From a book about Dirty Dancing to memoirs about life as queer Muslims and a look at the life of a documentary maker, 2019’s non-fiction releases will provide you with inspiration, advice and more.
Looking for a book that will broaden your horizons, tell you a real-life story you’ve not heard before or give you the knowledge to argue a point of view? Then what you need is one (or more) of this year’s brilliant non-fiction releases.
Get caught up in memoirs of life in a religious sect and growing up in poverty, honest examinations of failure and the vagina, and surprising looks at race science and censorship.
If you’re looking for something lighter, there are books about the power of clothing and swapping an introvert lifestyle for an extrovert one, and a look at beauty products for women of colour.
One thing all of these non-fiction books have in common is that they’re great reads. If you’re not in a book club already, you’ll want to join or form one just so you discuss these books.
Gotta Get Theroux This: My Life and Strange Times on Television by Louis Theroux
Louis Theroux has turned his attention to various subjects throughout his career as a documentary maker, and now he turns the focus on himself in his biography. Taking the reader through his life, we learn about how Theroux created his award-winning documentary style, and learn about his biggest challenges, including the programme he made about Jimmy Savile before all the abuse revelations about the now-deceased TV presenter came to light.
Gotta Get Theroux This: My Life and Strange Times on Television is out on 19 September (Pan Macmillan, £20).
Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay
Adam Kay made us cry with laughter, and then cry in sorrow, with his tales of life as a junior doctor in This Is Going to Hurt. For his second book, he turns his attention to the NHS at Christmas, giving us a peek at the hilarious, horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking life of hospital staff during the festive period.
Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas is out on 17 October (Picador, £9.99).
I Carried a Watermelon by Katy Brand
Any self-respecting fan of romantic films will immediately guess that comedian and writer Katy Brand’s book might have a little something to Dirty Dancing. In I Carried a Watermelon, Brand explores the legacy of the film, from how it pushed women’s stories to the forefront of commercial cinema to its depiction of abortion, which has been described as ‘Gold Standard’ by pro-choice campaigners. Part memoir about a personal obsession, and part homage to the film, Brand’s celebration includes her own memories and interviews with other fans of the film.
I Carried a Watermelon is out on 24 October (HQ, £12.99).
She Speaks: The Power of Women's Voices by Yvette Cooper
In She Speaks, MP Yvette Cooper examines the impact of 30 speeches made by women throughout history. Among the speeches included are Sojournor Truth’s ‘I am a Woman’s Rights’, given in Akron, Ohio in May 1851, Maya Angelou’s ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ given at the inauguration of president Bill Clinton in January 1993, and Michelle Obama’s ‘When They Go Low, We Go High’ from the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. Cooper gives an introduction to each speech, which is then reproduced in full.
She Speaks: The Power of Women’s Voices is out on 14 November (Atlantic Books, £10).
We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib
In this short and powerful memoir, Pakistani-Canadian photographer Samra Habib discusses her search for the language to express her true self, and how she made peace with her sexuality, family and religion. Habib’s book covers how her family were persecuted as Ahwadis in Pakistan, being immigrants in Canada, and her arranged marriage at 16. Escaping her relationship and discovering who she wanted to be, Habib went on to find comfort in a mosque that was welcoming to LGBTQ Muslims.
We Have Always Been Here is out on 5 September (riverrun, £9.99).
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
We live in a time when we’re more self-aware than ever, but also more self-involved. In this debut collection of essays, New Yorker culture writer Jia Tolentino covers the internet, the self, feminism and politics, all while exploring her own coming of age.
Trick Mirror is out on 8 August (4th Estate, £14.99).
Private Parts: How to Really Live with Endometriosis by Eleanor Thom
Endometriosis affects one in 10 women. This includes 1.6 women in the UK, yet it still takes an average of seven years to get a diagnosis. Information on endometriosis on the internet can be unreliable and scary, which is why Eleanor Thom’s Private Parts is so needed. Part memoir, part guide book and part survival guide, Thom’s book details what it’s really like to have endometriosis, and offers advice on everything from finding the right specialist for you to what actually happens in an internal exam.
Private Parts: How to Really Live with Endometriosis is out on 25 July (Coronet, £18.99).
We Need New Stories by Nesrine Malik
Journalist Nesrine Malik’s We Need New Stories is an urgent look at the questions at the centre of the current culture wars. Through asking questions including whether women have mistaken access for arrival, and if the concept of political correctness has bee weaponised to avoid giving space to those traditionally excluded, Malik argues that we need to find new narrators to challenge the status quo and create new frames of reference in our pursuit of a progressive vision.
We Need New Stories is out on 5 September (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99).
What We’re Told Not To Talk About (But We’re Going To Anyway) by Nimko Ali
In What We’re Told Not To Talk About (But We’re Going To Anyway), activist Nimko Ali shares her own personal story of living with FGM, and talks to other women about their relationships with their vaginas. Formerly called Rude: There is No Such Thing As Oversharing, Ali covers everything from first periods to pregnancies, orgasms to the menopause, looking at the experiences of women from all walks of life and addresses questions including what you do if you’re living on the street and having your period, how your vagina repairs after a fourth-degree tear and how you know if you’ve ever really orgasmed. Taboo-breaking and important, this book puts paid to the notion that it’s rude to talk about the vagina.
What We’re Told Not To Talk About (But We’re Going To Anyway) by Nimko Ali is out on 27 June (Viking, £14.99).
Wally Funk’s Race for Space: The Extraordinary Story of a Female Aviation Pioneer by Sue Nelson
In 1961, Wally Funk was one of 13 American female pilots in NASA’s Women in Space programme, and the youngest. She wanted to become one of the first women astronauts, and took part in a rigorous training and testing programme. But, just one week before the final phase of training, the programme was cancelled, with sexism winning out.
Funk’s story was partially told in the Netflix documentary Mercury 13, but Sue Nelson’s book about her is a fascinating read, telling us plenty we don’t know. Funk, who is now approaching 80, became America’s first female aviation safety inspector and taught 3,000 pilots to fly. Although she never got to go to space, her story is sure to inspire the next generation of female astronauts.
Wally Funk’s Race for Space: The Extraordinary Story of a Female Aviation Pioneer is out on 20 June (Saqi Books, £8.99).
Our Women on the Ground: Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World ed by Zahra Hankir
Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen by Amrou Al-Kadhi
In their raw, emotional and compelling memoir, Amrou Al-Kadhi tells the story of growing up in a strict Iraqi Muslim household, and eventually becoming a vocal, queer drag queen estranged from their family. Al-Kadhi is the founder of drag troupe Denim, and performs frequently as Glamrou. Covering religion, culture, sexual politics and more, this is moving exploration of the relationship between a mother and her child, and the life-long search for belonging.
Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen is out on 3 October (Fourth Estate, £16.99).
More Orgasms Please: Why Female Pleasure Matters
The Hotbed Collective, which began life as a podcast, examines the orgasm gap between women and men in its first book, More Orgasms Please. An honest and fun look at everything from feminist porn to body image and menopause, this put women’s bodies and our right to pleasure firmly on the map.
More Orgasms Please: Why Female Pleasure Matters is out on 4 July (Square Peg, £12.99).
Partition Voices by Kavita Puri
Partition – the splitting of India into India and Pakistan – was one of the most tumultuous events of the 20th century, and the effects are still felt decades later, although they’re rarely spoken about. Kavita Puri’s father was 12 when he and millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were caught up in the devastating aftermath of a hastily drawn border.
When Puri’s father finally spoke up about the horrors he had seen, he compelled his daughter to seek out the stories of South Asians who were once subjects of the British Raj and are now British citizens. In Partition Voices, Puri records first-hand testimonies of those who experienced Partition, as well as the stories of their children and grandchildren, who have been shaped by the legacy of the split.
Partition Voices is a book that confronts the difficult truths at the heart of Britain’s shared – and often ignored – shared history with South Asia.
Partition Voices is out on 11 July (Bloomsbury, £20).
Face It by Debbie Harry
She’s a musical legend, and we can’t believe that Debbie Harry hasn’t released an autobiography. That will all change this autumn (thank goodness), when Face It is released.
As expected of Harry, Face It will not be the usual celebrity memoir. Instead, it will feature rare personal photos, original illustrations, artwork by fans, and more, alongside Harry’s honest look at her life.
Face It is out on 1 October (HarperCollins, £20).
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
The destruction of our planet is a terrifying thing to think about, but if we’re going to stop it, we need to talk about it. In The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells - climate columnist for New York magazine - talks about the troubles that await us if we let climate change continue unabated, from food shortages and refugee emergencies to the way our politics, culture and relationship to technology will shift. Yes, this book will scare you, but it will also prompt you to take action to ensure the damage we as humans have done to the planet is stopped.
The Uninhabitable Earth is out now (Penguin, £20).
The Good Immigrant USA ed by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman
The UK edition of The Good Immigrant, featuring essays by Riz Ahmed, Himesh Patel and Bim Adewunmi was an urgent, essential book. The US edition is no different. A whole new set of essays by first and second-generation immigrants explore what it’s like to be othered in an increasingly divided America, touching on topics including memory, fashion and heritage. Contributors include Jean Hannah Edelstein, Jenny Zhang and Chigozie Obioma.
The Good Immigrant USA is out now (Dialogue Books, £16.99).
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
Caroline Criado Perez is an activist and writer who campaigned for a woman to be on a Bank of England note. In Invisible Women, she’s turned her attention to the “gender data gap”, a term used to describe the way that most data is based on men’s experiences. This results in everything from medicines which work differently on women to the fact that women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident. Bringing together case studies, stories and new research this book, which was being talked about ahead of its release, makes a strong case for change.
Invisible Women is out now (Chatto & Windus, £16.99).
The Sisterhood by Daisy Buchanan
Journalist Daisy Buchanan takes us inside her upbringing in The Sisterhood, an upbringing that can be best described as the Bennet sisters in a 21st century, Kardashian-influenced world. Buchanan is one of six sisters, and in this book she looks as what it’s like to live as a modern day woman, using her sisters as examples. A tender, funny and unflinching account of the friendship, insecurities, jokes, jealousy and love that make up the sisterhood, whether you’re bound by blood or not.
The Sisterhood is out now (Headline, £14.99).
Character Breakdown by Zawe Ashton
Actress Zawe Ashton started her career at the age of six, and has played everything from “cute little girl” to “assassin with attitude”. Her film and TV appearances include Fresh Meat, Guerilla and Nocturnal Animals. As an actress, she treads a thin line between life and art, trying to keep sight of where a character ends and the real Ashton begins. In Character Breakdown Ashton explores a version of her life, or perhaps it’s a version of her art, and asks questions including: is a life spent more on performance than reality any life at all?
Character Breakdown is out on 4 April (Chatto & Windus, £16.99).
How to Fail by Elizabeth Day
Elizabeth Day is the host of How to Fail, a podcast in which well-known people talk about their biggest failures. In this book, which is part memoir, part manifesto, Day explores what it means to fail and how we pick ourselves back up again. Broken into chapters covering topics including how to fail at dating, sport and living like Gwyneth Paltrow, this book will help you to understand failure and overcome it. How to Fail is ultimately uplifting reading about how learning how to fail is learning how to succeed better.
How to Fail is out on 4 April (4th Estate, £12.99).
The League of Wives by Heath Hardage Lee
On 12 February 1973, 116 men arrived at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, having endured years of torture and brutal treatment as prisoners of war in Vietnam. Months later, they would begin to learn that those responsible for getting them to safety were their wives. The League of Wives tells the story of these women – who banded together and called themselves The National League of Families – for the first time. They went to extraordinary lengths to get their husbands’ freedom, including lobbying government leaders, having covert meetings with antiwar activists and helping code secret letters to their imprisoned husbands.
The League of Wives is out on 4 April (Constable, £20).
Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me by Kate Clanchy
Author Kate Clanchy’s Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me is a celebration of her 30-year teaching career. From explaining sex to a classroom of 13-year-olds to nurturing a poetry group filled with migrants and refugees, Clanchy is honest about the lows and highs of teaching. Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me is an honest and heartwarming look at a career path that is often demeaned, diminished and under-resourced, and will show you why it shouldn’t be.
Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me is out on 4 April (Picador, £16.99).
The Heat of the Moment by Sabrina Cohen-Hatton
The Heat of the Moment is both a look at the work of firefighters and the story of a woman in a traditionally male-dominated career. Sabrina Cohen-Hatton has been a firefighter for 18 years, and is responsible for making life-changing decisions, from which of her colleagues will run into a burning building to whether or not an evacuation is needed because a situation is beyond hope. This is an immersive insight into a job which few of us could do, by a woman whose award-winning research into decision-making in the emergency services has transformed policy at a global level.
The Heat of the Moment is out on 11 April (Doubleday, £16.99).
The Corner Shop by Babita Sharma
The corner shop is an institution, and even in these days of massive retail centres and online shopping, the corner shop still holds a position in our hearts. Babita Sharma was raised in a corner shop in Reading, getting a view of a changing world from behind the counter. Along with learning how to mop a floor and stack a shelf, Sharma also gained a unique insight into a shifting political and cultural landscape. The Corner Shop is a very human look at how small these small and rather unassuming shops have shaped the way we live over the years.
The Corner Shop is out on 18 April (Two Roads, £16.99).
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gate
Along with her husband, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Melinda Gates has been on a mission for the last 20 years to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs. In The Moment of Lift she shares the lessons she’s learnt from the inspiring people she’s met during her work and travels and talks about the issues that most need our attention, from child marriage to lack of access to contraceptives and gender inequality in the workplace, all backed up with data. And she also gets personal, writing about her personal life and the road to equality in her marriage. This is a book about women lifting up other women, and changing the world by doing so.
The Moment of Lift is out on 23 April (Bluebird, £16.99).
Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri
Black hair can often be seen as political and subject to societal pressures. Emma Dabiri takes us on a journey into why black hair matters and how it can be viewed as a blueprint for decolonisation. Exploring black hair and its position in pre-colonial Africa, the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Power movement, Don’t Touch My Hair also looks at hair capitalists, forgotten African scholars and the dubious provenance of Kim Kardashian’s braids. Looking at how black hairstyling culture can be seen as an allegory for black oppression and, ultimately, liberation, this book is a welcome focus on black hair.
Don’t Touch My Hair is out on 2 May (Allen Lane, £20).
Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Therapy used to be a taboo subject, but thankfully seeing a professional to help us is no longer looked down on. In Maybe You Should to Talk to Someone, therapist Lori Gottlieb helps patients in her Los Angeles practice, including a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness and a 20-something who can’t stop getting together with the wrong men. And then, one day, disaster strikes and Gottlieb finds that she is the one in need of a therapist. Enter Wendall, a quirky but seasoned practitioner who helps Gottlieb with the questions she’s been struggling with. Candid and deeply personal, this is a book about being both patient and clinician, and one that offers hope to us all.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is out on 9 May (Scribe UK, £14.99).
Lowborn by Kerry Hudson
Kerry Hudson grew up working class, and in poverty, moving often with her single mother and attending nine different primary schools and five secondaries. Now, she’s a prizewinning novelist who’s travelled the world. Lowborn is Hudson’s exploration of where she came from, recounting her journey as she revisits the towns she grew up in to discover what it really means to be poor in Britain today, and whether anything has really changed. This look at class and wealth (or the lack of it) is among this year’s most essential reading.
Lowborn is out on 16 May (Chatto & Windus, £14.99).
Superior by Angela Saini
Science - methodical and unbiased, right? Think again. Angela Saini’s Superior exposes the world of race science, the idea that race has some basis in biology. Race science was probably most famously used by the Nazis, but it’s not something that we can comfortably confine to the past; in Superior, Saini reveals the scientists who are still advocates of it today, and how it’s experiencing a revival due to the misuse of science by certain political groups. An eye-opening, disturbing read that is much-needed.
Superior is out on 30 May (4th Estate, £14.99).
Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come by Jessica Pan
The title of Jessica Pan’s book is something that many an introvert might find themselves living by. Pan is a shy introvert who found herself jobless and friendless, sitting in a familiar sofa crease shaped to her body. So, wondering what life might look like if she was more open to new experiences and new people, she challenged herself to live like a gregarious extrovert for a year. Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come is a chronicle of Pan’s hilarious and painful year of being an extrovert. To find out if life’s better for introverts of extroverts, you’ll have to read the book.
Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come is out on 30 May (Doubleday, £12.99).
The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton
Forget Sherlock Holmes, compared to Maud West he’s a lightweight. Susannah Stapleton tells the story of West, who opened her London detective agency in 1905 and spent 30 years sleuthing on behalf society’s finest. The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective is a story of a woman ahead of her time who had to hide vital aspects of her own identity to thrive in a class-obsessed and male-dominated world. Stapleton weaves together tales from West’s own casebook with social history and research to uncover the reality of life as a female private detective in the early 1900s.
The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective is out on 13 June (Picador, £20).
Dressed by Shahidha Bari
We all get dressed, and often we’re portraying a certain view to the world with our clothes. But what unconscious thoughts are we expressing with the garments we choose? In Dressed, Shahidha Bari explores the secret language of our clothes, and looks at clothing in literature, art, film and philosophy. Dressed is about clothes as objects and as a means of self-expression, and a look at who we are and how we see ourselves.
Dressed is out on 13 June (Jonathan Cape, £25).
Be the Change by Gina Martin
Activist Gina Martin, who was named our Equality Champion of the Year at the Remarkable Women Awards, fought and won the battle to make upskirting a criminal offence in England and Wales. Be the Change is a comprehensive toolkit for the modern activist to equip us to fight for change - big or small, local or global. Be inspired by Martin’s achievements, and be the change.
Be the Change is out on June 13 (Sphere, £12.99).
At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies' Pond
The Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond is tucked away along a shady path towards the north-east edge of Hampstead Heath. It opened to the public in 1925 and is the only wild swimming spot in the UK that is reserved for women. In this collection of work, writers including Margaret Drabble, Esther Freud, Deborah Moggach and Sophie Mackintosh share their stories of the pond and reflect on its history and present.
At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond is out on 20 June (Daunt Books, £10.99).
My Past is a Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani
Zeba Talkhani grew up in Saudi Arabia, and journeyed abroad to India, Germany and the UK - where she now lives - in her search for freedom. Rejecting the traditional path her culture had chosen for her, Talkhani became financially independent and married on her own terms. Her memoir looks at being an outsider and examines Talkhani’s relationship with her mother and the challenges she faced at a young age when she began to lose her hair.
My Past is a Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani is out on 26 June (Sceptre, £14.99).
Taking Up Space: The Black Girl's Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi
For those in a minority in a predominantly white institution, taking up space is an act of resistance. In higher education, where there are currently just 25 black female professors, ethnic minority students feel like they have to constantly justify their existence within institutions that weren’t made for them. Taking Up Space, by recent Cambridge graduates Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi, is a guide and a manifesto for change. The pair look at issues of access, unrepresentative curricula, discrimination in the classroom, the problems of activism, and life before and after university.
Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change is out on June 27 (#MerkyBooks, £12.99).
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Pushing the boundaries of non-fiction, Lisa Taddeo’s book is the story of three women’s unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions. It is the culmination of thousands of hours of research over eight years, telling the stories of Lina, in a marriage with two children and a husband who won’t touch her; Maggie, in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, a hated pariah in her small town; and Sloane, a sexual object of men, including her husband, who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is out on 9 July (Bloomsbury, £16.99).
Is There Still Sex in the City? by Candace Bushnell
Before Carrie Bradshaw, there was her real-life inspiration Candace Bushnell. In her new memoir, Bushnell looks at what happens when a woman of a certain age finds herself not-so-young, free and single in the city. Is There Still Sex in the City? is a funny and honest first-person account that includes the wit we’ve come to know and love from Bushnell, with guidance on everything from what to do when your age-appropriate date asks you to pay for his kitchen renovation to the pluses and minuses of being older and wiser.
Is There Still Sex in the City? is out on 8 August (Little, Brown, £16.99).
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection Her Body and Other Parties was a look at the female body, women’s agency and relationships, told via fiction that included elements of magical realism and fantasy. In the Dream House is Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad. Sorted into chapters divided by narrative trope - from the haunted house to bildungsroman - Machado looks back at her religious adolescence and unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and casts her eye over Star Trek, Disney villains and more. This will challenge what you think a memoir can do.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is out on 1 October (Serpent’s Tail).
Palette by Funmi Fetto
Funmi Fetto is the contributing beauty editor at Vogue UK. But even before that, she’d spent years being asked by friends, family and strangers on the street for advice on products suitable for women of colour. Palette brings Fetto’s advice to the masses. Covering hair, skincare, makeup and body products, this is for women of colour, who have been so often ignored by mainstream beauty coverage.
Palette by Funmi Fetto is out on 3 October (Coronet, £25).
Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper
You may have heard of the church Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in – Westboro Baptist Church is a religious sect that is aggressively homophobic and anti-Semitic, and jubilant about AIDS and natural disasters. It was the subject of a Louis Theroux documentary, and now it’s the subject of this fascinating memoir. Phelps-Roper was a member of Westboro Baptist Church for years, spearheading its use of social media. At the age of 26, she left Westboro, her family and her life behind, and now advocates for the people and ideas she was brought up to despise. For anyone who loved Tara Westover’s Educated, this is your next must-read.
Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope is out on 3 October (Quercus, £14.99).
Smashing It: Working Class Artists on Art, Life and Making It Happen by Sabrina Mahfouz
People of working class make up a third of the British population, but working class artists continue to be hugely underrepresented in the arts. In Smashing It, edited by poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, leading musicians, playwrights, visual artists, filmmakers and writers share how they overcame obstacles, from the financial to the philosophical, to make it in the arts. Contributors include Kerry Hudson, Riz Ahmed, Bridget Minamore and Salena Godden.
Smashing It: Working Class Artists on Art, Life and Making It Happen is out on 3 October (Saqi Books, £12.99).
Images: Supplied by publishers / photograph of Carmen Maria Machado by Art Streiber