Why Read Nonfiction?

For the past year or so, I’ve been making much more of an effort to read nonfiction books. I’m a big mood reader, and I tend to gravitate toward fiction (which I’m sure some of you can relate to). Last year, I set myself the goal of reading one nonfiction book a month, and it was very successful. Not only did I read more nonfiction than I probably would without a goal to motivate me, I also started paying more attention to nonfiction, and will occasionally seek it out without having to give it much thought. So far this month/year, about half of the books I’ve read have been nonfiction, and I am so happy about that.

For me, reading is more than just entertainment. It is the best way to educate myself, and I strive to continuously do so. I just finished grad school, and I don’t want that to mean I stop learning. I also love reading because it allows me to explore an infinite number of subjects. Want to find out what it was like for Carrie Fisher to make the first Star Wars? I did that. I also know the details of Charles Manson’s crimes, what Gamergate is and why it’s important to feminism, what role immigrants played in the development of the United States, (approximately) what it’s like to experience life with autism, the motives of Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth, and how animals are treated and processed to become our food. I know all these things from reading books. And I think my life is definitively better for it.

Nonfiction has enhanced my life in many different and unexpected ways. For example, had I not read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I never would have become vegetarian. Had I not become a vegetarian, I would never have realized the toll eating animal products was taking on my body and might still suffer from chronic migraines. (I don’t want to go on a tangent, but it’s seriously ridiculous how much better I feel since I stopped eating meat.) Reading Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road made me look at feminism in a different way, and made me seek out more feminist books which in turn gave me confidence and courage. And JFK’s A Nation of Immigrants shed new light on exactly what immigration means for the United States today, and got me to think more critically about politics.

Reading nonfiction has become almost an addiction or an obsession. I now hoard books on American history and North Korea and cancer and public figures from Shakespeare to Vladimir Putin. I genuinely want to learn about these things. And the more I read, the more I want to learn.

When I think of nonfiction, my first instinct is still to think “ugh, boring.” Which I’m sure many of you can relate to. An 800-page biography can’t be more fun to read than a 300-page fantasy novel, right? Actually, yeah. That’s probably true. At least, it is from my experience. History books are less fun to read – and this is coming from a former history major. But that’s not really the point. Reading nonfiction does not typically allow for escapism, which is one of the main reasons I turn to fiction. It is a different experience, and one that does take some adjustment. You can’t approach fiction and nonfiction the same way, and I think that’s a common problem.

The beauty of nonfiction is that is a very broad category (perhaps even more so than fiction). You can explore pretty much any subject you can think of, so chances are high you’ll find something you like. You don’t need to read books about history or politics. Learn about your own heritage or a celebrity you admire (I recently read a few celebrity memoirs and absolutely loved them). There are infinite possibilities, but I feel like people don’t explore them enough. And that’s something that needs to change.

I hope you will consider reading more nonfiction if that’s not something you’re already working on. I’ve found that one book a month is an extremely manageable goal for me, but that’s still a small percent of what I read in a year. Think about a goal you can set for yourself, and find a few books that interest you (feel free to ask for suggestions if you need them).

And since this is a discussion post, I want to hear from you: Do you read nonfiction? Do you have a nonfiction reading goal for yourself? If so, what is it? What is your favorite type of nonfiction to read (i.e. true crime, biography, memoir, history, etc.)? And, most importantly, how has reading nonfiction benefited you?

Additional Reading: The 7 Nonfiction Books That Influenced Me Most in 2016

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38 thoughts on “Why Read Nonfiction?

  1. I completely agree! I recently got into nonfiction over the last year or so, and in terms of nonfiction I tend towards science books, memoirs, and the occasional “weird history” book. I didn’t really set any nonfiction specific goals for myself, but I have been requesting nonfiction from Netgalley, which motivates me to read them. Currently I’m reading “The Not Quite States of America” – a book on the history of the American territories and really liking it so far, and it seems like a book you’d like (I think you can still request it on Netgalley).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That sounds like a really great book! But that’s funny, because I’m kind of the opposite: I tend to not request nonfiction from Netgalley, because as much as I like reading them, I don’t love reviewing them most of the time. I also like being able to take my time, or put them down if I’m not enjoying them. But I will definitely look into that one. Thanks!

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  2. It’s one of my goals to read more non-fiction this year, for all the reasons you mentioned above. I actually enjoy learning about all of these different subjects. It’s impossible to have a deep knowledge of every subject/person/etc. I’m interested in, but I can pick up non-fiction reads and learn a bit about it all.

    This year, I’ve already read Postcapitalism (which taught me a lot about capitalism and how it can’t survive in our new society of information and free things) and I’m almost done with The Romanov Sisters! I’m learning so much not only about the girls, but about the Romanov family at the end of their reign, and Russia in general.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely relate! Sometimes I hate that I’m so interested in so many different topics because I don’t have time to read everything. But, like you said, I enjoy learning as much as I can about many different things.

      I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying The Romanov Sisters – I’ve actually had a copy on my shelf for a year or two but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I will definitely read it eventually, though! And Postcapitalism sounds fascinating. Another topic added to my huge TBR. Thanks!

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  3. Last year was when I really got into non-fiction as well. I think it’s great for breaking up the pace in between fiction reads because of the shift in tone and feel. Plus, like you say, it’s a great way to learn and gain new perspectives whilst still indulging in a favourite pastime.

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    1. I alternate between fiction and nonfiction, too, because it is a very different reading experience. I usually tend to have (at least) one book of each going at any given time so I can switch back and forth. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just like you, I am a mood reader, so fitting in non-fiction doesn’t always work. I don’t do too well with historical texts, but I am quite the fan of autobiographies, especially if they are about topics I know a little bit about. Some of my favourites are Quiet, We Should All be Feminists and Why Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? So, showbiz, personal stories and introverts/extroverts are definitely topics I can handle. I just find that the more abstract the idea of the topic is in my head, the more difficult it is for me to read a non-fiction book about it, especially when the voice doesn’t fit for me. Does that make sense?

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    1. It makes total sense! It definitely takes me longer to read books like that, but I do enjoy them. I love We Should All Be Feminists, too. And I haven’t finished Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, but I did really enjoy Why Me? (Mindy Kaling’s second book), so if highly recommend that if you haven’t already read it!

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      1. Why Me? IS SO ON MY TBR! I just haven’t bought a copy yet, but Mindy’s voice is great, so I definitely want to read it at some point. I am about to start Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody soon though, so that will keep me occupied.

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  5. I haven’t read much non-fiction in my life, but I have always been curious about it. I have always been curious about what I could learn from them differently from a fiction novel. What new things could I find out through another’s eyes? I hope to have that kind of experience soon.

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    1. There are many different ways to approach nonfiction. I think you should start with a topic you’re interested in, and go from there. Things like celebrity memoirs or true crime books tend to be faster, more exciting reads, so that’s a great place to start, too. Good luck! Let me know if you want any specific recommendations!

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      1. A big topic I’m really interested in reading non-fiction pieces about is feminism as well as people’s personal experience with racism an disabilities. If you have any recommendations for any of those topics I would really appreciate it!

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        1. I want to read more about those topics as well. I would highly recommend Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road – great feminist look at life and politics – and The Reason I Jump, which was written by a boy with autism about his experience and how he wants to be treated. It is really eye-opening!

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    1. I completely agree! That is such a great book! And I’ve found this is a really easy goal to meet and keep track of. I’ve been trying to read more, though. One book a month is my minimum, and it’s working out really well. Best of luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve recently started reading some biographies and I’ve really enjoyed them. I agree when you say you learn a lot from nonfiction books, I do too and I love it. I feel like biographies are the best of both worlds. They are nonfiction and you learn a lot, but they are also told like a story. I’m planning on reading When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi soon.

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    1. I absolutely love that book! I think you’ll really enjoy it. I recently read a biography of Queen Victoria by Kate Williams and it was so fun because it was really gossipy – almost like a tabloid of the royal family. I learned a lot, but it was a very entertaining read.

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  7. I love reading nonfiction! I don’t read all that much of it, as the books tend to take me a long time to get through, but I really enjoy it. I recently finished Just Mercy which is written by a lawyer who helps those on death row and it was a fascinating, disturbing look at the US prison system. It was so illuminating, and I highly recommend the book!

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  8. I’ve always been a fan of a true story. I read about Manson as well– a book my mother had on her shelf along with the story of a girl who became addicted to the late 70’s punk scene and died from drugs. That’s the kind of think I’ve always read and ended up writing myself.

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  9. I agree. We have a subject “Creative Nonfiction”, I viewed this subject boring at first because I think that there’s no sense of entertainment on it. But time goes by, I found out that Nonfiction give some benefits to yourself. Firstly, you will know the reality and history of certain person, event, things, etc. Secondly, you can also make your own. A Diary can be an example, writing the events happened on each day of your life. One good thing of this subject(Creative Nonfiction) is it teaches how to make Nonfiction in a creative manner and it helps us a lot. Making realistic ideas in a unique way.

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  10. What a wonderful post, I feel the same on the topic of non-fiction. I first thought that it was quite boring to read about all these things. But actually, it can be a lot of fun. I also found myself worrying how to keep learning. Books are the answer, who would have known 😀
    It’s funny- I’ve also read Eating Animals and have become a vegan 😉 I will check out some of the books you mentioned, thanks for the suggestions! (Gloria Steinem has been on my to-read list for ages) Non-fiction transformed my life not only through self-help books but also made me start writing a non-fiction book about climate change myself.
    Do you have any topics you still avoid reading about? Which ones do you like most? How do you pick the topics you want to learn more about? I mean, how do you navigate the huge genre that is non-fiction? 😉

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and happy reading! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I really enjoyed My Life on the Road – I’d definitely recommend that one! I’m not sure I’d say there are any topics I avoid. I generally don’t read parenting books or things like that because I don’t have kids. But in general, I’m curious about everything. I definitely want to learn more about politics and feminism at the moment. Mostly, I just pick up things that catch my interest. I just finished Hidden Figures. And lately, I’ve been reading a ton of memoirs. Because nonfiction can be dry, I try to pick things I’m really in the mood for, but that could be almost anything. It’s so awesome that you’re writing a book on climate change! That’s definitely something I want to read more about. I actually think my very first adult nonfiction book was An Inconvenient Truth, and I’ve been interested in the subject ever since. (P. S. Glad to see someone else who was just as impacted as I was by Eating Animals! I keep trying to convince everyone I know to read it.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Then I will have a look at that one.
        It’s so great that you are curious about everything. I read “Big Magic” by Liz Gilbert once and she said that there are two types of creative people – those who are led by their passion and those who follow their curiosity. I have always been more of the curiosity kind. What would you describe yourself as?
        Politics and Feminism seem like such important topics to me, especially these days. If you find anything great, please tell me 😉
        Thank you so much! I am trying my best with this book. (An Inconvenient Truth is some kind of required read for our study programme :D)
        Yay, Eating Animals! I also try to get my friends to read it haha

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        1. I’m definitely a curiosity type of person. One of my favorite sources for feminist books is Emma Watson’s book club, Our Shared Shelf. I haven’t read all of the books, but I have really enjoyed every one I have read (including My Life on the Road). I also (semi-)recently read and loved A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy. Definitely still relevant, and I actually learned a lot about immigration in the context of government. We Should All Be Feminists is a great place to start if you haven’t read it already!

          Do you have any recommendations for books on climate change/the environment? I want to add some more to my reading list.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’ve also read some of them, it’s a great collection she has put together.
            Great, I will check that out. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie is such a great writer 🙂

            I mainly read scientific articles for book research but someone told me that Naomi Klein’s “This changes everything” is great. I will read that one next. Oh and “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. You will adore trees after reading it 😉

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