Friday, July 22, 2016

Five Picks for the Reluctant Nonfiction Reader

Nonfiction. A literary land populated by stodgy history tomes and incomprehensible science. Right?

Wrong! I am here to be your guide into nonfiction that you actually want to read; the kind of books you can actually finish and feel like you learned something without falling asleep while reading page 23 for the fourth time.

Here are five authors and methods for the apprehensive nonfiction reader:

1. Erik Larson
Did you know that a serial killer used the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 to lure unsuspecting victims? Have you ever heard of the Lusitania, an ocean liner that dared to sail through U-boat infested waters during World War I?

Larson takes moments in history that were big at the time but rarely discussed now and brings them to vivid life. He leaves no stone unturned in his research and yet his books read like novels instead of dry volumes of history.

2. Mary Roach
You know those things you always wanted to know about, but you didn't know who to ask? The person to ask is Mary Roach, She writes about sex, the digestive system, and dead bodies, for starters. She's the wonderful grown-up version of the kid in science class who loved everything gross and weird.

Her books are quick and informative reads and she is a writer who delights in telling you bizarre things and making her readers laugh. Plus, you will be a big hit at parties when you can tell people what happens when an astronaut throws up in her helmet or what really happened when crazy Uncle Ted claimed he had a "near-death" experience.

            The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America    Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

3. Karen Abbott
Ok, time for the fascinating ladies of history now. Abbott writes about spies, lady soldiers, strippers, and notorious madams (yes, that kind) in her books. These books provide windows into the lives of these (in)famous women, while also showing readers the ways that they were constrained by their times and the ways in which they broke free of societal restraints.

4. TED Talk to Book
Maybe you just need to switch from one medium to another. If you get to see and hear someone speak about their passion, then it's easy to just keep going and read a whole book about it. See Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and We Should All Be Feminists and Susan Cain and Quiet, for a starting point!

5. Pop Autobiography
Nobody said reading nonfiction had to be stressful, friends. Sometimes it means going straight from a 30 Rock binge to listening to Tina Fey talk about the show. Or it might mean putting on your favorite Sara Bareilles album while reading about how she started writing those very songs.


Do you have a favorite nonfiction author? How do you ease yourself into reading nonfiction?


  1. You've basically described my non-fiction reading habits! I usually stick to non-fiction that reads like a novel -- or else interesting memoirs. I loved "The Devil in the White City," and every other author your listed is on my to-read list! I just KNOW I'm going to love Mary Roach and I want to read all of her books. Do you have a favorite? I was thinking I might start with "Stiff."

    My favorite non-fiction author is Laura Hillenbrand. Too bad she takes years and years to put out a book!

    1. Stiff was the first one of hers I read, so I think that's a good choice!

  2. I agree with above poster, the other Lindsay :)... what she said. I like non-fiction that almost reads like a novel, truth that is stranger than fiction, etc.

    I had been on the fence about Erik Larson, but now I think I'm going to look for one of his books at the library this week. Both sound intriguing.

    I don't have one favorite non-fiction author. I've been gravitating lately towards biographies/memoirs of everyday folk who've beaten the odds, or are affected by society, such as racism, sexism, whatever. I love sociology-themed books!

    I do like Jon Krakauer though, and he is consistently well-written.

    I used to like to read biographies of famous historical people like Mary Todd Lincoln, Marie Antoinette, Ben Franklin, etc. Not as dry as it sounds, either. Thanks for a great post that has me thinking!

    1. Larson is a fantastic writer. I find myself captivated by the stories he tells.

      I like some giant biographies too, but I think they get a pretty bad reputation for being boring!

  3. Great recommendations! I second them all and would add AJ Jacobs to the list :)