The Facts About Non-Fiction

As I was reading Kelly's post, I found myself nodding along in agreement as she described how she loves to learn, to be challenged and to have new experiences. I love all those same things - and it's a huge reason I love reading! I was the nerd who genuinely enjoyed school (although I certainly didn't love every subject). So, it probably comes as no surprise that I really enjoy reading non-fiction. 

Fiction will always hold the first place in my heart, but I like to explore the whole bookstore or library... I rarely limit myself to just one section! When I wrote my post about cultivating a curiosity for stories, I was partly motivated by the fact that categories can be helpful - but they can also be limiting. And I think that happens sometimes with non-fiction.

There's one "fact" about fiction that just so happens to be true with non-fiction, too: it's so enjoyable if you find the right books for you. It's totally okay if non-fiction is just not for you, but I thought I'd highlight how I choose what non-fiction I want to read. My goal is to help you find the non-fiction that's perfect for you!

You could: Read books about things that you're obsessed with.
Listen, I cannot resist anything about Jane Austen or L.M. Montgomery. I won't lie: a huge part of my non-fiction library is dedicated to these two authors. It's probably fitting since Austen and Montgomery are also the authors I own the most books from (hello, gazillion editions!). I'll read anything I can get my hands on about their lives, their books, the world they lived in... 

A great place to start when choosing a non-fiction read is to start with whatever it is that you already love. It's probably a no-brainer, but it's way easier to become invested in a non-fiction book if it's about something that you are naturally interested in. Those books may overlap with the other things I describe below, but it's still the first thing I would consider if you're new to non-fiction - or even just rediscovering it.

You could: Read books about time periods that fascinate you.
I'll admit that I've always been a history nerd. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and I'd watch a costume drama over any other kind of movie. If you really dislike history, this may not be the category for you. But if there is a certain time period that intrigues you? See if there are any books about it that appeal to you.

When I'm looking for books about a certain time period, Goodreads can be really helpful. Using their Listopia section, I can usually find at least one list dedicated to the time period I'm searching for and can then narrow it down to a few books that look promising. From there, I use average ratings and reviews to help me make a (somewhat) informed decision about what book I'll read.

You could: Read books about things that entertain you.
Yes, I'm totally the person who buys books about movies and TV shows. You can laugh at me if you want, but I love getting a behind-the-scenes look at the things I watch onscreen. For you, it might be sports, comedians, music... just to name a few examples. When I find something entertaining, I tend to be curious about the details involved in it. So, what is it that you find entertaining? 

You could: Read books that can teach you a skill you want to learn
I remember when I was in elementary school and had to teach the class how to do something as a presentation/project. Since I was totally obsessed with horses, I taught the class how to clean tack and the steps involved in taking care of a horse before and after riding. Yep, I was that girl. All that to say - learning a new skill can be cool!

For me, one of those skills is cooking. I'm not totally hopeless at it if I try, but I don't often find the energy to really commit to it. Even still, I really love buying and flipping through cookbooks. I also enjoy reading books about writing, so I'll pick up books about the craft so I can hopefully get better at it.

You can't learn about most skills just by reading about them, since there is also typically "doing" involved, but reading can help you take the first step! There are so many skills that you can begin to learn by reading about them, including crafting, gardening or a even a new language.

You could: Read books about your life and/or what you believe.
Although I don't talk about it much on my blog, my faith is so important to me. I frequently read books that encourage me, convict me and make me take another look at my beliefs and my daily choices. Sometimes I choose them based on the topic and other times it's based on the author (typically because I've read something by them before).

For other people, this may be a place where you look into books that will help you examine your eating habits, your personal relationships, your mindset or your habits. There are so many business and self-help books out there with great insight into behavior and what it takes to make changes that matter.

You could: Read books that can inspire you creatively.
I'm not great at decorating, but I love to look at beautiful homes and the rooms inside them. Decorating books inspire me! I don't have the ability to envision a complete look for a room, but I can certainly appreciate the effort and creativity that goes into designing one.

I want my home to be a place that reflects my taste, feels inviting and yet still inspires me. I can't create it on my own, so I love books that can help me see what it takes to get it to that place. It might not be decorating for you, but there are lots of gorgeous books out there that can inspire you creatively!

You could: Read books about people that you that intrigue you.
The majority of my non-fiction reading is devoted to biographies and memoirs. Even when I'm reading a book about a certain time period or topic, I prefer to view it through the lens of a person or group of people. My favorite kind of non-fiction is when it almost reads like fiction - an individual's compelling story.

So, think about the people that inspire or fascinate you. It could be a historical figure, a celebrity, a politician, a public figure... but it helps to start somewhere! Sometimes, reading a non-fiction book about a specific person will introduce me to another person that I want to find out more about.

And don't forget to just explore! Find the stories that intrigue you. Since books about people (whether memoir or biography) can read the most like fiction, don't be afraid to branch out a little bit. Some of my favorite non-fiction reads have been about previously unknown-to-me people with incredible stories to tell.

You could: Read books about places you've been or want to go.
Finally, you can read books that make you feel like the world is at your fingertips. While nothing can compare to visiting the places themselves, it doesn't mean you can't take a little trip from the comfort of your home. I really enjoy paging through travel books or travel memoirs. I'll never be able to explore every little corner of this Earth, but I love to be reminded of just how big it is and how diverse the people are who inhabit it.

Five Tips to Get Started

1. Make an "I want to know more about..." list. Use the prompts above to brainstorm some non-fiction topics you might enjoy. Once you've got an idea of what you might like, you can start trying to actually find it.

2. Explore online first. Personally, I think it can be easier to find non-fiction online. Bookstores rarely have the best non-fiction selection, but only because there is just so much out there. Exploring a store is great if you know you love non-fiction and are open to new experiences, but start out by researching books online if you want a safer bet. You're more likely to find the book that's just right for you!

3. Take note of the rating / reviews. While reading will always be subjective, I find that I pay more attention to the ratings and reviews for non-fiction books. I think it's because what people dislike in non-fiction usually focuses more on stylistic issues (writing style, accuracy, etc.) than subject matter (themes, characters, etc.).

4. Experiment by visiting the library. It's probably a given, but the library is a great way to try something new. There's no big deal if you don't like a book - you'll just return it and try again!

5. If possible, see it in person before you buy it. This is random, but I like trying to see most non-fiction books in person before I buy it. In some cases, it's because I'm considering reading it on my Kindle and want to see if the hard copy includes photo pages or other cool design details. And other times it has more to do with the content. Do I like the decorating style pictured? Do the recipes contain ingredients I actually like? Are there footnotes that I'll need to be able to reference? There have been numerous occasions where I was really glad I got to see the book before I bought it.


  1. I love this post so much! I, too, am obsessed with learning. I am even taking free university classes online on history and philosophy, even though I am done with college officially. I love reading fiction and NF both. This is a great little guide you have here. I just published my Shout-Outs to awesome posts right before I saw this, but I am totally including it for next week!

  2. I LOVE this! I do read quite a bit of nonfiction (mostly on audio) but will have to revisit this if I get stuck in a rut :)

  3. I've been doing this lately and I love it. I think it's just that I want to learn more about the world and although there are so many stories in fictional worlds, there are just as many in real life, so I want to explore them. Now I haven't read many nonfiction because it's really slow, but of the ones I read, my favourite has to be You Are Not So Smart. I learned so much from that book. & now I'm reading The World We Made! Basically, I'm just trying to stick with cool stuff I'm interested in. :)

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex


    I love your "You could: Read books about your life and/or what you believe" section because I have an obsession with Christian non-fiction so I have a TON of those! I don't always like to buy those in ebook format because I like to write in them and underline and such, so they tend to be print copies and in the case of favorites like Donald Miller or a couple others, I have multiple copies of the same book. It's bad. (:

    I also love reading biographies and memoirs, but I'm weird about buying them. I typically buy them used, like if I find them at Goodwill or at a used book store. Not sure why! I feel like OH YAY! WHAT A TREASURE! That's sort of dorky, but it's the truth. I think the only ebook bio/memoir is one by Robert Goolrick who wrote A Reliable Wife and Heading Out To Wonderful, which are books that I love to the moon and back.

  5. Another great post Hannah! Love your suggestions on diving into nonfiction!

  6. Love, love, love this post!! I've recently over the past few years been getting really into nonfiction, and it's surprised me a lot! I always loved school growing up, too, but I never thought of myself as a person who liked nonfiction. It just seems so...boring! It wasn't until I started getting into Goodreads and blogging that I realized — oh, hey — I DO like nonfiction. It's NOT boring. Not all nonfiction books read like textbooks and there really is something out there for everyone.

    I'm so glad that you feel the same way, and that you're trying to encourage others to find good nonfiction books as well! I seriously love your blog so much...I feel like we're very similar in the types of books that we like to read (both of our favorite genres are historical fiction) and there aren't a lot of bloggers who deal with mainly those types of books. Even my blog is more contemporary/paranormal YA-focused than anything else probably, even though I much more gravitate towards historical fiction.

  7. THIS IS JUST AMAZING. I basically want to print it out and take it on my next B&N TRIP!

  8. I love this post. Those pictures make me super jealous of all your amazing books, too by the way :) And thanks for the shout out!!!! I literally got 2 new followers and blog comments yesterday. You're the best :):):):) And do I want to read Lost Girls or will it make me want to leave the country for a year and not look back...let me know...

  9. I so love this post. You write the best discussion posts ever. Cassie mentioned printing it out and bringing to the bookstore - I'm definitely going to do that along with some brainstorming notes! Your book gift giving guide was so helpful and this looks similarly useful. You're the best!!!

  10. Yeah for nonfiction! I was a nonfiction fan long before I got into YA, so I love YOUR love for these books. I tend to read more in the fields of politics, sociology, business, economics, and psychology, but I've had many "mini-obsessions" when I really get into something. For example, I've binged on books about Everest, polygamy, grammar, World War II, camping, running, Disney World, and various low-wage professions. I know, slightly random, but I just love learning about the world!

  11. Hannah, I sincerely think that this post is one of the most amazing things I've read! Every now and again, I do dabble a bit in reading non-fiction, where I focus heavily on memoirs or travel books. It's really interesting to me to see how you divvied up your post here, and what suggestions you have for those of us who would like to read more non-fiction than before. I'm really glad that you came up with this idea, and shared your thoughts with the rest of us! As always, your discussion post is impeccable.

    (P.S. I'm a big fan of history, so I used to read a lot of history books just for fun. Your post reminds me that I really should start reading books like that again!)

  12. I love nonfiction too, for a lot of the reasons you do. It's a wonderful way to learn about people, subjects, or historical events you're interested in and to discover new interests. Great post!

  13. I'm fascinated by how our brains work, and why people act the way they do. I've spent the past few years reading cultural anthropology books, including anything written by Desmond Morris. I'm in the process of re-reading "The Ape That Spoke" by John McCrone, who theorizes how language and words were the catalyst that created the brains we have, along with all of the accumulated knowledge of humanity. I also read Maya Angelou's memoir series after she passed on, as a way to honor her life. One of my sons just became a vegetarian, so I'm scouring cookbooks to find recipes that he will eat, that the whole family will enjoy. And I've read a few of the Mental Floss books for "history lite" knowledge that can be absorbed in small increments. I read "The Dumbest Generation" by Mark Bauerlein, that talks about how today's young people expect everything to be instantly accessible, and they aren't training their brains for the slow absorption of knowledge required in advanced studying of any subject. To wit, they can easily scan numerous websites quickly by reading the headings, but they're not able to sit for long stretches of time and read a textbook. And now I'm reading "If a Lion Could Talk" by Stephen Budiansky, about how animals have their own standards of intelligence that shouldn't be diminished by comparing it to humans'.

    BTW, I'm an English teacher who also writes romance fiction. I tell students that question why I'm reading such "hard" books when I don't have to, that education takes a lifetime, and I'm enjoying it all the more now because I can read whatever I want to. As you said, following your interests is a great way to enhance those interests and enjoy learning.

  14. This is quite helpful. One of my book clubs has been talking about possibly finding a YA nonfiction to read, but most of us didn't know what to recommend.


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