…Slate’s list of the definitive nonfiction books written in English in the past quarter-century includes beautifully written memoirs but also books of reportage, collections of essays, travelogues, works of cultural criticism, passionate arguments, even a compendium of household tips. What they all share is a commitment to “mostly truth” and the belief that digging deep to find a real story—whether it’s located in your memory, on dusty archive shelves, in Russian literature, in a slum in Mumbai—is a task worth undertaking.
Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (Scribner, 2012)
Having interviewed more than 300 people over the course of 10 years, Solomon explores the experience of parenting a child fundamentally different from oneself. The children of these parents are, as Solomon recounts, “deaf or dwarfs; they have Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia or multiple severe disabilities; they are prodigies; they are people conceived in rape or who commit crimes; they are transgender.” Far From the Tree is mammoth, but its oceanic scope is essential to convey the infinite variety in humanity’s ability to cope with the differences among us. As the collator of all this material, Solomon makes his own emotional and intellectual growth one of the book’s themes, as he describes how his subjects helped him shed the blinders he once wore. At the heart of this extraordinary project is the mystery of what makes a group of people a family. Blood, it turns out, is not always enough, but neither are many other commonalities in identity. Building true kinship starts as a choice and then often comes to seem inevitable, an act of will in the face of daunting odds that ends up feeling like a miracle.
(To read the complete list, please visit Slate.)