Thoughts

Thoughts #12: Neglected Non-Fiction

thoughts_16

There is one thing I’ve noticed a definite lack of in the blogosphere.

Non-fiction.

Personally, I love many genres of non-fiction: autobiographies, memories, history and archaeology books, books on nature, science, linguistics… But it feels that many bloggers don’t have a particular interest, or at least don’t share it. So why is it not a common feature amongst the blogs?

  • It can be quite difficult to review (apparently I’ve reviewed only six non-fiction books since starting the blog), which means that whilst my fellow bloggers may enjoy non-fiction, it’s difficult to feature on the blog.
  • How do you review something that is fact? You can’t criticise so many of the different areas you would look at for a work of fiction. It seriously reduces the amount you can really say about the book.
  • Some people read to escape to other worlds, so non-fiction just doesn’t work for them.
  • I know that when I was at university, I avoided reading any history or archaeology books that were NOT relevant to my course, because I had so much to take in anyway, and didn’t want to end up remembering stuff about Henry VIII when my course was in ancient history! So perhaps, for that same reason, many fellow bloggers who are still studying prefer to avoid non-fiction.

I thought perhaps I’d share some of my favourite non-fiction books, in various categories, and hopefully you can share yours with me!

History & archaeology

Pompeii by Mary Beard The Borgias by Christopher Hibbert Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

This is perhaps, along with travel, one of my more read areas of non-fiction – as my degree was in ancient history and archaeology. I’ll read about almost any period of history up until the twentieth century. Mary Beard is one of my favourite classicists so anything by her is good. I also have a particular interest in the Borgia family (so much scheming!), and Louis XIV after studying him for History A Level when I was 18. I think books like this can often have a reputation for being stuffy, written by scholars who know everything about these ancient worlds and nothing about the present day one. And whilst that may be the case with some books of this type, there are so many wonderfully written and accessible history books. You could start with books that accompany a TV series of the same subject, as they’re often written for people who are learning along with the show.

Travel

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson

If you’ve not yet read anything by either Bill Bryson or Josie Dew, then step on it! The two write very witty travel accounts – Bryson travelling alone by car (normally), and Dew alone by bicycle. They both capture the spirit of the countries they visit, and somehow poke fun at various elements of culture without being offensive in any way. Words cannot describe how excited I was last year when I realised there was a Bill Bryson book I hadn’t read yet – and so I got to experience that first read through joy!

Biography & memoir

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson 35488 How To Be A Woman

When it comes to biographies and memoirs, to me they either have to be witty and perhaps a bit self-deprecating, or of truly fascinating lives. Some memoirs I’ve read just don’t have either – even after the ‘big break through’. Or perhaps it was just how they were written. Once again, Bill Bryson makes the list with his autobiography, as does Caitlin Moran with her hilarious anecdotes of her younger self. And I recently read Johnny Cash’s autobiography and absolutely LOVED it. He is one of my very favourite musicians and had such an interesting life – plus the way it was told was just wonderful. He rambles from tale to tale, nothing is in chronological order – but it works. It’s as if you were sat there, having drinks with him and listening to him talk about his life.

What about you – do you enjoy reading non-fiction? What are your favourite genres of non-fiction? If you don’t enjoy it, tell me why! Why do you think it’s not often featured on book blogs?

47 thoughts on “Thoughts #12: Neglected Non-Fiction”

  1. I think I don’t see a lot of nonfiction reviews online largely because I’m not visiting those kind of sites. I also wonder if reviewers who tend to focus their blogs on a specific area of work just neglect to review reading not related to that area to not “muddy the waters”, so to speak.

    I know I enjoy various kinds of nonfiction, but just don’t read it often given all the other things I want to read.

    I particularly like essay collections. Anne Fadiman’s books At Small, At Large and Ex Libris are among my favorites. I also like both of Sloane Crosley’s collections.

    Bill Bryson is a particular favorite. At Home is one of my favorites, and my wife, daughter and I laughed aloud often while I read Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid to them. We recently got a few audio books of his works to listen to on a trip and did quite a bit of guffawing then too.

    I enjoy history a great deal but don’t often read any books on the subject. Probably the majority of my nonfiction reading is done online and in magazines related to health/running.

    1. That’s a really good point actually – I’ve noticed that since Sci-Fi Month, I’ve actually read more of science fiction and fantasy than anything else, whereas before I read a wider variety. I wonder if that’s because people know me now as a big fan of the genres, so now I’m trying to keep that ‘image’?

      Haha, the perils of being a bibliophile! I quite often like to have a non-fiction book on the go at the same time as a fiction book – for example I’m currently reading The Trojan War by Barry Strauss, although I’m MUCH slower at reading non-fiction.

      Ooh, does he narrate his own audiobooks?

      1. It’s funny, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him speak but I imagine his voice in my head when reading his books, and to me he ‘sounds’ like he’d be a great narrator, purely from his writing style! Which probably makes no sense…

        Have you read his book on Shakespeare?

  2. I don’t read as much non-fiction as I did pre blogging, but I do still read it. that said I don’t review it because it has no spot on my blog. Reviewing it also takes a bit more than quick thoughts; how well researched is it, how readable is it, did it give me answers that I thought it would?

    But believe it, if you search for it you can find debates even more lively than ‘who is Jon Snow’s real parents.’ I just don’t have the chops to get involved in them.

    1. Yes, it’s certainly tricky to review. I guess to know how well researched/plausible it would be, you’d have to read and research into the subject yourself to compare!

  3. I read non-fiction occasionally, but I have a hard time picking it up for some reason. I’ve read about 5 or 6 non-fiction books in the past couple of years, and it seems like I generally read about writing or some brand of self-help or lifestyle, though I read the historical non-fiction story Unbroken last year and it was my favorite read of the year. I think the non-fiction style is so different from what I typically read, and I fear it’s going to be a boring textbook or something, but there are some really great non-fiction reads out there for sure.

    1. I think the ‘boring textbook’ idea is what a lot of people seem to have about history books, which makes me sad because there are some truly wonderful ones out there that are completely accessible to people who know NOTHING about the period or era of history. And travel – so many witty accounts!

      A historical non-fiction story sounds interesting! When was it set?

  4. As I’m in that fase in university where you just have to remember SO MUCH that I haven’t been reading any non-fiction at all lately, though I love books about history, literature, philosophy, science… So many awesome things to learn, but maybe not right now.

    I’m not sure why people don’t review non-fiction, because I think there are still plenty of things to be said about the book. Especially considering readability, whether it holds your attention, the scope (very detailed or broad strokes..). Non-fiction tends to be rather slow-going and dense though, so maybe it’s just not worth it to put three weeks into one non-fiction book if you can read five our six YA books in that time. Interesting post (:

    1. Yes, it’s really difficult when you’re studying because you don’t want to risk bumping something important out of your brain!

      For me, I don’t review many of them unless I really KNOW I can say something about it. I had one history book from Netgalley and it was very hard to review – one because I just didn’t enjoy it (it was of the more stuffy variety) and two, because I just didn’t know where to start!

      I guess your last point depends on whether you’re really focused on reading a certain number of books a week/month/year. I know most of us have a yearly goal, but I think if a non-fiction book was that enjoyable I’d stick with it, even if it took a while. Or do what I’m doing with my current one – read it in small blocks, spread over several months =)

      1. Good points! I don’t think I have ever tried to review non-fiction. It might be an interesting challenge though.

        I think it’s more that bloggers feel like they should review a certain amount of books, rather than having a yearly/monthly goal of books read. Heard quite some stories of bloggers getting anxious if they don’t have at least a review a week, or two reviews a week. Some bloggers are of course more relaxed about it (:

  5. Great post!!

    I LOVE reading about history. I brought a book this weekend while I was in York about Richard III and I’m loving it. I also recently read a book about Mary, Queen of Scots and I did post about it on my blog. But it wasn’t so much a review…more of a commentary on why I like reading about history?

    Honestly, reading history feels like reading fiction half the time, if the historian has a way with words. It’s great for my research purposes too 😛

    I like reading autobiographies of people I’m interested in as well.

    1. Oooh, glad to find another reader of history! =D Is the Richard III book about the recent excavations? I expect lots of new books have come out about him recently. I’ll have to go and take a look at this post you mention =)

      That’s a great way of putting it! One of the books on the Borgias I read was brilliant because it was partially presented like a story. So it was more like reading a historical novel about a rather crafty family 😉

  6. You make a great point about nonfiction books being difficult to review, which is probably why I haven’t reviewed many. I think with those, it’s easier to just talk about the content that was included, the depth of the research/analysis/whatever, the flow of the book, accessibility, etc. I mean, I’m sure those are the kinds of things I’d want to know about a nonfiction book.

    It’s weird because for a long time, I only wanted to read nonfiction — mostly memoirs and health/psych-related stuff. Now I guess I’ve had my fill of that and I want to escape into worlds that aren’t real!

    1. This is true – but for me personally, I’d have no idea how to assess these things! It’s hard to judge the quality of the research if the book itself is your only source of knowledge on that particular subject. I know that for the travel book I reviewed, I just commented on a couple of the author’s adventures and how funny she is =)

      Ooh, really? I bet we all go through phases where one genre is all we need. I notice that when I’ve been playing some epic fantasy video games, I just HAVE to read a big fantasy epic to go alongside it. And then I watch a sci-fi TV show or movie, and suddenly I need some sci-fi. I reckon other external factors might influence these things! =)

      1. I guess what I meant was more like… how thoroughly the book educated you or satisfied your curiosity about the topic, not so much judging how thorough their research was. Does that make more sense? =/

  7. I agree with all those reasons you pointed out for not reviewing non-fiction books – at least they all apply to me (except for the studying point). I enjoy the occasional non-fiction book (mostly biographies of people I like or those Very Short Introduction series which I can only find in the UK!) but I really should try to review them actually since it will probably help my review style to challenge myself to look outside of the usual things I look at in fiction.

    1. I’ve never read any of the Very Short Introduction books! I’ve seen them everywhere but just never gotten round to picking one up.

      I guess reviewing non-fiction would certainly be one way to challenge yourself! I actually have about six or seven history books from Netgalley to read and review, so that will be interesting…

  8. I also enjoy non fiction a ton! I often don’t review it though and actually I have only recently starting reading more if it again because when I first started blogging I got wrapped up in all the YA :S Biographies and Memoirs have to be my favorite, even sometimes if I am not familiar with a particular person but I find there life or story sounds interesting I will read it. Another category I really like is religious? Well, I’m not really sure the category it would fit into but books about Cults, people that have left there religions, etc. I am not particulary religious but to read about others in these situations for some reason is fascinating to me. I definitely don’t review those on the blog because it’s a personal thing for most people and I feel that people would be either uninterested or I would hurt someones feelings so I steer clear of review those ones. I have only recently became interested in history non fiction. I actually was never a history fan but for some reason as of late it’s really inriguing to me. I am going to check that Borgias book out, I hadn’t heard of them at all (eek… I REALLY wasn’t a history student!) but I spotted a show on Netflix about them and googled it and the bit I read seems fascinating! I also read a lot of Yoga books but those would be incredibly difficult to review and somewhat useless unless the book was not great and then I suppose that would serve a purpose 😛 This is a great dicussion topic! I’m so glad to see someone else who is interested in non fic!!
    I actually love seeing non fic reviews on blogs, I wish there were more of them!!!

    1. Yay! And I can completely understand that – when I started blogging I didn’t read lots of YA, but now I read quite a bit. I try to stop it from overtaking the blog though…

      Ah, I know the sorts of books you mean. They’re kind of fascinating in a way because you wonder how people could have ever joined something like that! I have a similar book to read, completely forgotten the name now, about things like Illuminati and the Eleusian Mysteries. But you’re completely right – probably the type of topic to avoid on a blog, in case you accidentally offend someone =/

      If it’s the Borgias with Jeremy Irons – IT’S SO GOOD. If it’s the other version… eh, not so fun. But they were such a fascinating family. Alexandre Dumas also wrote a semi-fictionalised ‘historical account’ of them.

      Thanks Lauren, glad you found the thread as a fellow non-fiction reader! =D

  9. I do like non-fiction books, but I have no idea how to review them on my blog. I can’t review Bossypants by Tina Fey in the same way as some other book. I can’t review books like the Horrible Histories series or the science books I read because they’re facts, presented in a fun way, but still facts.

    As for what I like, I’m itching to read Stephen Colbert’s “I Am America (And So Can You)” 🙂 Basically nonfiction books that are able to convey their subject matter in a funny way are what I really like.

    1. HORRIBLE HISTORIES! That’s my childhood, right there. But I can’t imagine reviewing them, no…

      Haha, what a title – I’ve only seen small clips of Stephen Colbert but he seems hilarious, plus a total Tolkien nerd (did you see his cameo in The Desolation of Smaug??) which is amazing.

      1. My childhood and my… Now… Hood? Because I still love them, haha!

        Oh, that man is HILARIOUS. And he IS a total Tokien nerd, and it shows whenever he has someone from the LotR movies on his show. He knows so much about that world, and Peter Jackson has said that Colbert is probably the biggest Tokien nerd he’s met, or something like that.

        I think there was even one interview where he schooled an actor (I forgot who, OH NOOOO) on how elves were born. And then finished it with “YOU COME INTO *MY* HOUSE, SIR!” because the actor is just laughing his butt off.

      2. I hope you’ve seen the live action Horrible Histories show?? I absolutely love it. I can just sit and listen to the songs on their own, without the show, for aaaages. They’re so clever!

        HAHA! It’s so cool to see someone in media like that, who’s so passionately geeky about one particular (rather amazing) series. I’m so so glad he got his cameo, because it’s pretty well-known how much he knows about Middle-earth. I wonder if he’ll get another in the final film!

  10. I don’t really read that much non-fiction since it’s just always been more fun to read fiction you know? And the thing about escaping, that’s definitely. However, do love non-fiction every now and then. I feel as though I don’t get as engrossed though. I find myself flicking through the pages and just reading the interesting stuff. If non-fiction became more mainstream and more people talked about it, I think it’d definitely be a lot more popular. I’d love too see more of what you read!

    1. I must admit, I sometimes have that habit with non-fiction too. One history book I read recently(ish) just wasn’t grasping me, so I’d flick through, find the interesting bits then move on.

      Maybe I’ll have to do a follow-up post then, or finally review some more of that non-fiction 😉 This is it so far. Thanks Laura!

  11. I love this post! I’ve also found it a bit complicated to review non-fiction, *especially* memoirs. I find memoirs almost impossible to review. It can feel like judging person’s life.

    I started listening Bryson’s audiobook At Home some time ago – he does narrate wonderfully. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s the best book to choose as audiobook if you have problems with concentration (as I have), because it’s so littered with all kinds of facts that sometimes you’d just like to stop and check a fact or think about it.

    1. Yes! Sometimes in memoirs you wonder ‘did that really happen…?’, but it kind of feels mean for calling it out.

      That’s good to hear about his narration! I haven’t read At Home, actually… I wonder if we have a copy =o I’m not a big audiobook listener (or rather, I never listen to them…) so I guess if I get round to it, it’ll be the book itself =)

  12. Wholly coincidental that I put out that last Non-Fic post just after you wrote this.
    I have no qualms about reviewing non-fiction, but if I don’t tie it to SFF somehow, there’s not really a place for it on my blog. (I have been known to change the rules in the past though.)
    Part of me wants to say, “Let’s start something! Brittain and Rinn Read Non-Fic!” Then part of me says, “What? Another project? NO.”

    1. Haha, great minds think alike 😉

      That is very tempting! I have so many event ideas/projects I want to do… definitely something to consider! I may be in touch.

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  14. I read and review a lot of nonfiction, so apparently we need to be reading each other’s posts and swapping favorites! I do have plenty to critique in nonfiction books, because I can critique the author’s argument or research or coverage of a topic. Reading a lot within the category helps one develop a critical eye, but it is a very different game from fiction reviewing.

    I’m working on my PhD, but I still find time to squeeze in nonfiction books as audiobooks. I listen on my daily walk, while brushing my teeth, and on my daily commute. Malcolm Gladwell’s books are perfectly suited for that, as are the Freakonomics books (I recommend all of the above!)

    1. Ooh! We definitely should! I suppose one thing I like to consider in non-fiction is how accessible it is. Is it stuffy or written for people who already know the topic, or can it be read by anyone?

      Are the audiobooks related to your PhD or totally different?

  15. I’m not a HUGE nonfiction reader, but I have found myself liking it more and more as I get older. For 2014, I’ve made the goal of reading 1 nonfiction book each month, and so far I’m really enjoying it. I don’t know if, outside of for school, I’ve ever read a historical nonfiction book, though. That actually sounds kind of interesting. The Borgias one you talked about sounds really good! I’ve always wanted to learn more about them.

    1. That’s a good goal – it’s nice to mix the non-fiction in. I most definitely recommend The Borgias by Christopher Hibbert if you want to learn more about them, as the way he writes is quite easy to read and very accessible, even if you know nothing about them.

  16. I love this topic!! I used to read Non-fiction a lot before I started blogging, but now I don’t feel like I have time to do it. I don’t know if I would review a nonfic on my blog because I just don’t feel like it would fit in… even though it’s MY blog, I think it would be weird for all the YA Contemporary I read to just throw in a random nonfiction book. Anyway when I did read them, my favorite kinds to read were Rock Star Bios. They are always super entertaining and crazy!!

    1. A couple of people have said they feel non-fic won’t fit in on their blog – but if it’s your blog and something you enjoy, then why not? The blog reflects your interests and reading, right? =)

      Haha, with their stories of throwing TVs out of hotel windows! I think the last one I read like that was a book on Led Zeppelin.

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