Last week I wrote a post about how I love a fictional book (loosely) based on a true story. It just somehow captures my imagination – the idea that the author was truly inspired by something that happened in their real life.
But, ironically, I’m not really a fan of non-fiction, even if it’s a personal story. Just the word memoir sets me off yawning. I don’t know why. For some reason, the idea of non-fiction bores me, even though there are many people in this world who have amazing stories to tell about their lives. This is something that I need to get past, I know. I need to broaden my horizons!
How does my love of fiction based on reality and my dislike of non-fiction memoir-type stories make any sense at all? Well, I should probably just chalk it up to my own crazy brain playing tricks on me, but I do think that there are some major differences.
When someone is telling a completely true story, the author has to take the good with the bad. Let’s face it – real life can’t quite live up to fiction most of the time, no matter how cool someone is. For instance, in the book We Should Hang Out Sometime, the author tells the story of his failed relationships, starting with middle school. It was a fun and humorous book, but it started to feel repetitive. Now, if this were a fictional character, we’d be saying, “Where’s the character growth? Why is it taking him so long to learn his lesson?” But, the fact is, this is a real person, not a fictional character. And in real life we often don’t learn from our mistakes as quickly as we’d like. Even when we know there’s something about ourselves that we’d like to change, we can’t always just decide that and then – presto-chango! – it’s fixed! No, making life changes can be hard and it often takes way longer than we’d like it to – even years. Yet, if our fictional characters make the same mistakes for years, we get a little tired of it. We often don’t want to see real life – we want to experience true transformation in the midst of our 300 pages!
But Josh Sundquist (the author of the aforementioned book) was writing a book about his life – it’s not like he could just change the details to make himself look better or to make the story more exciting or to show more personal growth. That’s what happened. Period. And this is the problem with non-fiction. I don’t want real life!
Still, I know there are some fantastic non-fiction stories out there, and I really do need to broaden my horizons. So, tell me, do you read non-fiction? Have you read any gripping non-fiction stories that I should look into? I know that sometimes fact can be just as interesting (and weird) as fiction!
Noooooooope. I am the opposite of you. If it’s remotely close to a true story, I wont read it.
You mentioned that if we read about that guy in fiction, we would be asking WHERE’S THE CHARACTER GROWTH. I feel like if I were to ask myself that, or criticize anything HE DID, I would feel judgmental. Is that weird?! LOL
However, I did read The Boy Called It and I cried my eyes out
No – that’s true. I did kind of feel bad. I mean, this was the guy’s actual life, so you really can’t complain about what he did or didn’t do without kind of judging, right? Sigh …
Non fiction is not my cup of tea.I read them if the concept is something I am quite passionate about-like astronomy and history-but otherwise,I don’t go for that genre,especially if they are memoirs and biographies.They just don’t work for me.
I feel like I need to give them more of a chance, because just the idea of non-fiction doesn’t really appeal to me. But I doubt I’ll start reading a lot of non-fiction anytime soon.
I’m in the same boat as you. I almost never read nonfiction, and honestly I don’t want to read nonfiction. I by far prefer realistic fiction and sometimes just relatable fiction! This is something I should get over as I’m sure there are plenty of interesting ones, they just aren’t my cup of tea.
Something about the idea of non-fiction just doesn’t appeal to me. Guess I’m not the only one.
I’ll admit, I’m suffering from the same thing you are! I love true-to-life FICTION books, but I’m driven away at the first mention of “non-fiction”. I’m not interested in reading about someone’s life, no matter how fabulous, depressing or inspiring it is. I guess this is why I’ve never picked up We Should Hang Out Sometime or This Star Won’t Go Out, despite all the praise these two books have been getting.
Yeah, I haven’t been able to bring myself to read This Star Won’t Go Out – I’d rather just read TFioS!
I think this is why I love historicals, because we get some facts and some fiction and a whole lot of other as well.
I had to read biographies in school and…yeah, no. No more for me. 😛
I read historical fiction with the kids for homeschooling – I guess I didn’t really think of that. As far as history goes, it’s the most interesting way to learn it!
I completely agree with you on this. I do not read nonfiction very often. For me, no matter how much I love the person, I usually find memoirs dry and boring. I have read a couple of interesting memoirs lately. The first one is If you find this letter by Hannah Brencher. She started a website a couple of years ago where she asked for strangers to request love letters from her! It was so moving and amazing. The website has grown a bit (it’s http://www.moreloveletters.com if you are interested). I found her memoir moving and I wanted to read it again after I was finished. I was even moved to tears. So unusual for a memoir. She is an awesome writer! Also, I recently read an interesting one called The Wild Oats Project. This woman and her husband agreed to have an open marriage for a year and she writes about her experiences. Despite the fact that I did not agree with her decision, I was still engrossed in her story. She does learn some stuff from her experience, but she makes decisions that I thought were crazy. Still interesting though.
I’ll have to check out If You Find This Letter. Maybe that would be the non-fiction book that would work for me!
The last non-fiction memoir I read, and really enjoyed was The Body Tourist Dana Lise Shavin. It is about a woman overcoming anorexia, and she is a counselor. It is not preachy or anything, just brutally honest. I never thought anorexia could look like that. I still think about that story.
The Body Tourist on Goodreads you can read my review for it as well, it should be toward the top since we are friends on GR.
I personally enjoy non-fiction. I am writing non-fiction, so I hope there is hope that it will be well received.
Well, now I really want to know about your book! What’s it about?
The book is her journey out of anorexia, but her honesty really spoke to me. It is not like she just got better after rehab, she struggled almost daily with food, long past being “recovered”. Her issues bled into her housing and her relationships. It was really good!
I’ve never read much nonfiction, but my balance has started to change lately. I’m not sure what to attribute that to! As I think I mentioned in your earlier discussion what really annoys me is when a nonfiction author fills a book with speculation and guesswork — it’s true that when looking at history and biography we often just don’t have all the pieces, but I would prefer an honest statement of that fact to paragraphs spent on guesses about the color of Cleopatra’s hair or whatnot. It just seems like filler to me.
Anyway, to answer your question, I have also read some excellent nonfiction in the past year. In the Kingdom of Ice is a gripping and well-told true story about an ill-fated polar expedition and the extraordinary men who were involved in it. My Life in Middlemarch is an unusual combination of memoir, literary criticism, and biography, centered on George Eliot’s monumental classic. Empty Mansions is a tour through the world of jaw-dropping Gilded Age wealth and a mysterious heiress who chooses to live her last years in a hospital room. You might still find yourself allergic to these, but I really enjoyed them!
Hmmmm … In the Kingdom of Ice sounds interesting. And maybe Empty Mansions too – I’ll have to check those out! Thanks for the suggestions!
Totally with you – I read for a fun escape. I have enough of my own real life thank you heh.
Ah, yes – escapism. We all need a little bit of that, right?
The nonfiction that I do read tends to be art books, history, or science. But I do want to read more of it.
You’ll have to check back on this post at the comments – I’ve gotten some great suggestions! 🙂
I pretty much never read non-fiction and I’ve never been into it. The only time that doesn’t apply is for school, especially with history books, but otherwise I’m a hardcore fiction person 🙂
Yeah, I realized that I do read historical fiction with my kids for history (since I homeschool them). I didn’t think of that when I wrote this post! I definitely prefer that to other forms of learning history (but I still prefer plain fiction!)
I don’t mind non-fiction that much. I don’t read it often, but I can get into it sometimes. I usually don’t read memoirs or autobiographies. However, I did like Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. It was pretty interesting.
I’m more into instructional or informational books. I read and enjoyed Michael Hyatt’s Platform and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit recently.
I have good intentions when it comes to instructional or informational books, but they often end up unread!
Ok, non-fiction is a hard one and this is why I suggest staying away from non-fiction that’s about one persin’s life because, yes, can be very very boring. I don’t know how my father has read so many books about Abraham Lincoln’s life! It can’t be THAT interesting, but here’s the clincher… Non-fiction can be interesting if it’s about a subject YOU find interesting. Subject matter is everything.
So my favorite non-fictions are all, surprise!, Japan related. I have read about a dozen geisha memoirs and they are fantastic! Absolutely enthralling. The insider look into this cloistered life was like reading fiction. I’ve also read non-fiction books about Japanese craftsmen, sword makers, wood carvers, garden design. If it’s Japan, I’ve read it (which is why no one has ever given me a bad review about my fiction writing being wrong about Japan, lol).
What interests you? What are your hobbies or passions? There are non-fiction books for you.
If you need to ease into non-fic, I highly recommend getting a New Yorker subscription. Their non-fiction pieces are well done and can be read in a short time. I once read a whole article about concrete in the New Yorker! Lol. Yes, concrete. I know plenty about concrete now. 😉
I just got my first Writer’s Digest magazine in the mail and the whole thing was about non-fiction. I just had to laugh! I could definitely tell that you’d done your research on Japan!!
I’m exactly like you when it comes to fiction based on real life stories vs. non-fiction. I think the issue for me is that non-fiction is usually presented in such a dry, clinical way… almost like a laundry list of items that occurred that the author is checking off as having told. As a reader, it makes me feel very disconnected from what the author is telling me.
But a true story told under the guise of fiction, that puts me in the action… it puts me into the situation where I can truly see it happening. Plus it plays on my love of fiction. It makes me more personal to me. Does that make sense?
It definitely makes sense – I think that’s exactly how I feel!
I am not a HUGE fan of non-fiction, but I do enjoy a funny memoir from time to time. Or maybe a really sad story, but I don’t know, I haven’t read one of those in a loooong time. 99.9% of the time I am going to stick to fiction. I need the escape!
Well, if you read a great non-fiction book, let me know!
Yeah, I’m not a big fan of non-fiction either.
Something about it just doesn’t excite me. 🙁
I get what you mean but I do really like memoirs. Sometimes you get stories about a certain moment or even short stories about various things in a person’s life, and while they are true, the book tends to read faster. If that makes sense? haha I know I read a memoir called I Had Brain Surgery, What’s Your Excuse? that was quite good all around.
Oooh – just the title of that one makes me want to read it, actually. I’ll have to check it out!
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I enjoy non-fiction and have only recently got into memoir, which I find interesting, but can attest to its repetitiveness. However, much of the memoir I read is formatted so that it’s broken into ‘short stories’ and I think that lends itself even more to repetition because the continuity is a little less fluid. That said, I flew through Bond Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks…However, this is partly, I’m sure, because I was relating to the black experience. I think if you want ‘character development’ in your non-fiction life stories, it may make more sense to look at more…traumatic lives I suppose… People who have lived through crazy things. I also think books by non-Westerners might be interesting despite less personal change because their lives are different enough to hold your interest? The genre of memoir (and certainly of non-fiction) is so vast you’re bound to find a subset that really clicks with you…But I can definitely understand being put off by the trial and error it takes to dig in and find it..
Oh, now that’s actually a really good idea – reading non-fiction from people in non-Western culture. I’ll bet I would be more interested in that!
Non-fiction is one of my favorite genres, but I definitely understand why it’s hard for people to get in to. The key is to explore the topics that most interest you. I love history, I love science, and I love travel, so I have a tendency to read books about those topics. Bonus points if the author can add some humor to the writing to ensure the book doesn’t read like a textbook. Bill Bryson is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. His books are mostly about travel, but he science and history often play a role in his books as well. (Plus, he’s a hoot!)
Yes, non-fiction with humor infused through it is definitely best – I’ll have to check out Bill Bryson.
I love nonfiction! Some of the stories are way weirder than anything you’d see in fiction because if you wrote them in fiction no one would believe you. Devil in the Grove and The Devil in the White City come to mind (It is slightly weird that they both have the Devil in the title but that is probably because they are crime based.) Sorry about my Comment Love using the word “Memoir” too!
What’s that? Oh, sorry, I nodded off for a moment after I saw the word memoir … 🙂
I’ll have to check out those devilish books!
Interesting discussion! I don’t read non-fiction at all any more (like you, even just the word “memoir” puts me completely off), but I did really enjoy Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City a few years ago. It’s about a famous serial killer during the time of the first Chicago’s World Fair. I thought it was fascinating.
I love both fiction and non-fiction. My only requirement is that the plot or premise is riveting.