Everybody should read more nonfiction.
Did you cringe when you read that? I wouldn’t blame you. The public school system hasn’t exactly made nonfiction the most attractive thing to read. Most of the nonfiction we read in school isn’t that interesting, and the nonfiction selection never changes. In middle school, I read the same nonfiction books as my brother read two years later, and as my cousin has to read now. But nonfiction isn’t as bad as the public school system has made it out to be. Nonfiction, good nonfiction, is basically a documentary in book form. Here’s why you should make sure to read at least one nonfiction book a year.
You can learn stuff.Name your bizarre interest, and there’s going to be a nonfiction book about it. Interested in rock-climbing disasters? Try “Into Thin Air” or “Buried in the Sky.” Want to know everything there is to know about horse-racing in the 1930s? Check out “Seabiscuit.” More interested in the effect of a particular fish on world history? The descriptively named “Cod” is the book for you. It’s not too hard to find. Google and your local librarian are your friends, and with very little effort, they’ll be able to introduce you to the nonfiction book of your dreams.
Reading nonfiction can show you a side of history you don’t think about too often.For instance, I recently read “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” a nonfiction book about a Hmong girl with epilepsy and the culture clashes between her parents and doctors that impeded her medical care. Going into the book, I and no doubt many other readers believed we’d side exclusively with the doctors, but I finished the book and came to a different conclusion. I learned more about the Hmong culture than I ever would have known otherwise, and got some history of the Vietnam War and information about epilepsy in the process.
Nonfiction books tell stories just like fiction books do, and they can be just as gripping and fascinating as the latest release from George R.R. Martin. A few years ago, I read “Five Days at Memorial,” the story of a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Similarly, I’ve read and reread Randy Shilts’s AIDS epic “And the Band Played On,” and although I know how it’s going to end, I can’t stop myself from being drawn into the story. Some of the most talented authors today are writing nonfiction. It would be a shame to miss out on them.
Read nonfiction, and startle your relatives by quoting statistics on all the drowning deaths ever recorded in Yosemite National Park. Read nonfiction, and discover the connections between every story Stephen King’s ever written. Read nonfiction and learn the real story behind “Memoirs of a Geisha” (which is fiction, by the way). Read nonfiction, and learn about things you never thought of before picking up the book.
Disclaimer: I love fiction. I read it and I write it, and I like to spend my free time exploring the limitlessness of imagination. But there are good stories in the real world, too. Go out and read them.