The Best Nonfiction Books for Book Clubs in 2023

6 Nonfiction Books for Book Clubs in 2023
Reading nonfiction with your book club provides an opportunity to learn about new topics with the benefit of others' thoughts and perspectives. It can also be fascinating to discuss how authors have chosen to view and present certain aspects of nature, society, history or their own lives.

If you're looking to expand your group's nonfiction picks for next year, we have some suggestions! Below are half a dozen books covering a wide range of subjects that will be newly available in paperback during the first half of 2023, all of which come highly recommended by our reviewers. Three are memoirs that use the author's personal experience to reflect on the world around them, while the other three are substantial dives into complex and important subjects. Despite their depth, they're relatively short, digestible reads, ranging from around 240 to 350 pages. All of them are sure to provide plenty of worthy material for conversation, and we've included ideas for topics to discuss.

See also: 2023 fiction recommendations


Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses
by Jackie Higgins

Paperback Nov 2022. 320 pages
Published by Atria Books

Over the course of the book, Higgins introduces readers to a menagerie of creatures—from peacock mantis shrimps and octopuses to orbweaver spiders, cheetahs and duck-billed platypuses—to illustrate the ingenuous sensory mechanisms our animal kin have evolved in adaptation to the world around them. In each case, these examples serve as a springboard for discussing parallels in the sphere of human perception, showing that our senses are both more powerful and more varied than we may commonly assume. Higgins blends research from biology, psychology and neuroscience to shed light on the specialized sense receptors that work together to generate our complex perceptual awareness of our environment. Engaging, thoughtful and evocative, the book is a marvelous paean to the "everyday miracle of being sentient." (Elisabeth Herschbach)

Topics for book clubs: Clubs reading Sentient may want to discuss how the book challenges our perceptions of the human sensory experience, what different animals can teach us about new ways of understanding the world, and how we risk losing these ways of understanding through climate change and habitat destruction.

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How the Word Is Passed

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
by Clint Smith

Paperback Jan 10, 2023. 352 pages
Published by Back Bay Books

With legislatures around the U.S. rushing to ban the teaching of critical race theory, it's clear that the backlash against an honest appraisal of systemic racism remains virulent and damaging. It's this reactionism that makes How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith not just timely but vital to the discussion of race in the U.S. and beyond. This book's strengths are many, including Smith's mellifluous language and his ability to crystallize the meaning of white supremacy and its effects for Black Americans. The connections he draws both spatially and temporally between the actual lived horrors of slavery and the world as we know it today are both brilliant and vital, as is his emphasis on education and how the teaching of the past is really a reflection of current attitudes, fears and prejudices. (Rose Rankin)

Topics for book clubs: Groups reading How the Word Is Passed can discuss connections between America's past of slavery and current systemic racism, the construction of Confederate monuments during the Jim Crow era, and the significance of Juneteenth and its new status as a federal holiday.

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Red Paint

Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk
by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe

Paperback Mar 7, 2023. 240 pages
Published by Counterpoint Press

A central topic of the book is LaPointe's reckoning with trauma from sexual assaults she experienced as a child and a teenager, and her Coast Salish heritage (from the Nooksack and Upper Skagit Indian tribes) is not just instrumental to her journey to recovery but intrinsic to it. Likewise, the Pacific Northwest is intrinsic to her ancestral exploration; her love for music is central to her search, as a mixed heritage Indigenous woman with nomadic ancestors, for a place to call home; and her understanding of place is informed by art and pop culture. Red Paint is about trauma and healing. It is also about punk rock, the author's own music, David Lynch's surreal television series Twin Peaks and the likewise surreal experience of existing as an Indigenous person in a colonized land. Through a nomadic and place-sensitive gaze on the Pacific Northwest, LaPointe presents a separation between land and state that throws into sharp relief the strangeness of settler-colonial fictions and values. (Elisabeth Cook)

Topics for book clubs: Book clubs reading Red Paint may wish to discuss how childhood trauma can inform relationships in adulthood, the continued erasure of Native existence by American institutions, and the power that art and pop culture have to affect people's lives.

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The Unfit Heiress

The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt
by Audrey Farley

Paperback Apr 18, 2023. 304 pages
Published by Grand Central Publishing

During the American eugenics movement, involuntary sterilization was used to keep poor people, sick people and Black people from reproducing. While there have been scant reparations to victims, most of these incidents have gone unnoticed by the general public. However, when a white daughter of wealth, Ann Cooper Hewitt, was sterilized against her will at the age of 20, the world was stunned. The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt centers the events that unfolded amidst a patriarchal era. I loved the meat and potatoes of the story in all of its forms: historical trauma, petty revenge, social climbing, racist motivations, legal gamesmanship. Readers won't wish for another hundred pages of the events of Ann's life but they will appreciate Farley's telling of her evolution from neglected child to justice seeker. (Valerie Morales)

Topics for book clubs: Subjects that book clubs reading The Unfit Heiress could discuss include reproductive freedom, how racism figured into the American eugenics movement, and how factors like poverty and mental illness have historically been used to strip people of individual rights.

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Chasing Me to My Grave

Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist's Memoir of the Jim Crow South
by Winfred Rembert

Paperback May 9, 2023. 304 pages
Published by Bloomsbury USA

Artist Winfred Rembert holds nothing back in recounting his life, reviewing all of its beauty and hardship. The good, the bad and the unambiguously ugly details provide insight into the forces that shaped Rembert's art, and his amazing story offers a holistic and refreshing approach to discussing racism that is extremely compelling. This book was co-written with journalist Erin I. Kelly, who sat down with Winfred every two weeks from 2018 through 2020 and transcribed his memories from biographical interview questions. She then read the pages back to him to make sure she had captured his voice accurately. The result is a masterpiece. The text is raw, candid and blunt. Kelly's organization and faithful transcription allow Rembert's stories to roll off the page as fluidly as they likely did from his mouth. This combination of armchair storytelling with fascinating life events makes Chasing Me to My Grave a compulsive read. (Ian Muehlenhaus)

Topics for book clubs: Book clubs reading Chasing Me to My Grave may like to explore the topics of slavery in the United States prison system, Rembert's art and the role it plays in his story, and how societal oppression limits life choices.

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In Love

In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss
by Amy Bloom

Paperback Feb 21, 2023. 240 pages
Published by Random House

In 2019, author Amy Bloom and her husband of 12 years, Brian Ameche, received life-altering news: a neurologist diagnosed Ameche with Alzheimer's disease. He knew the disease was degenerative and debilitating, and he made it clear that he had no desire to spend his last years gradually losing his memories and sense of self. Bloom agreed to help him find a way to end his life early, and her memoir, In Love, describes their experiences during the months between the diagnosis and her husband's death. Empathetic readers will likely be able to put themselves in Bloom's shoes and imagine what she must have been going through, but the story generally wasn't as visceral as I would have expected. Given the subject matter, that lack of emotional connection may be preferred by some, allowing the reader to understand the process without becoming overwhelmed with grief. Those who enjoy memoirs will likely want to put this one on their list, and it's recommended for anyone interested in exploring death with dignity. (Kim Kovacs)

Topics for book clubs: Book clubs reading In Love may like to discuss the general topic of assisted suicide, the grief inherent in witnessing the physical or mental decline of a loved one, and how individual decisions affect both partners in a relationship.

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