May 31, 2013

Armchair BEA Discussion: Non-Fiction

I am not a big non-fiction reader. My philosophy with reading is that I want to be able to experience things I probably never will. And, not only that, I  also want to appreciate everything associated with literature: the writing craft, the plot, literary devices, characterization, etc. I just don't feel as though you can appreciate non-fiction as a work of literature; instead, I feel like we're supposed to care more about the explicitly told story or message, and that's not really what I want out of my books.

Nevertheless, I have actually started reading some non-fiction. While I am pretty adamant about reading only one fiction book at a time, non-fiction is different enough that I should be fine reading those books on the side and gaining a little extra knowledge. We'll see how that goes, though.

Here are some of the non-fiction books that I hope to read sooner rather than later. 

Anything by Bill Bryson — My dad owns A Short History of Nearly Everything, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, and In a Sunburned Country. I've shied away from reading these because they seem more like memoirs than anything else, which is not a subgenre of non-fiction that particularly interests me. I also know his books are full of humor, which I also tend to avoid in the books I read. And yet, I can't really know how I feel about them until I try them. I can see them being good, light reads, so I do want to give at least one of his books a try.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell — I've started this book quite a few times, only to put it down after a few chapters. It's not that it's boring; I found Gladwell's book about what really goes into the choices we make to be pretty interesting. This will be the year that I finally pick the book up off my shelf and read it through before placing it back again. I never took any psychology classes in school, but because I was friends with a number of people who did, I still am very much interested in learning more about how and why humans act the way that they do. My family also owns Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, so if I end up enjoying Blink then I'll have to move on to this other book.

On Writing by Stephen King — I have not read anything by King yet (I'm not really a fan of horror), but I want to soon. I've heard wonderful things about this memoir/guide to writing and want to read it, but I don't want to read it until I've read at least one of King's works first. I do love non-fiction books about the craft of writing and that offer suggestions and guidance for aspiring writers like me. 

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner — I've also never taken any economics classes, so I'm also very interested to read Levitt and Dubner's layman's account of how the driving forces of economics are behind a lot of the choices people make to get what they need and want. I appreciate any sort of non-fiction book that can explain a particular field or subject in a way that easy for someone like me, with no previous background or understanding, to read. 

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan  I read Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater's Manual a few years ago, which is a slim volume that provides easy-to-understand rules for how we can eat better. Over the past few years I've faced some dietary restrictions and have subsequently started becoming much more aware of the food that I'm putting into my body. I'm not sure if this book will really help me become a healthier eater, since so far in my reading it seems like there's nothing we can do to escape the deeply-entrenched food production chains that monopolize our society. But becoming a better-informed person is never a bad thing. After reading Pollan's work, I'd like to ideally read other books about food practices and how to make better dietary choices.

I didn't think that I had a specific type of non-fiction that I would gravitate towards, but it appears that I do. Most of these fall within the social sciences categorization. I want to read all of them (with the exception of Bryson) in the hope that I can learn something, that they can affect the way that I live and understand my life. If it's possible to keep learning new things throughout our lives, then why in the world wouldn't I use books to help me accomplish that?

Let me know your thoughts on the non-fiction genre and if you have any recommendations for similar non-fiction reads!
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

1 comment:

  1. Anything by Bill Bryson is good - he's sooo funny! And Stephen King's On Writing is excellent.

    I think you're thinking of nonfiction narrowly, though. From what you've described of your tastes, I bet you would enjoy narrative nonfiction, where a true story is told using all the same writing techniques as a work of fiction. It can be just as fascinating as fiction.

    I am a convert myself, thanks to my book groups. I bet you would enjoy something like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot or maybe Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - both authors are excellent at telling a compelling yet true story.


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