Margaret Eby
September 18, 2014 6:00 am

This week’s literary excitement was a classic good news/bad news situation. The good news: the National Book Awards, one of the most prestigious prizes in the literary world, announced its longlist for nonfiction nominees. The bad news: only one of the books on a list of ten was by a woman, despite a year that has been chock-a-block with beautiful, interesting, scathing, controversial, and intelligent writing from both genders.

The sole female-penned nonfiction book, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by the brilliant graphic novelist and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, is a memoir about coping with her parents aging. It’s a book much deserving of the nod, but it’s far from the only one we would choose. As Michelle Dean points out at Gawker, the book awards “are by and large marketing tools and engines for light cocktail party conversation.” As with every awards ceremony, there are bound to be disappointments, but for the field to be so dominated by men means that many excellent nonfiction works written by women have been passed over. And it’s not that there are none deserving. In fact, here are a few nonfiction books that we think should have gotten the nod.

1. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

A moving collection of essays that explores the human condition, Jamison’s book is a tremendously intelligent, interesting volume that earned high praise from critics.

2. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Exploring everything from Chris Brown to Girls to the implicit “rules” of feminism, Bad Feminist is a book from a writer who is as sharp as she is compassionate, and another one we would nominate.

3. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Ward already has one National Book Award under her belt for the wrenching Katrina novel Salvage the Bones, but her memoir is equally as unsparing and award-worthy.

4. Demon Camp: A Soldiers Exorcism by Jennifer Percy

A riveting, elegantly-reported book about a soldier who visits an “exorcist” camp in order to cure symptoms of PTSD, including being visited by images of his dead friends.

5. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

The New Yorker writer takes a hard look at the data around climate change and the potential–and current–ramifications of global warming.

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