E.B. Bartels

Nonfiction mafia.

Category: Opinions

“The Privilege of Old Age” in Entropy Mag

For the full piece, see it on Entropy.
Published on January 13, 2020.

Photograph: © Isa Leshko

For a long time I was a photographer in addition to being a writer. Images and words always went hand-in-hand for me, and I found that often photographs influenced how I thought about writing and that often writing influenced how I thought about photography. While I don’t make images of my own anymore with any regularity, I still love visiting museums and galleries and reading art books, and black and white photographs, especially those made with large format cameras and printed in silver gelatin, are still the ones that always grab at my heart.

I was drawn to Isa Leshko‘s images for these reasons, and because her photos are of animals, which of course makes sense, because I am all about animals. But reading Isa’s book Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries, published this past spring by University of Chicago Press, was truly a life-changing experience. Her images made me reconsider how we as people think about aging, and how getting old can feel like a burden, but it is actually quite a gift. Many animals — both human and non-human — never make it to their elderly years.

This essay I wrote inspired by Allowed to Grow Old is up now on Entropy MagI hope you read it, and take some time to look at Isa’s images. Her work is transformative.

2019 Reading Round-Up

Happy 2020, my bookish friends!

First off, let me say right away that I will NOT be doing a favorite books of the past decade post. Sorry, but also I am not sorry, because I would actually drive myself insane trying to figure out my favorite books from the PAST TEN YEARS. That is so many years! So many books! How is that even possible? Also, it seems unfair? Ten years ago, I was 22, and the books that hit me hard at 22, I may roll my eyes at now at 32, but I don’t think that diminishes the impact they had on me a decade ago, so, yeah, I’m not touching that.

If you want recaps of my past reading habits, check out my 2018 Reading Round-Up and 2017 Reading Round-Up posts and this piece I wrote for Wellesley Underground about spending 2015 only reading books by women. (2010 to 2012 I was pretty much reading only YA and middle grade books because I was teaching at a middle school in Dorchester, and 2012 to 2014 I was in grad school and was reading whatever my MFA professors were telling me to read, and then I guess I was too much of an empty shell in 2016 to write anything about what I read that year?) You can also browse my GoodReads profile which I have been updating regularly since January 2012, and see my GoodReads reading challenges from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.

I would only read 568 pages for Alexander Chee and no one else.

But! As promised, even if I can’t handle recapping the whole past decade, I present to you my annual reading tally for the past year. So, as is tradition, here is the breakdown of what I read in 2019, my top 19 books that were published 2019, plus my reading resolutions for the upcoming decade and some of the books I am looking forward to in 2020.


  • I read 122 books, by 107 writers.


  • Fiction: 24
  • Nonfiction: 39
  • Graphic novels/comics: 3
  • Graphic memoirs/nonfiction: 14
  • Poetry: 9
  • Drama: 1
  • Young adult/middle grade: 10
  • Picture/art books: 22*
  • Books that I had already previously read: 6**

*Again, many of these were dead-pet-related picture books for research.

**Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, Jane: A Murder and The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee.


  • Books by women of color: 29
  • Books by white women: 55
  • Books by men of color: 15
  • Books by white men: 22
  • Books by non-binary people of color: 1
  • Books by non-binary white people: 0
  • Books by LGBTQ folks: ~23


  • Books for dead pets research: 48
  • Books for Non-Fiction by Non-Men/other interviews/essays/reviews: 19
  • Books for my People Who Read Darkness book club: 12
  • Books for teaching: 4 (though every book I read is for teaching, in a way)
  • Books for fun/other reasons/just for the hell of it: 39

E.B.’s TOP 19 BOOKS PUBLISHED in 2019:

As I’ve said in past years, I am really glad that I am doing this tradition of my top [xx] books published in 20[xx] because it means I get to add one more book to my list each year. I am also glad that in this list I focus on only books that were published in 2019 because that helps me further narrow down my choices, though it does mean that some of my favorite books I read this year may not make the cut, just because they weren’t published in 2019, such as Cottonmouths by Kelly J. Ford (2017) or Edinburgh by Alexander Chee (2001) or Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (2011) or The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (2015) or The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson (2018) or Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala (2013). So, it’s an imperfect art, but it makes my life a little easier, so here I present to you: my 19 favorite books that came out in 2019, organized chronologically by their publication date.

  1. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang (February 5)
  2. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (March 5)
  3. Good Talk by Mira Jacob (March 26)
  4. The Body Papers by Grace Talusan (April 9)
  5. I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib (April 30)
  6. Allowed to Grow Old by Isa Leshko (May 10)
  7. Ugly Music by Diannely Antigua (May 15)
  8. The Edge of Every Day: Sketches in Schizophrenia by Marin Sardy (May 21)
  9. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (June 4)
  10. Bunny by Mona Awad (June 11)
  11. With a Polaroid Camera by Sarah Dickenson Snyder (June 25)
  12. Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton (August 6)
  13. Mitz by Sigrid Nunez (August 6)
  14. Malaya: Essays on Freedom by Cinelle Barnes (October 8)
  15. Holding On To Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne (October 22)
  16. This is My Body by Cameron Dezen Hammon (October 22)
  17. In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (November 5)
  18. The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (November 5)
  19. Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung by Nina MacLaughlin (November 12)

E.B.’s READING RESOLUTIONS for 2020 (& the rest of the decade):

  • Last year I said I wanted the majority of the books I read in 2019 to be by people of color. I did not achieve that goal: of 122 books, 78 were by white people and 44 were by people of color. So, once again, my goal for the upcoming year is to read a majority of books by people of color.
  • Also as I said last year, I want to keep reading more and more books by nonbinary people and LGBTQ folks. I am embarrassed that I only read one nonbinary author this year and that this year only 18% (down from 20% in 2018) of the authors I read identify openly as LGBTQ. I can do better.
  • I want to continue to make sure my People Who Read Darkness book club reads diverse writers. (This year we only read one book by a person of color, My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, so we really need to work on that.)
  • And also, like in past years, I need to keep paying attention to who is writing the books I am reading for research and diversify the voices I am quoting in my own writing.
  • And, finally, as always, I want to continue to remind myself that if I don’t love something I am reading… I don’t have to finish it!!!! This is a reminder for you, too!


There are many, many, MANY books to look forward in 2020, but here are just a few I am especially excited about, that you should put on your radar:

Here’s to reading all the books in 2020!

Shop small this holiday season!

This past month I’ve been reading a lot about the small businesses closing in and around Harvard Square, such as Black Ink, as outside developers drive up rent to unsustainable rates. Therefore, this month, I’d like to take a moment to remind you all to support small and local businesses as you do your gift shopping this holiday season (F*CK AM*ZON). Some of my favorite places, in addition to Black Ink, for unique and whimsical gifts are Ward MapsNomadJoie de VivreMagpie, and Loyal Supply CoRebekah Brooks is magnificent for vintage jewelry, and I love Raspberry Beret and The Garment District for vintage clothing. For delicious edible gifts, check out Honeycomb Creamery and Curio Spice Co., for all your toy and game needs go to Henry Bear’s ParkComicazi, and Pandemonium, and if you want to paint your own gifts, go to Made By Me.

And, obviously, I am obsessed with independent bookstores. This past month I went to so many fantastic author events, all courtesy of your favorite local bookstores. So please, please, PLEASE consider ordering your book presents (because books make the best presents, right?) this holiday season from your local independent bookstores as opposed to the evil empire (F*CK AM*ZON). Some of my favorite bookstores include:

Please tell me some of your favorite independent bookstores and/or other favorite small businesses in the comments below. And happy holiday shopping!

BBF Unbound: Creature Feature!

Come listen to me talk to some brilliant people about what it’s like to write nonfiction about animals at the Boston Book Festival next weekend! On Sunday, October 20, I will be moderating a BBF Unbound panel called Creature Feature from 12pm-1pm in the Roxbury Innovation Center Multipurpose Room (2300 Washington St, Boston, MA 02119). I will be in conversation with Matthew GilbertSangamithra IyerJessie Male, and Grace Talusan, and I am very excited about it!

Five years of living in Cambridge!

This week marks five years that I have been living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To celebrate, I spent the better part of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday tweeting about some of my favorite things about this city. Click here to see the thread on Twitter or here to see a more-easily-readable version of the thread.

I’d love to hear what some of your favorite Cambridge spots are — leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

“How I Stopped Being Afraid of My Own Brain” on Electric Lit

For the full piece, see it on Electric Literature.
Published on May 8, 2019.

My grandmother, Genevieve Beckers Bartels.

Writing nonfiction is always personal, in my opinion. You are putting your thoughts, feelings, and point of view out there, even if you are hiding behind the safety of research or criticism. This essay that I published today on Electric Literature is, at its core, a book review, but it is also the most personal thing I have published to date.

Thank you for reading it, and for your thoughtfulness and your care with this subject matter. A special thank you to my editor, Jess Zimmerman, who helped me so much with shaping this piece and clarifying my ideas, and, of course, thank you to my dad who helped me with this essay, and with so many other things, more than he realizes.

But if you only take one thing away from this piece, it better be that you need to go out and buy and read Marin Sardy‘s book The Edge of Every Day ASAP!

2018 Reading Round-Up

Happy first day of 2019, everyone! You know what that means: time for my annual reading tally for the past year. So, as is tradition, here is the breakdown of what I read in 2018, my top 18 books that were published 2018, plus some of my reading resolutions for 2019.

Thanks for the graphics and stats, GoodReads. Shocking that no one else has read “My Pet Died” by Rachel Biale.




  • Fiction: 19
  • Nonfiction: 43
  • Graphic novels/comics: 9
  • Graphic memoirs/nonfiction: 7
  • Poetry: 15
  • Drama: 1
  • Young adult/middle grade: 6
  • Picture books: 37*
  • Books that I had already previously read: 6**

*Most of these were for research. I swear.

**Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Playing Dead by Elizabeth Greenwood, Black Mass by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.


  • Books by women of color: 39
  • Books by white women: 50
  • Books by men of color: 14
  • Books by white men: 26
  • Books by non-binary people of color: 1
  • Books by non-binary white people: 1
  • Books by LGBTQ folks: ~26


  • Books for research purposes: 30
  • Books by Non-Fiction by Non-Men authors: 14
  • Books for the Nobles English curriculum: 9
  • Books for my true crime book club: 10
  • Books for fun/other reasons/just for the hell of it: 74

E.B.’s TOP 18 BOOKS PUBLISHED in 2018:

I am really glad that I am doing this tradition of my top [xx] books published in 20[xx] because it means I get to add one more book to my list each year. HOWEVER: narrowing my list of books read this year down to only 18 was still brutal, so please appreciate the pain I went through to bring you this blog post. Now, without further ado, my top 18 books published in 2018, organized alphabetically by author’s last name.

  1. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (October 23, 2018)
  2. How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (April 17, 2018)
  3. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (October 2, 2018)
  4. How To Sit by Tyrese Coleman (September 1, 2018)
  5. My Own Devices by Dessa (September 8, 2018)
  6. Freshwater by Awaeke Emezi (February 13, 2018)
  7. Movers and Shakers by Hope Ewing (October 9, 2018)
  8. Tango Lessons by Meghan Flaherty (June 19, 2018)
  9. This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (January 30, 2018)
  10. Sick by Porochista Khakpour (June 5, 2018)
  11. If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim (August 7, 2018)
  12. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (February 27, 2018)
  13. How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery (September 25, 2018)
  14. Open Mic Night in Moscow by Audrey Murray (July 24, 2018)
  15. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (February 6, 2018)
  16. There There by Tommy Orange (June 5, 2018)
  17. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (October 2, 2018)
  18. My Dead Parents by Anya Yurchyshyn (March 27, 2018)


  • I want to continue reading more and more books by people of color, and my goal for 2019 is to read a majority books by people of color. (This year, of 137 books, 80 were by white people and 57 were by people of color.)
  • I also want to keep reading more and more books by nonbinary people and LGBTQ folks. This year I read work by two nonbinary individuals and 20% of the authors I read were LGBTQ, which is okay, I guess, but could definitely be better.
  • I want to make sure my true crime book club reads more diverse writers as well! (So many white people love to write about true crime.)
  • Like last year, I need to keep paying attention to who is writing the books I am reading for research and diversify the voices I am quoting in my own writing.
  • And, as always, I want to continue to remind myself that if I don’t love something I am reading… I don’t have to finish it!!!! This is a reminder for you, too!

Here’s to more amazing books in 2019!

Catwalk Art Residency!

My desk at Catwalk.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I just spent the better part of two weeks at my very first writing residency. I was lucky enough to be granted a residency at the CATWALK Institute in Catskill, New York, where I was given the time and space to work on my book — and only my book — for twelve days.

The art residency program at CATWALK is really special. The artist studios and residences are located in and around the historic home of Hudson River School painter Charles Herbert Moore. The 1865 house is surrounded by 65 acres of trees, meadows, ponds, deer, chipmunks, turtles, hawks, coyotes, and sweeping dramatic views of the Hudson. Being in a new place was inspiring, productive, and invigorating; the Catskills are an excellent place for going for walks when you hit a wall while writing.

Me on a hike to the appropriately-named Inspiration Point.

Plus, the best part of CATWALK is they give you a studio and then they leave you alone. It is a highly self-directed residency, which means you can structure your days however you want: yoga in the morning, writing midday, a hike in the afternoon, reading during dinner. Or maybe you prefer to sleep in, go for a walk during lunch, and then stay up all night writing. It’s up to you, and it’s goddamn lovely.

Oh, and did I mention that my writing studio was located in the TOP OF A TOWER? Yeah, no big deal, just my literal childhood dream coming true.

Yes, my writing studio was in there.

However, none of this would have been possible without certain individuals, and I want to thank Purcell Palmer, founder and owner of CATWALK, along with residency manager May Beattie and property manager Chuck Irwin, for inviting me to be part of this magical residency program, and for everything they did to make my stay in Catskill so comfortable and valuable.

Also, I want to encourage all Columbia School of the Arts, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Vassar alumni to apply! Take advantage of this incredible opportunity. You won’t regret it, I promise.

View from my writing studio. Did I mention it was in the top of a tower?

“Sy Montgomery Wants Us to Embrace Our Inner Animal” on The Millions!

For the full piece, see it on The Millions.
Published on September 18, 2018.

I am really excited to have this essay up today on The Millions because I am absolutely obsessed with Sy Montgomery’s new memoir. Her book, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, comes out on September 25th, and everyone should buy it, read it, and follow its advice. (Don’t worry, there will be plenty of copies available at Newtonville Books, where How to Be a Good Creature also happens to be my most recent staff pick!)


“How Reading True Crime Stories Helps Us Face Our Own Fears” on Catapult!

For the full piece, see it on Catapult.
Published on August 9, 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 10.25.27 AM

In general, having an essay on Catapult is a dream come true, but I am especially excited to share this piece about my inherited anxiety and love of true crime. Shout out to my grandfather, who does not read my blog or use the Internet! Thanks, Puppy, for passing on both your obsessive worrying and your passion for dark and depressing reading material!


Together hiking the Appalachian Trail from April to October, 2015!

E.B. Bartels

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