5 Reasons to Read Nonfiction Books + 5 Favorite Books to Read in 2020

The librarian finally handed over the two books that I had put on hold months ago. I’ve been patiently waiting for both of them. One is nonfiction, White Fragility. The other is fiction, Transcendent Kingdom.

The librarian was especially excited about the novel. She asked me if I’d read the author’s first novel, Homegoing. I hadn’t. She said they both were SO good.

I loved her enthusiasm.

I know many readers who are excited about novels. I’m glad.

I love novels too. I want to read the best of the best.

But my true love? Nonfiction books.

Many don’t understand that. They assume that fiction books are more interesting because they’re not limited to the facts; novels can be about anything, limited only by the author’s imagination.

But as the saying goes, truth is often stranger than fiction.

And nonfiction books have much to offer. Different things. Important things.

5 Reasons to Read Nonfiction

Some studies say that women read more fiction than nonfiction (reverse for men), but I read more nonfiction (although I love both).

Here are 5 reasons I enjoy reading nonfiction books. And 5 books I read this year that I can recommend under each reason.

1. LEARN ABOUT THE PAST TO UNDERSTAND THE PRESENT

This year has been particularly jarring in the United States for a variety of reasons, including our increased awareness of racial disparities. I’ve been reading many books (and having conversations) about it to better understand it.

But I also wanted to read a history book on racism to get a fuller picture of the past, to better understand what brought us to this point. Books about the past can enlighten us about where we are now.

One such history book I recommend highly is:

Stamped from the Beginning
The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

by Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped from the Beginning_sm

It enlightened me on things I didn’t learn in history class because they weren’t taught there. It is a challenging book (both in length and in scope) but exercising your brain is another benefit of nonfiction.

2. BE INSPIRED BY OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES

While we can certainly be inspired by great heroes in novels, there’s something special about a real person’s account of their actual story. (I’m even more inspired by a movie if I know it is based on a true story. You, too?)

Hearing how other people make sense of life helps me survive it better myself.

One book I recommend in this category is by W. Lee Warren, a practicing brain surgeon who treats patients with a fatal type of brain cancer, glioblastoma.

I’ve Seen the End of You
A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know
by W. Lee Warren, MD

I've Seen the End of You_sm

Warren’s stories about his journey as a neurosurgeon and about the lives of his patients inspire me to live better, do better, believe better.

3. LEARN SOMETHING NEWLY DISCOVERED OR NEW TO YOU

Nonfiction books are where many researchers pour out their discoveries. I’ve learned that the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. And the more I am in awe of God who does know all.

You can learn the latest and most current news through nonfiction, as well as learn how to do or improve on things new to you, whether cooking or computer skills or how to build a house.

Five of the more popular nonfiction categories are: food, history, memoir, politics, and self-help. But there is no end to the available categories. You can find a book on anything and everything.

One area I love learning about is how we think and why we do what we do. Here’s a book I recommend in that category.

Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman

thinking-fast-and-slow

Kahneman’s book on the two ways we think is a fascinating read about our brain and our behavior.

4. CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE

We often read fiction books to lighten our mood or transport us to a different place. But nonfiction books can do that, too. They can make us laugh or cry or be amazed. And they do it based on factual information.

One of my favorite daily books I read every morning is this one by Bob Goff.

Live in Grace, Walk in Love
A 365-Day Journey
by Bob Goff

blank

Goff starts each day’s devotional with a Bible verse then shares a personal story to weave a direct application to our own lives. This little book gets my day started on a positive note.

5. EXPAND YOUR PERSPECTIVE

There are no end to the number of books to grow in spirituality and expand your faith and worldview.

These are some of my favorite types of books because they reach down to the deepest parts of my beliefs about God and work their way out through my actions.

A favorite book I read this year in this category is by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor.

Holy Envy
Finding God in the Faith of Others

by Barbara Brown Taylor

Holy Envy_sm

Taylor writes from her own Christian perspective, sharing how she grew in her own faith by learning from believers of all faiths.

Just Keep Reading

After I finish a book, I sometimes know immediately how important it’s been. Other times I don’t realize it long after the fact.

It may not have taught me a particular skill or informed me of previously unknown facts.

But if it challenged my thinking or prompted new growth or encouraged me to love deeper, even if I forgot the actual words I read, it was worth reading it. 

Books can change us.

I hope books have done that for you, too, fiction or nonfiction.

Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep reading.


This is week 1 of #NonficNov. I’ll share here every Monday. Also, learn about the daily Instagram photo challenge here.

More here on:

3 Reasons You Don’t Read Nonfiction (And Why You Should Anyway)

What’s the latest nonfiction book you’ve read? What encourages or discourages you to read nonfiction? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I’m sharing 5 things I love over 5 days this week. Every month I share my list of favorite 5’s.

47 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Read Nonfiction Books + 5 Favorite Books to Read in 2020

  1. blankDeb Nance

    I agree with you completely. I enjoy novels and nonfiction both, but when I finish a nonfiction work, I feel I take away more knowledge from the reading experience. I’ve added a couple of your books to my TBR list for the end of November.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I love that feeling that I’ve learned something new after I finish a book, some piece of information that I can keep with me and incorporate into my life. Thanks for stopping by, Deb!

  2. blankLaurie

    I am with you, Lisa. I love nonfiction books. I always get so many ideas from your book recommendations. The Bob Goff book is going on my Christmas list for sure! 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You can’t go wrong with the Bob Goff book. I actually should order a copy or two to give away as Christmas gifts myself. It’s the kind of book that I think anyone would appreciate!

  3. blankMartha Jane Orlando

    I always say I enjoy fiction over non-fiction, but I’m not sure that’s the case anymore. I recently finished reading “Jesus Revolution” by Greg Laurie, and I absolutely couldn’t put it down! I’m going to look into “Live in Grace, Walk in Love” by Bob Goff; I’m in need of a good devotional book. I’ll probably check out the one by Barbara Brown Taylor, too.
    Thanks for all the recommendations, Lisa!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      If I HAD to choose, I’d pick nonfiction. But I’m glad we don’t have to choose between nonfiction and fiction but can enjoy both! 🙂 I’ve been hearing several people speak highly about Jesus Revolution.

  4. blankBeth Steffaniak

    I love your passion for reading and all that it provides for you and for the rest of us who find gems because of your influence here, Lisa! The book that catches my attention the most here is Thinking, fast and slow. I’m always so fascinated by the research being done on the brain. There are so many ways we can respond better in life and relationships when we know these insights and facts. Pinning!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thinking, Fast and Slow is a fascinating book, Beth. It was another of those books that it took me a LONG time to read, but it was worth it. 🙂 (I guess I was thinking slow as I read it. ha)

  5. blankNicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    I’ll confess that I don’t read much nonfiction. I enjoy the occasional memoir if it reads like a fiction book, but that’s about it. Now, I will say, I’ve read some nonfiction that has enriched me, but I don’t generally enjoy the actual reading process the same way I do with fiction. That’s just me, though.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      It’s interesting that lots of nonfiction writers have begun adapting strategies from fiction authors to make their books appeal more to a broader audience. I definitely enjoy a nonfiction book that is written like a novel. Even though I love the material of nonfiction, stories still pull me in, too, so I understand your love for fiction!

  6. blankLiz Dexter

    I completely agree with you – and except for the most escapist fiction, I tend to read fiction for similar reasons, but I’m definitely on 50:50 fiction and non this year, which makes me happy and fulfilled.

    I have White Fragility TBR but I wanted this month to be about more of a mix than just BLM themed books, I am trying to spread those out a bit to keep the momentum going both for me as a reader and for my own readers on the blog. So I’ve got nature and biography and memoir mixed in there.

    Happy NonFicNov and happy reading!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Keeping an eclectic mix of books is my favorite way to read, too. I’ve been one-theme-heavy the past few months, but I hope to broaden my range again soon. I’m probably 90:10 on nonfiction to fiction though so I don’t quite meet the perfect balance you have going. 🙂

  7. blankLesley

    I love both fiction and non-fiction books for different reasons. Fiction allows me to switch off and get lost in a story, whereas non-fiction helps me learn and understand more. I appreciate real life stories/ memoirs which often provide a bit of both!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I totally get that, Lesley. I love keeping a fiction book going in the midst of nonfiction books because sometimes I need to think about something that ISN’T reality. ha. I currently started Transcendent Kingdom; I know I’ll have to read it fast because I won’t be able to renew it from the library; it’s in too high of demand here.

  8. blankLauren

    Nonfiction is my favorite too, but I virtually always have one fiction book going as well, usually for my bedtime reading. The difference in my preferences is apparent in the fact that I have ONE fiction book going at a time, and always several nonfiction … can’t help myself!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yep. That bedtime book is usually a fiction book for me too, Lauren. And definitely yes to only reading one fiction book at a time among many nonfiction books at a time. You’re my reading twin! 🙂

  9. blankDavid

    Completely agree, although I think my reading speed/confidence suffers if I spend too much time on the heavy stuff. And like your friend in the header photo (who has found a corner to hide in and read L’imposteur du Colisée;), I miss a good story if it’s been too long (and wouldn’t turn my nose up at a good comic or BD).

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      It’s probably more healthy to read from a number of genres anyway. 🙂 If I read two nonfiction books at the same time that are TOO similar, it’s actually harder for me than if they’re very different. And I definitely like mixing heavy books with lighter ones. Too much heaviness at one time makes me not want to read at all.

  10. blankMarielle

    I also love both fiction and nonfiction. I just started a biography about Kiffin Rockwell. It fits in your history idea. Thanks for sharing these. I’m always looking for suggestions, and I added Kendi’s book to my list. I saw your link on the #anythinggoes link up today. Have a great week Lisa!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I had to look up Kiffin Rockwell because the name didn’t ring a bell. 🙂 Lots of things came up when I googled him so I’m guessing the biography you’re reading will be very interesting!

  11. blankLory

    Excellent reasons to read nonfiction. Although I would say I have the same reasons for reading fiction! It just gives my learning a narrative flavor.

    I think in the past I was put off by dry and uninteresting nonfiction books, but thankfully that is no longer the case. There are so many nonfiction books that are not only fascinating and informative but beautifully written. I can’t wait to explore more of these.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, you actually are right about fiction meeting those purposes too, Lory. One thing I’ve learned to appreciate more from fiction the past few years is that it has such power too to work on our perspectives and teach us things! I’ve definitely been moved from reading a novel and changed my mind about things. Thanks for sharing.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I always love seeing what you’re reading and what books you favorite, Linda. Looking back at your 2019 list, of the books I read on your list, I’d count them as favorites too! (And I need to add the rest to my tbr list because I’m sure to appreciate them as well.)

  12. blankDonna

    Lisa, I enjoy the occasional novel, but far and away I enjoy non-fiction more! The reasons you cite are spot on; I feel as though I learn and grow more through non-fiction reads, and my “work before play” curse of a mindset keeps me from novels most of the time.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Oh, I have that same curse, Donna. ha. I feel like reading novels is a more frivolous use of my time but I need to let go of that curse and just enjoy reading any kind of book, with no guilt involved. 🙂

  13. blankNancy Ruegg

    I enjoy nonfiction for the reasons you site, Lisa, but also fiction, especially if it includes some of the same benefits. For example, well-researched historical fiction can inform me of the background surrounding national/world events of the past. Even thoughtfully-written contemporary fiction can include worthy wisdom, and characters can offer examples to follow (or not!). But, of course, word-for-word, nonfiction will give the reader more bang for her buck, more knowledge/wisdom for her invested time. I’m currently reading (though nearly finished) These Strange Ashes by Elisabeth Elliott (nonfiction) and In This Mountain by Jan Karon (fiction).

  14. blankLois Flowers

    Lisa, you always inspire me to read more, and more deeply! I read fiction for entertainment, but I also prefer nonfiction. In addition the benefits you listed, certain kinds of writing styles draw me in and help to sharpen my own voice, so to speak. I love it when that’s happens! 🙂

  15. blankBeth

    It sounds like you have an excellent library. I normally have 1 fiction and one or maybe 2 nonfiction going at the same time. I read a wide variety. Sometimes it depends what my friends loan me.

  16. blankHeather

    I really enjoyed your reasons for reading nonfiction and your examples. Very creative and informative. I’m halfway through Kendi’s book and I agree that it’s eye-opening and well-written. Think, Fast and Slow was one of my favorites the year I read it. I look forward to checking out more on your list!

  17. blankKatie @ Doing Dewey

    What a great post! I definitely love nonfiction at least as much as nonfiction and sometimes it’s all I’m in the mood for. I agree with all your reasons for reading nonfiction and would also add that it can just be entertaining too 🙂

  18. blankStephanie

    Popping by from the Mommynificent linky and really enjoyed this clever post. I read mostly fiction, but you’ve got me considering some non-fiction in the near future. I recall a big Jeopardy winner said he learned everything from NF picture books — I loved that! Thanks for the post 🙂

  19. blankLiterary Feline

    I fall into the mostly fiction category, but I do like nonfiction as well. Any time I read nonfiction, I wonder why I do not read more of it. I agree with all of your reasons why readers could benefit from reading nonfiction.

    My personal favorite is probably history. Not just because it’s so interesting (which does play a big part), but because I think it’s important to know our history so that we can better understand why things are the way they are–not just the bad, but the good too–and what lessons we can learn as we move forward. I haven’t yet read Stamped from the Beginning, but I would like to. I read Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist this past August and especially enjoyed the historical aspects he included in the book (although all of it was good!).

    I also like to be inspired by my reading and find that in both fiction and nonfiction. I enjoy historical fiction and when I come across a character that existed in real life, I will often do a bit of research to find out more about that person in their real-life. More often than not, I am more impressed with the real person. As you pointed out, sometimes I like to read about someone’s struggle or journey and gain perspective about my own life that maybe I was missing or needed illuminated, whether similar or completely different.

    And I just plain love to learn new things and expand my worldview.

    I hope you have a great weekend!

  20. blankAthira

    Thinking, Fast and Slow is so high up on my reading list. I’m glad to see it on your top 5 NF list. Great reasons to read NF – I agree with all. I mostly read from categories 1, 3, and 4 in your list.

  21. blankApril J Harris

    It’s so true, nonfiction can be every bit as entertaining as a novel – and you can learn so much! Thank you for sharing this post – and these wonderful book recommendations at the Hearth and Soul Link Party, Lisa, and for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party Community. I’m featuring this post at the party this week. Hope to ‘see’ you there! Take care, stay well, and I wish you a wonderful week!

  22. blankLaura @ Library of Clean Reads

    I love this post Lisa! Yes, I agree with you on all 5 counts. My personal bookshelf has a lot on nonfiction, some read and many that I have collected because I’d eventually love to read them. I’ve just added I’ve Seen the End of You to my TBR list. I have Thinking, Fast and Slow on my bookshelf but have yet to read it. And thanks for the suggestion of The Paper Solution in your comment on my blog. I’ll look that one up too.:-)

  23. blankJen at Introverted Reader

    I used to exclusively read fiction but I started making a deliberate effort about ten years ago to incorporate more nonfiction. My reading numbers are still heavily weighted to fiction but I almost always have one or two nonfiction books that appear on my “Top Ten Books of the Year” posts. And they’re usually titles that I checked out on the spur of the moment and about topics that often surprise me. All of your choices sound interesting to me. I’ll look for them at the library.

  24. blankChance Cook

    I agree that truth can be stronger than fiction. Too many people assume that fiction books are better because they can expand your imagination. But nonfiction books can expand your knowledge of the world we live in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *