemporaries with this collection of essays.

After Visiting Friends, Michael Hainey

Part memoir, part mystery, part investigative journalism, in After Visiting Friends, Michael Hainey tries to piece together answers to find out what exactly happened the night of his father’s death when Hainey was just a child.

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, George Packer

If you weren’t already convinced by The New Yorker writer’s blitzkrieg media assault, which included appearances on just about every other website you read (or, for that matter, TV show you watch), then you should by all means pick up this fine book that tries to connect many of the various issues that our nation in crisis is facing.

The Book of My Lives, Aleksander Hemon

Already one of the finest novelists around, Hemon’s collection of recollections, which take him from his native Bosnia to his early days in Chicago, is a breathtaking exercise in memory by a writer you can’t ignore.

Crapalachia, Scott McClanahan

The book that took Scott McClanahan from indie cult writer to critical darling is a series of tales that read like an Appalachian Proust all doped up on sugary soft drinks, and has made a fan of everybody who has opened it up.

The Riot Grrrl Collection, Lisa Darms (editor)

Sara Marcus may have written the definitive history of the riot grrrl movement with her 2010 book Girls to the Front, but this Lisa Darms-edited collection reproduced some of the movement’s most important zines, flyers, and other printed matter for future girls to learn from.

Cotton Tenants, James Agee

Before the 1941 nonfiction milestone Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee wrote a massive piece for Fortune magazine (with photos by Walker Evans). The piece had never been published in book form until this year, when the folks at Brooklyn indie publisher Melville House put out this very important work.

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, Richard Hell

After the success of Patti Smith’s National Book Award-winning Just Kids, there was a bit of apprehension when it was announced that one of her comrades from the CBGB days, Richard Hell, was putting out a memoir of his own. And even though Hell’s journey from messed-up kid to messed-up poet to messed-up punk is sprinkled with bits of misogyny and violence throughout, it’s still a compelling read.

Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis, Mark Thompson

It’s taken far too long for an adequate biography to come out on Kis, who was one of the most brilliant Eastern European writers to come out of the postwar era.