Sunday, August 21, 2011

BAND Discussion: How did you get into non-fiction?

This week I decided to participate in the August BAND discussion. BAND - Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees - is a group organized to promote the joy of reading nonfiction. The members of the group are “advocates for nonfiction as a non-chore.” Each month, a member of BAND hosts a discussion on their blog relating to nonfiction. This month’s host for the discussion is Amy of Amy Reads.

Amy asks:
How did you get into reading nonfiction? Do you remember your first nonfiction book or subject? If so, do you still read those subjects?

I mentioned in a previous post I was an avid reader as a teenager. Living on a farm in rural Wisconsin my reading was more about trying to figure out life (or the life I thought I was missing out on) than anything else. The books I read were mostly fiction with no particular preference for any one genre. In college I gave up recreational reading for textbooks and did not return to reading for pleasure until after I had passed the CPA exam over a decade later.

It had been so long since I had read an actual novel I initially had a hard time determining what I wanted to read. I started with the classics and fiction recommended in the newspaper or featured on best-seller lists. I discovered Oprah's book club and began making my way through her selections. With each book I became increasingly disenchanted with fiction. If you have ever read any of Oprah’s book club picks you may understand my disenchantment – the majority of them are down right depressing. The book that pushed me over the top and into the forays of nonfiction was Tawni O’Dell’s Back Roads - it seemed as though O’Dell had taken every horrible thing that could possibly happen to a person and crammed it into one book. After Back Roads, I was done with Oprah’s book club and began looking for a different reading experience.

Shortly thereafter, I took Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail with me on a camping trip. This book was one of the funniest books I had ever read and a perfect pick for a vacation in the woods. I enjoyed learning about the Appalachian Trail and jotted the following note from the book in my journal:

200 year old pecan trees were commonly chopped down just to make it easier to harvest the nuts on the topmost branches.

When I returned, I decided to read more nonfiction and found this list* of Nonfiction That Reads Like Fiction at the library. I read Steven Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, Tony Horwitz’s Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before and Caroline Alexander's The Bounty : The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Each of these books led to more note taking and a realization that I enjoyed reading to learn and discover the truth instead of the propaganda.

From there I discovered book blogs most notably Citizen Reader reading many of the books she featured. Some of my favorites include Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, Paul Clemens's Made in Detroit, and Richard Longworth's Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism.

Currently I read nonfiction almost exclusively. I enjoy almost anything nonfiction, but prefer memoirs, biographies, history, business and economics books; basically any book that teaches me something new about what is going on in the world.

*This is the on-line version of the original list. Steven Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage is no longer featured.


  1. Gosh! I'm such a fiction junkie that I don't know when I last read non-fiction. About ten years ago a book about longitude, I think. and it was good. I use fiction to escape, and am not the least bit picky about it - well, as long as it's suspense or mystery.

    Some day I will tackle non-fiction, just not today!

  2. Very interesting journey! Thanks for sharing. The depressing aspect of fiction is a big reason I read so much nonfiction as well. Great that a blog helped you in your love for nonfiction too!

  3. I keep seeing people mention Bill Bryson. I like nonfiction and travel, so I have no idea why I haven't picked up one of his books yet. I certainly need to do so!

  4. I am a fiction lover, but by way of non-fiction, I am addicted to 'science/medicine made accessible to the layman' books such as anything by Steven Jay Gould, Atul Gawande, etc. I loved Simon Singh's "Big Bang" and "Fermat's Last Theorem" which is an very readable history of mathmatics. I do have to say that "Wof Hall" nearly turned me off English history entirely. Not surprisingly, I love to read and write science fiction.

  5. I do hate super depressing fiction. It just makes me so down after awhile. I bet Bill Bryson would be amazing for a camping trip. Thanks for sharing your nonfiction story!

  6. I am a lover of both Bill Bryson and Stephen Ambrose. A Short History of Nearly Everything is one of my top 5 all-time favorite books.

  7. Webb,
    Now I know who to ask when I’m looking for fiction recommendations. I usually take a couple of fiction books with me when I go on vacation.

    Searching for what to read next was why I started paying attention to blogs in the first place. I have to mention another great resource I use for discovering nonfiction titles is Kim’s blog Sophisticated Dorkiness.

    If you do read Bryson let me know what you think. I have read quite a few of his books some I love others were just okay.

    I love your book recommendations. I have never been a big science fiction reader. I bet you could recommend a couple of good selections to get me started.

    I am really enjoying BAND. Thanks for organizing it. I am finally meeting other nonfiction book bloggers.

    I haven’t read “A Short History of Nearly Everything” I think it is time.

  8. I haven't read a nonfiction book in a long time. I do enjoy getting lost in a story, but sometimes the authors go a bit over the top for sure. I need to check out some nonfiction books soon!
    Stopping by from LBS, it's nice to meet you!

  9. I love to add non-fiction into my reading mix. I'm visiting from the Lady Blogger Tea Party. Have a great weekend!

  10. Although I love both fiction and nonfiction, I would have to say that a bigger spot in my heart is reserved for nonfiction. I'll have to take a look at the books you recommend!

  11. Thanks for sharing what turned you into a fan of non-fiction. I am going to check out more of the books you said read like fiction and I had Bill Bryson's book on my TBR already.

    So glad you linked up with Throwback Thursday and hope you link back up again this week!

  12. Thank you for linking up to #ThrowbackThursdayLinkup! I tend to read more nonfiction too. Sometimes I might be reading more than one book at a time which is kind of crazy!

  13. I read more nonfiction than fiction. I can sometimes be reading more than one book at a time! Thanks for linking up to #ThrowbackThursdaylinkup!

  14. I just read and don't think of books as non-fiction or fiction. Anything I choose to read, is because it sounds interesting to me. I have found myself enjoying historical fiction more recently though. It's a good combination.