HQ's Best Non-Fiction 2021 List

Behold, our staff's favorite Non-Fiction releases of 2021!

White Magic, by Elissa Washuta
Stunning, personal, honest, brave, White Magic is a commanding collection with ferocious wit and hard-earned insights. I was constantly in awe of Washuta's control as author, and how she juggled varying, seemingly disconnected topics—from Stevie Nicks to sobriety to colonization to mood rings—with an astounding level of command. It is easy to see why the mountain of reviews for White Magic all refer to Washuta as a magician.
Recommended for fans of: Twin Peaks, Red Dead Redemption, tarot, soda water, Billy-Ray Belcourt's A History of My Brief Body.
 
A Little Devil in America, by Hanif Abdurraqib
This book is a lot of things for us here in Columbus. I remember hearing early drafts of it when Hanif would read around town in 2019 after the publication of A Fortune For Your Disaster, which made seeing the form it took in the end so meaningful. I was out of town when we hosted the release event with Sharon Udoh, and being able to tune into that from the East Coast soothed a little bit of my homesickness. I felt like I was watching my home team in the championship game when I was watching the National Book Awards Ceremony. It's Hanif's constant generosity that has made this book and its success something for the whole city to celebrate. And that generosity I think speaks to what makes this book so special and so brilliant. The exhaustive amount of research that went into this book takes us to so many interesting places, but once you get there what holds you is Hanif's curiosity. It's a curiosity that is so inviting and that shines so bright that you now love the topic with the same depth that he does. These essays are singular but welcoming. They make space for you to come join, and for that I am very grateful.
Recommended for fans of: Deep history dives, Soul Train, Josephine Baker.
 
Poet Warrior, by Joy Harjo
Three-term poet laureate Joy Harjo offers a vivid, lyrical, and inspiring call for love and justice in this contemplation of her trailblazing life. Holy Wow! I loved this book! Joy Harjo weaves her poetry between acutely held moments and memories that emerge as if recalled in conversation with a close friend. She cradles the tangled bundle of a full and complex life in both arms without dropping or disregarding any part of it.
 
A Bestiary of the Anthropocene, by Nicolas Nova and Disnovation.org
This book is absolutely stunning, and anyone who holds a copy in their hands ends up walking out with it. One of our best-selling books of 2021, and we won't stop until everyone in our town has their very own copy. Printed with silver ink on black paper, A Bestiary of the Anthropocene "is an illustrated compilation of hybrid creatures of our time, equally inspired by medieval bestiaries and observations of our damaged planet." Entries include Coal-Mine Canaries, Black Mold, Artificial Snow, and Rock-Shaped Speakers. Haunting, brilliant, a striking relic.
Recommended for fans of: B-movies, Werner Herzog's narration in Encounters at the End of the World.
 
Love, Death & Photosynthesis, by Bela Koe-Krompecher
Equal parts memoir of love, loss, and sobriety, as well as a love-letter to youth, the Columbus music scene of the '90s, and two special, singular creative talents. This book is bracing, frank, hilarious, and brutal. With equal parts romanticism and wit, Koe-Krompecher writes about working at a record store in the '90s and running the iconic Columbus record label, Anyway Records, while chronicling the rise, successes, and tragic loss of his dear friends, Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae.
Recommended for fans of: '90s music, Joe Meno's Hairstyles of the Damned, VH1's "Behind the Music."

Co-Machines: Mobile Disruptive Architecture, by Dan Dorocic
Few books have blown my hair back and disrupted my thinking as substantially this year, and especially in the age of COVID, as Co-Machines. In the wake of restricted travel and habitation due to COVID, this book asks us to re-consider who owns public space and how we might disrupt that imposed ideology. A collection of philosophical pamphlet-manifestos on architecture and public space, that then segues to the actual practice of building co-machines using re-purposed or recycled materials, which include Garden Archipelago Rollwagens, Transparent Footprints of Invisible Giants Machine, Dance Vehicles, and Nimble Lighthouses. This book inspired us to create a project-based activity series at HQ, coming in January 2021.
Recommended for fans of: TED talks, Jad Abumrad.

Tacky, by Rax King
I knew I was going to love this book as soon as I saw the title. I'm always interested in the conversation of what culture gets celebrated and what gets denigrated. I'm a sucker for anything that pushes back against "people with good taste" not giving something in bad taste a fair shake. This book was still though, not quite what I expected and a pleasant surprise. It is very easy, when trying to defend something that is in bad taste, to argue that it is actually in good taste and misunderstood. King, instead, sidesteps the whole issue, arguing that it doesn't matter. These essays are all vulnerable, tender, honest portrayals on Creed, Hot Topic, and The Jersey Shore and the very real impact they've had on her life. Her refusal to sneer, or roll her eyes at what she loves is the real gift of this book. Her often funny, and often touching personal essays are just the icing on the cake.
Recommended for fans of: Leopard print, Cheesecake Factory, Hot Topic.

Black Nerd Problems, by William Evans and Omar Holmon
This book is a balm to a problem I didn't even know I had. If you enjoy any of the pop culture mentioned in these essays (comics, anime, cartoons, etc.) then you might also be familiar with the thriving internet landscape of thinkpieces being churned out about these topics everyday. If you are familiar with them, then I don't need to tell you that many of them are really, really bad. Whole corners of the internet are filled with mindless collections of buzzwords and bad takes. So how refreshing it is to have a whole beautiful book of thoughtful, funny, and passionate essays by Evans and Holmon. Back before this media was the sort of industry it is now, ripe for SEO friendly articles and other kinds of exploitation, they were hobbies and sources of passion. Evans and Holmon center this real love for the culture in the essays they write, and it makes for the most fun thing I've read all year.
Recommended for fans of: Arguing over which is Storm's best costume, Green Lantern (but not real cops), The Legend of Korra.

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