If you caught my Instagram post for the day then you know the HBO documentary based upon Michelle McNamara’s true crime hit I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is dropping tonight. I finished the novel last week and I promise, it was as good as everyone says it is. And it got me thinking about nonfiction books and my lack of discussion on them.
I don’t review nonfiction books on my blog for several reasons. One of which being its just too broad a genre and is harder for my to classify here. The other being I mostly read true crime (hence the stack to you’re right) and nonfiction that deals with social justice issues (hello, I’m a social worker). It’s a niche area and a lot of people find that stuff boring.
Well, with the spotlight being put more on nonfiction, specifically on nonfiction that handles social justice issues like systemic racism and corruption within the justice system, I thought I’d share some of my favorite nonfiction books. I have one rec about social justice, one about true crime, and one that’s a mix of both! These were all five-star reads for me that I talked about extensively on my Instagram, so these may not surprise you if you’ve been with me a while.
Social Justice: Poverty
This was an assigned book for my first semester of my graduate program and, if I’m being honest, it was incredible. While on the outside it seems like a how-to book about extreme couponing or something, this is instead about the large amount of Americans who live in extreme poverty for their entire lives. Their family was poor. They were poor. And now their children are poor. So goes the cycle.
One of the reasons I love this so much is that it helps dispel some of those core beliefs Americans have about poverty. It was so insightful, heartbreaking, and incredibly interesting. It read almost like a grittier fiction piece and I just couldn’t put this down.
I think it also really applies to the topics we’re talking about today. You can’t talk about systemic and institutional racism within America without talking about poverty and the ways that poor people are kept poor. While the criminal justice system is one way to see the blatant racism and prejudice in America, poverty is another glaring scenario that not a lot of people talk about or consider when talking about race statistics.
Pick this up, you won’t be disappointed.
When you talk about true crime novels it’s nearly impossible not to mention Michelle’s powerhouse novel I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Releasing right on the precipice of Joseph James DeAngelo’s arrest, this is both a chilling and frustrating look at how one man was able to commit possibly hundreds of crimes ranging from peeping in windows to brutal murder. A stark look at how crime and police work in the 1970’s differs from today, this is one mystery that doesn’t seem like it will ever be completely puzzled out, even with an arrest.
I’m sure you were expecting to see this on the list because I mentioned it today on Instagram and talked about it in the intro to this post, but this would have made my top nonfiction list had the documentary not come out today, as well. Usually when I read a nonfiction book I pick through it slowly and take my time with the information, names, dates, locations, etc. but I had such a hard time putting this down. It was so riveting and well written, part memoir and part mystery, this is sure to thrill even those who don’t enjoy reading true crime.
Bonus: If you’re interested in the Golden State Killer and some of the new revelations following his arrest that wasn’t discussed in the book, this podcast from the L.A. Times and Wondery is a must listen. Near the end of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark there’s a moment where it talks about how the GSK whispered “I hate you, Bonnie” and it gave me absolute chills. Man in the Window talks to this Bonnie, who was his ex-girlfriend. For sure listen to this podcast, it’s phenomenal.
True Crime & Social Justice: Wrongful Convictions
I read this one a while back and raved about it on my Instagram after I finished, but I don’t believe I talked about it here. Actual Innocence is written by the team that created The Innocence Project, the organization working to free wrongly imprisoned people across America. Wrongful convictions and the factors that lead to them is something I find incredibly interesting and highly problematic; my interest in this phenomenon comes more from the desire to learn how to make it right, and thus I picked this up to learn more about how it happens and how we can fight it.
You can’t talk about racial inequality without talking about the disproportionate amount of black and brown people incarcerated. America has an immense problem with mass incarceration as it is, but there is no arguing the fact that it also has a lot of racial disparities. This book does touch on that and really helps to highlight just how wrong justice can go, especially when it comes to small town poverty and racism.
This was both a fascinating and frustrating look at wrongful convictions and the way that DNA evidence has helped to exonerate people. The frustrating part? Some people spend their LIVES in prison, on death row, or are even executed while there is evidence to their innocence. It’s unfathomable. This book was really good and if you’re interested at all in criminal justice I can’t recommend it enough.
This is by no means a complete list of nonfiction I’ve read and enjoyed, this is simply a list of those I’ve read recently and think really apply to the big topics we’ve been seeing addressed in the news/world recently.
Like I said, I don’t really read nonfiction unless it’s related to/about true crime, criminal justice, or social policy/issues. I think I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the closest thing I’ve read to a memoir in a long time, and it’s only got a few memoir-ish (not a word, but you get it) moments.
Thanks for hanging in there with me while I gushed about true crime and the importance of social awareness and justice! If you’re looking for a rec in a similar vein for sure email me, DM me, or comment below and I can give you some recs for other nonfiction I’ve enjoyed through the years!
What nonfiction books do you recommend?