Top Ten Kinds of Books I'd Give To Readers Who Have Never Read Nonfiction
I know you. You hear the word "nonfiction" and you shut down. You visibly shudder. You loathe it. You know what nonfiction is. You got enough of that in college. Ugh.
Then I found the good stuff. The amazing nonfiction. The nonfiction that reads like fiction.
Let me share some of my favorites with you.
Old travel books read like a list of where-to-go and what-to-do, but that's old travel books. If you haven't read a travel narrative lately, I urge you to try The Roads to Sata (I just finished this one yesterday and it is a must-read) or Lost on Planet China or Dark Star Safari or Shooting the Boh. You can take a trip anywhere in the world for the cost of a paperback.
Oh, there is nothing like a good memoir. It's powerful and amazing and, somehow, it's also true. I have a long list of memoirs I recommend, but if you are new to memoir, I'd send you in the direction of The Glass Castle. Then go on to try Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. And The Last Shot. Maybe The Year of Magical Thinking.
You might call these travel. You might call these memoir. I call them MASO books. People decide their lives need a reboot and off they go to a run-down house in the wilds of Arkansas or an old castle in France. These are magical. Try Still Life With Chickens or Nine Hills to Nambonkaha or The Olive Farm or 36 Views of Mount Fuji.
Anne Lamott. You say you've tried books on religion and they are awful and pedantic, as if they were written by the people who persecuted Christ rather than Christ himself? I say, Try Anne Lamott. She writes out of her own life experiences and she's authentic and quirky and hilarious and sad. Try Anne Lamott. Traveling Mercies. Help, Thanks, Wow. Grace (Eventually). And Francis Chan's Crazy Love is fantastic, too.
Oops. You are halfway down the street. Running. Wait. Give history a chance. There are some amazing history books out there. If you are new to history, or you have a bad history with history, I urge you to try Unbroken. Try Unbroken, just try it, and you will be an instant history convert. Later, you might try Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm and Seabiscuit and The Warmth of Other Suns.
Yes, cookbooks, sometimes, but also food narratives (Yes, that's a genre!) Try old ones like M.F.K. Fisher's An Alphabet for Gourmets or new ones like Jam Today and Candy Freak.
I hate celebrity bios. Abhor them. I was late to the game with biography. (Here's where that came from: When I was in sixth grade, I was crazy about Sound of Music. I had to have a bio of the real Maria from the Scholastic book order. What a disappointment!) Then I found Kathleen Krull. Yes, she writes biographies for children, but who cares? They are fabulous. Start with her Lives of series (I'd suggest Lives of the Artists first) and go on to her bio of Wilma Rudolph and then find her Dr. Seuss and you will not stop. Kathleen Krull can tell the story of a life.
Writing How-to Books.
I'm not talking about textbooks. Trust me here. Put down the latest from Writer's Digest and spend ten bucks on Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott again) or Writing Down the Bones or Letters to a Young Poet. That's all you need.
It is a term that is batted about in the book world, with strong feelings both for and against, but I will encourage you to give it a try, though you shouldn't go into it expecting The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth. Here's my favorite collection of short pieces: The Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction.
I don't even have a name for Maira Kalman books (Draw-and-Write?) but try this kind of book anyway. Maira Kalman draws great pictures and thinks aloud about the world, and she's mesmerizing. Principles of Uncertainty. And the Pursuit of Happiness. There's another coming out in the fall. And let's just hope she's busy drawing and painting and writing right now. In that same vein are Le Road Trip and Relish.
I have other new nonfiction categories like Books-about-Books and Road Trips and Let's-Shake-Up-Education and Odd Pets, but I'll save those for another Tuesday.
I bet you have recommendations for me. I'd love to hear them!
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