Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction. Whether you’re in the mood to read about a sex scandal in a 19th century convent, the awful things lurking in our food supply, or what it’s like to grow up in a funeral home, we’ve got you covered this winter. Curl up by the fire with these true-to-life tomes on a diverse range of subjects. Not only will these books entertain you—they’ll also make you smarter!
My chemical diet
If you’re looking to make a healthy lifestyle change in the new year, this is the book that will help you drop more than just the pounds. Journalist and documentary filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin spent two years investigating the chemicals in our food and their effect on our bodies. She draws connections from items in our everyday lives to the illnesses and disorders that currently plague the world (from cancer to diabetes, from reproductive issues to neurodegenerative problems). She’s done her research and it shows. Robin’s claims have heavy support behind them, the kind that will have you shopping differently and wanting to lobby for change. It’s an important, if not necessary, read.
On shelves: December 9
Nun’s the word
The year was 1858, and the letter was scandalous. When a German princess wrote to a friend of the Pope, she described a situation many would have found hard to believe: Someone in the convent she had just joined was abusing her, and she was worried that they would kill her. The investigation that followed confirmed that indeed there was something strange going on in that Italian convent at the hands of a charismatic young woman named Maria Luisa. For history buffs, nun enthusiasts, and curious readers alike, this book offers insight into a 19th century sex scandal and a fascinating look at female mystics.
On shelves: January 13
(Not) dead on arrival
Most of us hope to live for many decades before entering a funeral home, but Kate Mayfield wasn’t so lucky. As she writes in her memoir, she was taken directly from the hospital to a funeral home, but not for the reasons you might expect. Her father was a mortician in Jubilee, Kentucky, and her surroundings certainly gave her ample fodder for this tell-all about growing up just outside death’s door. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, but The Undertaker’s Daughter is a gripping read about how growing up around the dead can change the way that you walk among the living.
On shelves: January 13
“I’m exactly as I appear”
No, this isn’t a book about the Rolling Stones. Instead, this volume by Michael Mewshaw is an account of the author’s friendship with the famed writer and public intellectual Gore Vidal. Vidal is impossible to overlook in American culture: He has written everything from novels and essays to plays for the big screen and the stage. The reader will come away from this book with a more nuanced understanding of the man who once said “I’m exactly as I appear,” and despite his occasional bad behavior (see the devilish ears penned over Vidal’s head on the cover) may develop a strong sense of sympathy for the man.
On shelves: January 13
Obsessive compulsive disorder: We’ve all heard of it, but how many of us really understand what it’s like to be ruled by this affliction? Science writer David Adam is out to fix this in his new book The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, which takes a long hard look at what happens when our brains just won’t cooperate. Part case study and part memoir, this fascinating book will take readers deep inside the brains of OCD sufferers, and give them a healthy dose of both understanding and empathy.
On shelves: January 20
6. Whipping Boy
Calling for closure
When Allen Kurzweil writes about bullies in his children’s books, he doesn’t need to look far for inspiration. He can still vividly remember his own childhood tormentor, a terror named Cesar Augustus. Thirty years later, Kurzweil decided to do what so many victims of bullying dream of: He was going to confront Augustus. Whipping Boy catalogs Kurzweil’s search for Augustus and the shocking discovery that Augustus had recently been released from federal prison for involvement in a scheme with a fugitive prince. So much more than simply the search for a bully, Kurzweil takes readers on a suspenseful and thrilling ride through his investigation of Augustus’s life.
On shelves: January 20
What did you call me?
You may know Leora Tanenbaum as the author of Slut!, the now-famous book that grew from a Seventeen article Tanenbaum wrote as a slut-shamed teenager. Now she’s back with a follow-up about slut-shaming—the practice of shaming women for being sexually active—in the internet age. Tanenbaum knows this issue is a big one, and she resists reducing the problem to an overly simplistic explanation. Instead, Tanenbaum gives a generation of tweeting young women some thoughtful and well-researched advice about how to conduct their digital lives without being derailed by the slut-shaming that is all-too prevalent in this day and age. Feminists young and old: this book is for you. (And everyone else, too.)
On shelves: February 3
A startling snapshot
For many people, a typical day in the life of photojournalist Lynsey Addario is unthinkable. She’s been beaten, kidnapped, and sexually assaulted. For Addario, it’s all a realistic part of her highly dangerous and incredibly important job. In the aftermath of September 11, the American people were struggling for answers; Addario was already out seeking them. She traveled to Afghanistan to cover the American invasion, and yet she captured so much more. In this captivating memoir, Addario takes readers on a journey to the darkest parts of the world—from war ravaged Afghanistan to a devastated Darfur. Along the way, she recalls the struggles of being a woman in these parts of the world and the challenges she faced because of it. She talks about her pregnancy and how it drove her to work harder, rather than giving up her career. There are no Kodak moments here, instead Addario provides readers with a glimpse of life on the frontlines in a fight for freedom and the ultimate cost of war.
On shelves: February 5
Do not pass Go, do not collect $200
Monopoly: the board game that launched a thousand fights. If you’ve ever made it through a game with all of your friendships still intact, congratulations. All that corporate greed can sure incite some backstabbing, but it’s all just part of the game right? Wrong. New York Times reporter Mary Pilon uncovers the truth behind America’s favorite board game. From humble beginnings to corporate cover-up, the game’s history is a hotbed for the greed it represents. For example, few know that the true inventor of the game was not a penniless Pennsylvanian, but instead a feminist named Lizzie Magie. Erik Larson, author of Devil in the White City, calls this “a must read for anyone who loves the game.” We couldn’t agree more.
On shelves: February 17
10. Eleanor Marx
The feminist manifesto
The biography you didn’t know you wanted until you did, this is the story of Karl Marx’s feminist daughter, Eleanor “Tussy” Marx. While her sisters attended a formal school, Tussy spent much of her young life in the company of her political parents, absorbing as much as she could form them. She edited many of her father’s political works, including Capital, though gender equality was her true passion. She didn’t rely on any men to make her way, and instead translated plays, wrote, and taught to earn a living. She traveled across Britain and America spreading her feminist views in a world not quite ready to accept them. At times both inspiring and tragic, British writer Rachel Holmes paints a fascinating portrait of an intelligent and driven young woman who sought more than what the world gave her.
On shelves: February 24