The first lockdown was the golden age of activist non-fiction. Most of us were locked inside, making sourdough or playing Sims 4 (cough cough), and the rise in non-fiction reading, especially in light of BLM, rocketed. Layla F Saad's 'Me And White Supremacy' was a personal favourite, formatted like a sort of workbook that you needed to power through in order to be an engaged and active ally.
These texts are still super popular, but sometimes I find people associate non-fiction with serious learning, and fiction as the easy escapist break in between. But non-fiction can be fun! Even though these cringey encouragements may not be convincing!
So, I've compiled a list of some fun and low-commitment non-fiction picks right from our very store. Happy reading!
A Curious History of Sex - Kate Lister
This book doesn't shy away from dealing with sensitive topics, advertising itself with the mission; 'Attitudes will change and grow – hopefully for the better – but sex will never be free of stigma or shame unless we acknowledge where it has come from.' At times the tone is rightly sombre and serious, BUT Lister balances this with such integrity, moving between sensitivity and hilarity when she sees fit. The collection of micro-histories ranging from masturbation, motherhood, hygiene and money is easy reading, one to pick up and put down as and when, and if you're anything like my flatmate, to whip out at a flat party and drunkenly start quizzing people on whether they knew that a Victorian child was named Fanny Cunt.
The Adventures of Maud West: Lady Detective - Susannah Stapleton
Imagine if Lady Whistledown was real, lived in The Golden Age of Crime and set up a private detective agency. That's pretty much Maud West - sleuth to the high society, whose notorious findings ended up on the front pages of newspapers across the country. Stapleton samples from Maud's own original writings as well as her own research to illustrate Maud's incredible life, whilst also going a step further and interrogating if what we previously knew about Maud was really all there is to the story. A truly gripping text that reads like a fiction thriller.
My Rock 'n' Roll Friend - Tracey Thorn
Like a non-fiction version of Daisy Jones, but (slightly) fewer drugs and more friendship <3 Thorn meditates on the 37 years of friendship with her friend and mentor Lindy Thompson over the course of Thorn's rise to fame. The touching tribute to female friendship as well as the insight into the chauvinistic world of 80s rock culture is a perfect blend for an engrossing non-fiction read.
The Barbizon - Paulina Bren
This delightful book chronicles the famous residents of the women's only hotel, The Barbizon in New York, from The 1920s until 1981 when the first men were allowed to check in. The hotel was intended to house women destined for greatness in the arts, writers from Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion, singers and actresses including Liza Minelli and Elaine Stritch. Bren delves into the place that inspired Plath's fictionalised women's hotel, The Amazon, (she didn’t even try to obscure the link) in The Bell Jar. Bren's framing of the hotel is one of emancipation and positivity, the hotel represented a safe space to encourage and sustain women's talents in a man's world.
Tough Women Adventure Stories - Jenny Tough
Even though her name is a bit on the nose, this book is a refreshing collection of stories about 'tough' women achieving physical greatness. From expeditions to marathons to climbing mountains to *checks notes* wingsuit flying? Tough perfectly curates an inspiring and sometimes heart-breaking collection of TOUGH stories - ha!
The Vanity Fair Diaries - Tina Brown
When I was perusing the shelves for a non-fiction selection this one really got me excited. Brown harks back to her time in New York, 1983 when she was tasked with salvaging the reputation of Vanity Fair. Through the eyes of her career, we gain insight into bygone scandals and scoops Brown spearheaded - the Reagan scandal and the breakdown of Princess Diana and Prince Charles' marriage. If you couldn’t tell from this list already, I just love gossip.
Priestdaddy - Patricia Lockwood
An unconventional choice by any means, Lockwood's memoir recounts her life growing up under her married, Catholic priest father; entwined with her current-day return to her homestead after a family incident beckons her home from abroad. This account of identity is at times hilarious and gut-wrenching. Super readable and doesn't hurt your head but you come away from it with a refreshing perspective and insight.