The top 25 non-fiction debuts of 2022 are here. Undoubtedly, there are some worthy contenders that didn’t make the list. If any cross your mind while reading this, please leave those titles in the comments section! We would love to check them out.
1. The Eye Test by Chris Jones (January 11th)
Chris Jones is a journalist with an eye for the truth. His nonfiction debut The Eye Test makes a case for the importance of the “human element” in a world that increasingly views people as a design flaw. Jones argues that algorithms and machines are great but there are just some things that can’t be automated. Take, for instance, human creativity, “taste,” and experience. Jones compares overreliance on technology to the driver who follows their GPS so closely they drive off a cliff. In the modern world, technology differentiates the true from the false. The machines are always right, no matter what your eyes see. In this new religion, tech is the God with an ever-growing congregation of devout followers. Jones warns that it’s important to retain some trust in the human race, or we’re headed for dangerous territory.
The machines may tell us one thing…but does it pass the eye test?
2. The Urge by Carl Erik Fisher (January 25th)
Carl Erik Fisher is a recovered alcoholic whose primary purpose is to help others understand addiction. This former boozer turned his past into his greatest asset by becoming an addiction therapist and helping pull people out of the same mess he was in once. The malady of addiction has plagued us since man first crushed grapes and it is still one of the least understood human afflictions. In his nonfiction debut The Urge, Fisher lays out the history of addiction from ancient Greece to the current pharma-sponsored opioid epidemic. Spanning literature, world religions, past public policies, and various successful treatments, Fisher lays it all out and the theme that emerges is this: caring for each other is the key to overcoming addiction. Scope it.
3. River Kings: A New History of Vikings from Scandanavia to the Silk Roads by Cat Jarman (February 1st)
The bikers of medieval times are back in a way you’ve never seen before. Dr. Cat Jarman uses bioforensic carbon dating on Viking artifacts to reexamine the idea that these red beards were the pillager kings of only western Europe. According to her findings, which she lays out masterfully in her nonfiction debut River Kings, Jarman makes a case for Viking escapades expanding all the way to the Middle East and Asia, where they ran a medieval slave trade back to Britain. Using modern forensic technology that is way over this writer’s head, Jarman carbon-dated Viking teeth to determine what foods they ate, and thus, from where they came and went. Jarman embarked on this journey of discovery when she traced a medieval Viking carnelian bead back to eighth-century Baghdad. It’s a fascinating read. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Board the ship. Ride the snake, baby.
4. Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds by Thomas Halliday (February 1rst)
Speaking of using cutting-edge tech to decipher the past. Thomas Halliday’s novelistic exploration of sixteen fossil samples shoots us into deep history in a way that hasn’t been done since Loren Eisley’s The Immense Journey. Halliday’s nonfiction debut Otherlands provides an understanding of how vast swaths of millennia unfold to bring us to where we are now in the history of this planet. The world has been around longer than we can fathom and will be here long after humanity has gone the way of the dodo. Hopefully, we don’t blow ourselves into an early extinction!
5. The Lonely Hunter: How Our Search for Love is Broken by Aimee Lutkin (February 8th)
Are you tired of your married friends giving you unsolicited advice on how to find the love of your life? Can’t it be ok to just be a single person? Happiness is all about self-acceptance, regardless of life circumstances. Loneliness is part of the human condition but you are already enough, as is. That’s the argument Aimee Lutkin makes in her nonfiction debut, The Lonely Hunter. Lutkin gives a heartfelt indictment of how western culture shames single people into coupling up. “This is a book for anyone determined to make, follow, and break their own rules.”
6. The Naked Don’t Fear The Water by Matthieu Aikins (February 15th)
Matthieu Aikins is a freelance journalist with iron balls. In 2008 he moved from his native Nova Scotia to Kabul and began his career reporting on the war in Afghanistan. Because of his half-Asian features and command of Persian dialects, Aikins was able to blend in as an Afghan, sleeping in roadside tea houses while writing for outlets like The New York Times and Rolling Stone. He was there when the Taliban took over the government and he stayed behind for months to report on the aftermath of the sudden and messy U.S. withdrawal.
Obviously, this was not the first time Aikins risked his life to get the story. In 2016, he decided to follow his friend Omar, an Afghan refugee, on the smuggler’s road to Europe. The Naked Don’t Fear The Water is the story of this harrowing journey. Case made for the metallic properties of said writer’s balls. This is certainly one of the most exciting nonfiction debuts of 2022.
7. I Was Better Last Night by Harvey Fierstein (March 1st)
Relax, it’s Harvey Fierstein, not Harvey Weinstein. You’d recognize this legend of stage and screen instantly by his signature raspy voice and outrageous presence. I grew up seeing Fierstein in some of my favorite films from childhood, including Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day, and Death To Smoochy. With that signature raspy voice and flamboyant persona, he’s always memorable. But there is way more to this actor’s story than his character roles. Fierstein has seen and done it all. Growing up in 1950’s Brooklyn as a gay kid who loved to perform, he soon found himself hanging among avant-garde gods like Andy Warhol and the folks who started the Theatre of the Ridiculous.
Fierstein was a fixture in the ‘70s gay rights movement and lived through the AIDs epidemic of the ‘80s. He’s written and acted in several hit broadway plays, including playing Edna Turnblad in the stage version of John Water’s Hairspray. Best of all, he overcame his own struggles with addiction and personal identity and lived to tell the tale in his non-fiction debut I Was Better Last Night. Get it from Knopf on March 1st!
8. Run Towards The Danger by Sarah Polley (March 1st)
Canadian director, writer, and actor Sarah Polley has had a prolific career in showbiz and political activism. In her nonfiction debut Run Towards The Danger, she talks about the importance of doing just that. She argues that applying the principle of always doing the scary thing will advance one’s life forward. Staying sheltered may provide the illusion of safety, but that’s not what we’re here for. As human beings, we are given the unique gift of consciousness and freedom of choice. Do we use our gifts to become fully realized or do we keep ourselves protected from discomfort? We know which choice Sarah Polley makes more often than not. Run towards the danger and live!
9. Ripe by Negesti Kaudo (March 2nd)
Cultural critic Negesti Kaudo pulls no punches when it comes to talking about how the whites steal black culture while disparaging it at the same time. Ripe deals with one woman’s journey of taking ownership of her Blackness and her body in America today. Kaudo invites readers to join her in experiencing all of the emotions that arise from being a woman living in a society that has always told her she’s “either too black or not black enough.” Kaudo claims her emotions as her birthright and uses them to stand up to injustice rather than choosing to be victimized. Injustice and inequality are the issues, greater levels of understanding and personal freedom are the goals. Check out Kaudo’s book of essays and find out how she blossomed in a culture that did its best to keep her shut inside of a labeled box. Out March 2nd via Mad Creek.
10. Refuse to Be Done by Matt Bell (March 8th)
Calling all writers! Matt Bell is a novelist and teacher of creative writing at Arizona State University. His latest book Refuse to Be Done is all about helping writers through the writing, and perhaps more importantly, the rewriting process of a novel. Bell shares a series of tasks and techniques, including his unique brand of checklists and outlines, that help writers through each part of the process. With Bell’s method, the impossible task of writing and revising a novel gets chopped into bite-sized pieces that make it easier to get the things that refuse to be done, done. Who says one of our nonfiction debuts can’t be a “how-to” guide? That’s what we thought.
Also, check out our book trailer for Matt Bell’s debut novel In The House Upon The Dirt Between The Lake And The Woods.
11. Craft Class by Christopher Kempf (March 15th)
Very interesting. Did you know the term “workshop” was first applied to a non-manual labor endeavor by a drama teacher in 1912? Professor George Pierce Baker started an experimental playwriting “workshop” and created a ripple effect that no one saw coming. Over one hundred years later, the Education Industrial Complex offers 200 MFA programs for aspiring writers and countless residences, most of which use the “workshop” model. So, why did everyone agree it was a good idea to equate a mental exercise, such as writing a play, with physical labor? When you enter a workshop, you feel like you’re about to get dirty. You’re ready to get roughed up for art. It’s inspiring. Maybe that’s why? This is simply one writer’s speculation.
Whatever the case, this is where we’re at. But terms we take for granted like “workshop” actually had an origin. Through Kempf’s exploration of how this term came to be, he has uncovered the elements that compose our modern ideas of what it means to make ideas manifest in the material world. Language is powerful and what we agree to call things has vast consequences a century down the road. Read Craft Class by Christopher Kempf and acquire a new compulsion–automatically questioning every term you’ve known. The veil lifts and finally we see what was on the other side all along: giggling insanity.
12. Dress Code – Veronique Hyland (March 15th)
With fashion, we signal who we think we are to the world. Or who we think we want to be. It’s a much more fun game to play than simply rolling down to Khol’s blindfolded and grabbing something off the closest rack to wear. One of the groovy things about being human is that we have the ability to decide what we want to wear on our bodies. What other sentient beings on Earth do that? We are special.
In Dress Code, Veronique Hyland, the fashion editor of Elle Magazine, raises some fascinating questions about how we present ourselves in the modern world, such as: how does social media dictate how we choose to look? Have the barriers of gender been smashed for good when it comes to fashion? She argues that fashion is the one art form that no one can escape. She has a point–even if you don’t care what you wear, you care enough to wear something. What does it all mean?
13. Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library by Amanda Oliver (March 22nd)
Overdue is the library’s “come to Jesus moment.” In her former career as a librarian in high-poverty areas, Amanda Oliver has seen it all. Actually, very little of what she was expected to do was outlined in the job description. As a librarian, she administered treatment to people overdosing, counseled folks going through mental health crises, and more. Oliver thought that applying her many degrees to the profession of Librarian would be the perfect way to marry her love of books with helping people. She didn’t realize how true that would be. Turns out, the library is not the place we thought it was. The library is the place where shit goes down. It’s a public institution like the DMV or the Department of Social Services. People go there to charge their phones and shoot up in the bathroom. Who gets to deal with the chaos? That’s right–the librarian.
14. Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton (March 29th)
Maud Newton always knew her family was weird. How weird? Married thirteen times and shot by one of your wives weird. Collecting thirty cats and performing exorcisms in the living room weird. This Southern writer went searching deep into her family history using genealogy and came out the other side with the understanding that we have the power to reckon with and transcend ancestral damage. The buck stops here. We are made of the same stuff as our ancestors but then again we’re all made of the same stuff. Our ancestry extends beyond familial lines to the entire human race. We are not doomed to relive the trauma of the past. Ancestor Trouble is Newton’s exploration into her bloodline to uncover the worst truths of her ancestry with the hopes of finding the best in herself.
15. Easy Beauty Chloe Cooper Jones (April 5th)
Chloe Cooper Jones lives with a rare disorder called sacral agenesis that affects her posture and the way she walks. Life is physically painful because of her condition. When she became pregnant she unwittingly defied western cultural myths about the disabled. The moment was a revelation–what taboos had she been upholding all her life because society expected her to be a certain way due to her disability? Jones embarked on a worldwide journey of exploration, seeking out experiences denied to her by society..and herself. What she found was beauty, freedom, and a life unchained by the limits of societal expectations. Cloe Cooper Jones documents these inspiring life experiences in Easy Beauty. Get it from Simon & Schuster on April 5th.
16. Hello, Molly! By Molly Shannon (April 12th)
We’ve all heard of Molly Shannon but very few have heard her story…until now. Hello, Molly! is the superstar’s revealing account of her life in and out of the limelight. From the early childhood trauma of losing most of her family in a car accident with her father at the wheel, through her rise to international fame on SNL and beyond. Her memoir is an inspiring story of overcoming personal tragedy and finding acceptance through fearless self-expression.
17. The World According to Color: A Cultural History – James Fox (April 12th)
In his nonfiction debut The World According to Color, James Fox examines seven colors to find the root idea behind each one. What he found was a common symbology spanning cultures across history. The human relationship to color shows us a parallel history. According to Fox, color “is the greatest carrier of cultural meaning in our world.”
18. Don’t Put Yourself on Toast – Freddy Taylor (April 14th)
Freddy Taylor’s debut nonfiction book Don’t Put Yourself on Toast is a coming-of-age story that highlights the importance of humor in the face of tragedy. When Taylor was in his early twenties his father was diagnosed with an aggressive type of brain cancer that sent him spiraling downward before his son’s eyes. As Freddy struggled with the compulsion to squander his precious final moments with his father while dealing with everything else that comes with being twenty-one, he found his center. Tragic moments have the power to put us in direct connection with the meaning of life. That’s what Don’t Put Yourself on Toast is all about.
19. Finding Me by Viola Davis (April 26th)
Finding Me is this Oscar winner’s story of finding out who she was before society put its labels on her. Davis argues that the ultimate path to freedom comes from shedding facades and living a life of radical honesty. This is an inspirational read from a star of stage and screen who came to appreciate her own story rather than jumping through the hoops of reinventing herself to fit into a pre-fabricated mold. This is one of the most inspiring nonfiction debuts of the year.
20. The Premonitions Bureau – Sam Knight (May 3rd)
Sam Knight is a staff writer at The New Yorker who became obsessed with the true story of a British psychiatrist who lived and worked in the 1960s. When John Barker arrived at the scene of a collapsed coal mine disaster in the Welsh village of Aberfan, he had an intuition that something supernatural was at play. Many of the villagers reported having premonitions about the disaster, leading him to convince the local newspaper to start a “premonitions bureau.” This was a place where people could send their disastrous premonitions to help authorities prepare or prevent catastrophes. Many of these forboding messages were startlingly accurate. John Barker even had some premonitions of his own that convinced him he would die an early death. Just wait until you read the ending! The Premonitions Bureau examines the most fascinating aspect of human nature–the ability to facilitate a conscious connection with the beyond.
21. Because Our Fathers Lied – Craig McNamara (May 10th)
Craig McNamara has daddy issues. He was deeply involved in the antiwar movement of the 1960s. But his dad, secretary of state Robert Strange McNamara, was the architect of the Vietnam War and the guy responsible for escalating U.S. involvement. When young Craig failed his draft board physical, he set out on a motorcycle journey across Central and South America, Easy Rider style. Instead of smuggling cocaine, he learned the art of agriculture from the locals of the countries he visited. McNamara eventually settled in Northern California and dedicated himself to growing walnuts. Because Our Fathers Lied is a unique perspective on the Vietnam War from the son of the guy who got the U.S. involved. Crazy.
22. Mean Baby by Selma Blair (May 17th)
You’d recognize Selma Blair from her iconic roles in late 90s and early 2000s hits like Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde. Through it all this Hollywood actress and model lived with a deep secret: she was a mean baby. When she was a child, there was darkness in her. She bit her siblings. She would lie for the fun of it and do whatever it took to be the center of attention. By the time she was a teenager, she had stopped acting out…kind of. But the point she makes in her memoir is this–there was a darkness at the core of her being, since birth, that she’s spent her whole life trying to uncover.
Despite her success as an actress she became an alcoholic and struggled with depression. Blair feels her salvation–and true purpose–came when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Since then she’s reinvented her acting career and her reason for being, becoming seriously active in the MS community and initiating change for the better. Hear it all from the horse’s mouth in Mean Baby—an expose of a life lived intensely in the limelight.
23. Illegally Yours by Rafael Agustin (July 12th)
Rafael Agustin is a successful TV writer and creator of the show Jane The Virgin. Growing up, he thought he was an All-American boy. Until he tried to get his driver’s license during his Junior year of high school. That’s when his parents finally came forward with the news–the whole family was undocumented. Rafael suddenly found himself faced with an uncertain future. His parents, who were doctors in their native Ecuador and were reduced to working menial labor jobs in the US, kept their illegal immigrant status a secret until they no longer could. Thankfully for Agustin, he was blessed with a wicked sense of humor that allowed him to look on the bright side and hustle up a promising future for himself–and his family–working in showbusiness. Illegally Yours is a sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, look at the immigrant struggle and what it means to be “American.”
24. The Crane Wife – by CJ Hauser (July 12th)
CJ Hauser almost signed up to live someone else’s life by getting married to the wrong person. Luckily for her, she bailed on the wedding just in time and flew to Texas to study the whooping crane. Her memoir The Crane Wife is a collection of essays about the strange and unpredictable course her life takes all the while staying true to herself and refusing other people’s idea of how she should live her life. Get it from Doubleday Books on July 12th.
25. Death By Landscape by Elvia Wilk (July 19th)
You thought you were getting Margaret Atwood but you got Elvia Wilk instead. And lucky you! This is another one on our “nonfiction debuts” list that is also an essay collection. In Death By Landscape, Elvia Wilk begs the question, “What will help us rethink our human perspective toward Earth?” She examines art spanning time and genre to break down barriers between human ideas of utopia and dystopia, ourselves, and the natural world. Wilk takes a satellite’s view of human achievement–from art to architecture–to find out what influences our perception of humanity’s role in the natural order of life on this planet. Also, her book has a cool animated cover. Check it out via Soft Skull Press on July 19th.
If you enjoyed this piece, check out The 25 Most Anticipated Debut Novels Of 2022.
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