Best nonfiction books to gift this season

This is part of the LA Times 2022 Gift Guide. See the full guide here.

What makes non-fiction books so tricky as potential gifts is also what is most wonderful about them: their endless variety. want gossip Advice? Story? Do you like musical theatre? Politics? shamanism? Good? Below are 15 books, including memoirs, stories, collections of essays (and an art calendar) that are sure to stick around through the New Year and beyond. You just have to figure out who fits into whose (heavyweight) stocking.

The Light We Carry: Overcoming In Uncertain Times

"The light we carry" by Michelle Obama

Leadership books by influential people are a dime a dozen (while also exceeding $30 per capita). But former First Lady Michelle Obama’s follow-up to her blockbuster Becoming is more focused on becoming a role model for others — even if millions of people don’t look up to you. The former first lady lists the principles she has learned throughout her life and focuses on building relationships. You can start building your own by making the gift that everyone will want on their shelf.

$33 at Crown dealers

Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoir of Mary Rodgers

"Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoir of Mary Rodgers" by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green

(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Born to Broadway royalty, Mary Rodgers wrote songs, screenplays and children’s books — but could a memoir endorsed by New York Times critic Jesse Green be her masterpiece? Cocktail hour jokes erupt from every page as Rodgers (who died in 2014) recalls being raised by difficult geniuses and encountering just about everyone – but most notably “the love of my life,” Stephen Sondheim. A must read for anyone who has ever enjoyed a single musical.

$35 at Macmillan

Solito: A memory

"Solito: A memory" by Javier Zamora

Tired of being spoken for, immigrants who made the perilous border crossing into the US speak for themselves. Javier Zamora’s memoir is not only distinctive for being the visceral narrative of a 9-year-old unaccompanied boy, who spent months traveling through Arizona from El Salvador. It is also compellingly written through this boy’s point of view, from his parting words to his grandfather to his complicated feelings about the home his parents have built in the United States

$28 at Hogarth’s

Out of the Corner: A Memoir

"out of the corner" by Jennifer Grey

One of the smartest things Jennifer Gray does in this very smart memoir is to ditch the nose job stuff right away. The “Dirty Dancing” veteran rolls with abandon through her fascinating youth and middle age, openly discussing sex, reproductive choices and cosmetic surgery without shame. She also has a refreshingly clear view of what Hollywood demands of its stars – and how to survive it.

$30 at Ballantine

Los Angeles Times Community Fund

The Los Angeles Times Community Fund, in partnership with the nonprofit California Community Foundation, builds critical service programs and initiatives within the Times and the broader community. Your tax-deductible donation supports literacy programs, local charities, food insecurity efforts and other initiatives that benefit the greater Los Angeles area. donate now

Surrender: 40 songs, one story

"Surrender: 40 songs, one story" by Bono

This isn’t the kind of celebrity memoir that spawns clickbait revelations. If anyone you know loves Bono, or even just likes U2, they’ll be curious to read his surprisingly self-deprecating thoughts – arranged as essays, each linked to a song – on everything from steering funding for Africa to towards what on earth he was thinking with this must-have iTunes album. (He regrets it.)

$34 at button

The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir

"The man who could move clouds" by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

The memoirs of a Colombian-born writer transform reality into magical realism, beginning with an episode of severe amnesia that eerily mirrors her own mother’s traumatic event. Ingrid Rojas Contreras continues to explore her family’s history as curanderos – South American shamans like her grandfather, whose bones the family decides to exhume in accordance with his ghostly request. A spiritual journey for readers who want something more idiosyncratic and culturally rooted than spiritist self-help.

$30 at Doubleday

American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and the Forgotten Crisis of Democracy

"American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and the Forgotten Crisis of Democracy" by Adam Hochschild

Sure, Adam Hochschild’s latest book is technically a WWI book, which places it firmly in the father’s gift category. But the historian’s focus is on the home front, and his lessons are chillingly urgent. When the US entered the war, it cracked down on dissent at home, leading to a repression of expression and civil rights rarely seen since — along with lynchings and white riots that we still dig up today. It’s an underexplored era that resonates uncomfortably with our precarious present moment.

$30 at Mariner

"The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man" by Paul Newman, ed. David Rosenthal

A uniquely constructed memoir by the late Hollywood icon Paul Newman offers the best of several genres: an oral history examining Newman’s friends and colleagues, supplemented by hours of archived interviews on the subject itself, published (by editor David Rosenthal) at a time when as the distance of time allows frankness without resentment. The result is a complete portrait of a man who was never quite sure, fought many demons and made it all into a great actor and a good person.

$32 at button

"A place on the Nayarit" by Natalia Molina

A great gift for Angelenos and those curious about Angeleno, Natalia Molina’s tale of a founding Mexican at Echo Park has the power of memory (her grandmother founded the eatery) along with the thoroughness and cultural context that only a trained historian can provide. But most of all, it’s a fascinating portrait of a meeting place and all of the people – diverse working-class immigrants, progressive artists, queer pioneers – who have made it a crucial anchor point of the community.

$30 at UC Press

Path Light by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe

"Path Light by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe" by David Maraniss

It doesn’t matter what type of sports fan you’re shopping for; David Maraniss’ subject, a Native American who was once considered the nation’s greatest athlete, outperformed almost all of them. The story of its great and early achievements, followed by later disappointments and marred by the nation’s shameful treatment of its first people, lies gripping in the hands of a biographer who has previously narrated the life stories of Vince Lombardi and former President Barack Obama.

$33 at Simon & Schuster

Art day after day: 366 brushes with history

"art day by day," edited by Alex Johnson

Art History For people who don’t want to read flashy art history books, Alex Johnson’s perfect (but never mundane) compendium is organized by date so you can read it cover to cover or day by day. Each calendar date touches on an event – say, Michelangelo acquiring the marble for his David, or the discovery of the Lascaux Caves in France, which supposedly inspired Picasso to declare, “We didn’t invent anything!”

$25 at Thames & Hudson retailers

High-risk homosexuals: A reminder

"High risk homosexual" by Edgar Gomez

There is no longer a template for the coming-out story; Times have changed and thankfully offer new voices. Edgar Gomez’s version is bright, edgy, hilarious, and specific to his upbringing as a Floridian native of Nicaragua. Raised on cockfights and machismo, he traverses a confusing and amusing mix of identities and microcultures; Consider this a memoir as a millennial travelogue of queer culture.

$17 at Soft Skull retailers

Structure of a nervous system: a memory

"Structure of a nervous system: a memory" by Margo Jefferson

People like to say that criticism is a dying art; You would never know if you read Margo Jefferson. After detailing her upbringing among the black elite in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Negroland,” the legendary critic returns to chronicle all the influences that shaped her—whether by inspiring her or giving her something against which she could defend herself. Bing Crosby, Ike Turner, WEB Dubois, George Eliot and many others came together to found Jefferson – and American culture at large.

$27 at the Pantheon

South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation

"South to America" by Imani Perry

Princeton-born historian and Alabama native Imani Perry’s return to the region where she grew up is the best kind of tour you can have in 2022 if you’re into living history. Talking to people, reading archives, reflecting on her own past, Perry discovers a South synonymous with America, in an expansive rather than constraining way. Clichés and old tropes are broken in favor of a true portrait: respectful, complex and eye-opening.

$29 from Ecco

Simple Beauty: A Memoir

"Simple Beauty: A Memoir" by Chloe Cooper Jones

It’s hard growing up saying that beauty is only skin deep, only to see that it’s valued above almost anything else. Chloé Cooper Jones dismantles the notion of “simple beauty” from the inside out, beginning with her own visible disability that inspires pity – if not obliteration – in others. Drawing on philosophy and art history, she emerges with a homage to “difficult beauty”—the kind that’s really worth seeking out. A prickly and inspirational book for any reader at odds with a superficial culture.

$28 at Avid Reader retailers

More gift guides Best nonfiction books to gift this season

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