Look at why you don’t read nonfiction books. And see how you can change your mind.
Here are LOTS of my favorite, 5-star nonfiction books.
Why You Hate Nonfiction
I love a fun novel. Fiction books can pull me deep into a story, wanting to read on and on. They also can be educational and insightful in their own ways.
As a result, many fiction readers avoid nonfiction books. They’ve found what they love in fiction; why read anything else? Plus . . .
(1) They often think nonfiction books are boring.
They fell asleep studying a high school chemistry text and why repeat that? They don’t want to read a scientific summary of dull data or a detailed description of an event that happened centuries ago. They want a story that entertains, not a sermon that lectures.
(2) Nonfiction books also have a reputation for being too long.
Being assigned to read long passages of text for work or school in short periods of time make us restless. Authors can attempt to tell everything they know about a topic, interesting or not, relevant or not. Readers grow tired before the writer does.
(3) A third reason people often dislike nonfiction books is they can present opposing views.
Opinions, philosophies, and theology differ from person and person. We aren’t keen on spending time listening to opposing ones, even a short article shared by a Facebook friend on the other side of the aisle.
So why bother with nonfiction at all?
3 Ways to Try Nonfiction
Here are 3 reasons and ways to give nonfiction another try, even if you prefer fiction.
(1) Explore WHAT types of nonfiction books to read.
Boring textbooks are only one style of nonfiction books. If you haven’t read a nonfiction book since school days, experiment with the different styles of new books available. Modern marketing and ease of publication have steered many older and new authors to write in more engaging styles, use more relevant illustrations, and speak in everyday language instead of only ivory tower prose. See Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer as an example. It’s a wonderfully delightful book on, of all things, grammar.
Also, many nonfiction books are told with a strong narrative thread. They are plot-driven and present their facts in story form. If you prefer novels, find a nonfiction book that reads like one. Barbara Demick’s book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, is a fascinating story that exposes you to another culture but through a strong narrative voice. Or try The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton about his death sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.
Another advantage of nonfiction books is they are often compiled by a variety of authors in one edition. Try In Search of Wisdom: A Monk, a Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most by Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André, and Alexandre Jollien. You will enjoy hearing different voices in conversation around a single topic.
Or read a book by one author but on a variety of topics. Try Bob Goff’s book Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People. It is a new story in every chapter about Goff’s life experiences, and is sure to entertain and inspire you to love better.
And if you actually are into charts and graphs? Nonfiction will offer your a treasure trove of options to feed your information addiction. Try Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. It contains 75 graphs, but it is fascinating information. (It’s also Bill Gates’ favorite book.)
(2) Experiment with HOW you read nonfiction books.
With a novel, you start at the beginning and read in a straight line until you get to the end. But with a nonfiction book, you often have options.
You don’t always have to start at the beginning. Pick a favorite chapter and read that one first. Or only that one. Start at the end to get the conclusion, then start over at the beginning.
Slow down for new material; quickly scan or skip material you already know. Try skipping around in James Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (but you will want to read it all eventually, trust me!).
Also experiment with time or page limits. For tough books, commit to only 5 minutes a day. Or 5 pages. You’ll be surprised how good it feels to make daily progress, even if it is slow. You will eventually finish as long as you continue forward. When I was reading Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson, I committed to reading 5 pages a day. And it was so worth it.
(3) Examine WHY you read nonfiction books.
While your purposes for reading nonfiction may overlap with fiction, there are also distinctions. With nonfiction, you’re more likely to be searching for facts, for truth, for knowledge that can help you going forward (even if it’s about events already past). Try Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.
But nonfiction can be beneficial in the spiritual dimension as well. By exposing you to more knowledge—even if it’s knowledge you’re having to doublecheck—you are also exposed to seeing another side of God that you may not have seen before. Try Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. Or Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. You don’t have to agree with everything to still learn something.
Whether it’s in a memoir or a book about space or theology itself, look for the beauty and goodness of God, inviting you into wonder, awe, and worship of his vast power and presence in our world, such as in Paul W. Brand’s The Gift of Pain: Why We Hurt & What We Can Do About It (previously titled The Gift Nobody Wants, the title I prefer).
On the flip side, also stay aware of God’s invitation in books to use YOU to make a difference in places that need change and light. Try Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Or I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai.
While you can’t trust any nonfiction to be 100% accurate, it can still expose you to different perspectives to consider and test. Let nonfiction stretch you into questioning previously-held beliefs—whether about science or religion or history—so you can refine how you see yourself, other people, and God through a more precise and possibly more compassionate lens. Try The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Or I Think You’re Wrong (but I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations by Beth A. Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland.
From the Head to the Heart
Maybe you still won’t fall in love with nonfiction like I have.
But by adding a few nonfiction books on your nightstand (and keep reading your novels, too), you might see nonfiction is not as bad as you think.
Not only will you learn new facts, new truths, and new people, but you also may learn more about yourself as well.
Fiction may touch the heart head-on, but nonfiction can reach your heart, too. It just takes a different path: through your head.
Don’t miss the touch, however it reaches you.
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Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? What’s a favorite nonfiction book you can recommend? Please share in the comments.
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