Last week's post on critics' choices for the best fiction of 2014 showed far more convergence than the nonfiction lists the same reviewers created. Fiction, however you write it, is somewhat narrow in scope. Nonfiction is another beast altogether as seen by the variety of notable titles listed below.
The New York Times top five picks for nonfiction include incredibly diverse books ranging from New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast's illustration-filled memoir about coping with aging parents to Lawrence Wright's historical account of the Camp David Agreements.
The Washington Post's best of list has a similarly broad set of genres: biography, two city histories, a look at the medical profession by MacArthur genius award winner Atul Gawande and a repeat from the Times' list of Elizabeth Kolbert's study of mass extinction.
But Slate magazine's critics show truly just how hard it must have been to limit nonfiction choices to five. Their picks include a book of poetry, a consideration of modern parenthood, two very different types of collected essays and a repeat of Chast's book.
I keep thinking back to Washington Post critic Ron Charles's frank discussion of compiling best of lists, "The books we’ve read are always better than the books we haven’t read, and we haven’t read most of the books." In no other case can I imagine this to be more true than with nonfiction. So while these books might not have made everyone's list, I for one am glad to have some of these titles brought to my attention so that they will remain unread by me no longer.
-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library