A word about the heading: I was going to go with "100 Nonfiction Titles You Might Actually Have a Shot At Reading" or "100 Nonfiction Titles You Might Want to Take a Whack At," but those are both too long. So "100 Best-ish Nonfiction Titles" it is.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
Black Boy by Richard Wright
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown
Maus by Art Spiegelman
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
On Writing by Stephen King
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Now, to be fair, I haven't read quite a few of these titles, so I can't really disagree with them. (The titles I have read are in bold.) And of course Time magazine has to list all the very serious, critically acclaimed titles. I won't repeat any of the titles, although I would like to list the Dave Eggers book; and of course titles like Maus and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings are important for format and subject matter. But what is with the Bill Bryson book? That should be in a Travel category, I think. And I totally disagree with the Barack Obama title--and NOT because he's been a huge presidential disappointment (although he has)--but because it was too long and fairly standard coming-of-age fare.
Anyway, I digress. Here's my list:
Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High, Melba Pattillo Beals. Unbelievable account of Little Rock, Ark., school integration in 1957. I am not interested in American history, particularly of the 20th century, but this book made me want to learn more about civil rights.
Lucky, Alice Sebold. During her freshman year at Syracuse University, Sebold was brutally raped, an experience she recounts in heartreading detail in her memoir--in the first chapter, mind you. This book is not for the faint of heart but I promise you you've never read anything like it.
Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, Debra Ginsberg. People are going to argue with me on this one, and say it's slight. Nothing doing. Ginsberg perfectly marries multiple memoir formats: working life, coming of age, love and parenting, self-discovery. And she does it in an economical 320 pages.
Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain. Oh, Anthony, I do love you. The smoking! The swearing! The cooking! The rock 'n roll world of restaurants! This is one of the rare memoirs that sold well and really deserved all the hype it got. And if you've never read anything by Bourdain, this is a good place to start.
A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean. I know. You're going to tell me this one's fiction. I don't care. If it was published today, it would be marketed as memoir--Maclean recounts a story that hews pretty closely to the real details of his life. And he worked on it for years and years--getting each sentence just perfect. It shows.
Just Kids, Patti Smith. I've reviewed this one, here. A memoir that drops you in another time and place and makes you FEEL the unmistakable pulls of art, love, and youth--even against the grittiest of backdrops.
Somewhere Towards the End, Diana Athill. Athill's one of the most underappreciated memoir writers we have. This memoir on aging is bittersweet without really being bitter or sweet--how did she do that?
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. Didion's a prose master and her subject--the unexpected death of her husband and the serious illnesses suffered by her daughter immediately afteward--leaves the reader wondering just how one woman had the ability to be overwhelmed by sorrow while still describing it in incisive detail.
84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff. Okay, it's a collection of letters, not memoir. Close enough! Everyone who loves books and reading (or who loves feisty women, or who loves England, etc.) should read this slim volume of correspondence between a feisty book-loving New Yorker and a very proper bookseller in London.
Made in Detroit, Paul Clemens. A perfect coming-of-age memoir, combined with an elegy for a dying city and way of life.
Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, Michael Perry. Perry's beautiful book of stories about his return home to live in northern Wisconsin and become an EMT in his home community is funny, sad, beautiful, and completely honest.
Okay, that's only eleven titles, to the Time list's twelve. I'm reserving a spot because I know there's at least one title I've forgotten.
So, what do you think? Tell me yes or no on my choices, and feel free to list some of your own!