Every year since I’ve joined Goodreads, I’ve participated in a reading challenge on the website. (Pro tip: The key to completing your reading challenge is to set a ridiculously easy goal to achieve. You’re welcome.)

And every year as I look back on my year in review, I select the best books I’ve read during said year. But I’ve never shared those books with anyone but me.

Until now.

This week I’ll share a couple of the best nonfiction books I read during the year; next week I’ll share a couple of the best works of fiction I read.

Just because a book lands on my best-read list doesn’t mean it’s among the best books published that year. Of course, I’m starting with a book published in 2021 – Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty.

Keefe tells the story of how the Sackler dynasty began – from the humble beginnings and hopes of immigrants in pre-World War I – to how it amassed wealth – from medical advertising and pharmaceutical sales.

But not just any pharmaceutical sales. The family served as principal owners of Purdue Pharma, which started selling OxyContin in 1996.

Purdue marketed OxyContin as a miracle non-addictive opioid with a 12-hour release coating. It was supposed to help folks with chronic pain manage that pain without fear of addiction.

As Keefe, an investigative reporter, lays out in Empire of Pain via company memos and emails as well as public documents, high-ranking executives, including some Sacklers, knew OxyContin was being abused as early as 1997.

Yet, the company kept pushing it. People kept overdosing. People kept losing loved ones. People kept losing jobs. People kept breaking into pharmacies as well as other businesses and homes to steal pills and money to feed their addictions. People kept losing themselves to those addictions.

Meanwhile, the Sacklers kept getting richer.

The book made me sad and angry, but mostly angry. I annoyed a friend with frequent updates about those expletive Sacklers.

So, why am I recommending a book that made me sad and angry? Because emotion is good. Because we need to know what happened. Because if I hadn’t read the book, I wouldn’t have been inspired by Nan Goldin.

Who’s Nan Goldin, you ask?

I guess you’ll have to read the book for an answer to that question.

Keefe also wrote the other nonfiction book I’m recommending – Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. No joke. Comments on a message board dedicated to viewers of The Crown, a TV show about the British royal family, led me to Say Nothing. I was so impressed with Keefe that I sought out other works by him, learned about Empire of Pain, and put a hold on the-then work in progress.

Released in 2018, Say Nothing, according to our friends at the Wikipedia, “focuses on The Troubles in Northern Ireland, beginning with the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville.”

Say Nothing also made me sad and angry. Sometimes, I’ll be sitting around, and I’ll think about Jean McConville and get sad and/or angry.

Again, why am I recommending this book? Because emotion is good. Because Jean McConville should not be forgotten. Because what happened to Jean’s children after her murder should not be forgotten. Because The Troubles should not be forgotten.

What are The Troubles, you ask?

I guess you’ll have to read the book for an answer to that question.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.