3 Reasons You Don’t Read Nonfiction and Why You Should Anyway

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.

3 Reasons You Don't Read Nonfiction

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.

* * *

Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? What’s a favorite nonfiction book you can recommend? Please share in the comments.

Read more posts from Nonfiction November:

sharing with Leann (Nonfiction November)

59 thoughts on “3 Reasons You Don’t Read Nonfiction and Why You Should Anyway

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’m the same as you, Joanne. My natural bend is towards nonfiction, so I have to be intentional about occasionally reading a good novel amidst the nonfiction books because I do love fiction too. It’s just easy to let them slip through the crack when time is short. 🙂

  1. blankLinda Stoll

    What a comprehensive, thoughtful post, Lisa. In recent years, I’ve been pulled toward more non-fiction, especially biography. To immerse myself in the lives of people I’ve heard of is relaxing and rewarding.

    I’m glad you wrote this post because as the year comes to a close it makes me reflect on the books I’ve read this year. And I’m guessing there’s been more of this genre than fiction.

    I’ll be sharing your fine reflection, friend …

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’ve definitely read more nonfiction this year as well, Linda. But I have read a few interesting novels don’t, so I’m not discounting those. 🙂 But nonfiction has my heart. Yes, immersing ourselves in the someone else’s life can be so interesting and can change our own life sometimes as well!

  2. blankMichele Morin

    GREAT post!
    I used to read almost exclusively fiction–and biography.
    Then, a few years ago I realized that I had a very spotty understanding of God and the Bible, so challenged myself to read more theology. Somewhere in there I started blogging, reviewing books, and now I rarely read fiction. (But it’s still a great love!)

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      And we all are SO grateful that you do read so many nonfiction books and review them. You’ve been such a blessing to have as a resource for interesting and helpful book reviews, Michele!

  3. blankMartha J Orlando

    Congrats, Lisa! You’ve convinced this lover of fiction to spread my wings a bit more. As I read this post, I reflected on the books I’ve read over the last several years, and was surprised to note that some I actually remembered/enjoyed were the few non-fiction selections that fell into my lap – mostly dealing with God and the Bible. I will begin to look for more, my friend, guaranteed.
    Blessings!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Well, I’m glad to hear that I’m winning you over to delve into more nonfiction, Martha. lol. I’ve read a lot of Christian books through the years too and they’ve been so encouraging. I don’t always agree with everything in them, but that’s okay, too. I need to be challenged to think things through. 🙂

  4. blankLesley

    I like both fiction and non-fiction – which I read more of tends to change from time to time. A couple of months ago I realised I had mainly been reading non-fiction so I made an effort to mix it up a bit and discovered some good fiction reads. I think I especially enjoy biography and memoir because they combine stories with people’s opinions and reflections.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I think biography and memoir are the perfect crossover for fans of both fiction and nonfiction. I recently listened to Bruce Springsteen’s memoir and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it! It reminded me that I need to pick up more memoir; I tend to be low on that genre.

  5. blankBarbara Harper

    I gravitate more towards fiction: it draws me in a way nonfiction doesn’t. But I have benefited greatly from nonfiction as well. I still like to read from page 1 to the end, because I feel like the author builds bit by bit as he goes on. But that’s not true in every case: some books can be easily skipped around in.

    My biggest concern is trying to retain what I read, rather than just getting through the book. Some nonfiction books I can only take 3 or so pages at a time. But I eventually get through them. With others, I can read bigger chunks.

    One of my favorite workshops at a writer’s conference was on using fiction techniques in a non-fiction book. A lot of people don’t want to just read facts, so employing some fiction techniques helps draw readers in.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      There is definitely great value in reading fiction as well. I’ve learned as much from some novels as I have from some nonfiction books. And I’m like you: I still typically read even nonfiction from the intro to the footnotes in sequential order. 🙂 My personality rarely allows me to jump around, but I know a lot of people prefer that option. My youngest daughter even does that with fiction occasionally, reading the end then going back to the beginning. I could never do that. lol.

      I love hearing that the writer’s conference taught using fiction techniques in nonfiction books. As a nonfiction reader, I welcome that.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Julie. This post ended up being longer than I’d originally intended, but there have been so many great books I’ve loved through the years that I wanted to include quite a few. 🙂

  6. blankLynn D. Morrissey

    Interesting post, Lisa, and admittedly, I’m surprised people don’t love nonfiction. In fact, I read so much of it, I’m thinking I need to read more fiction! After all, it is a powerful way to tell truth through story. Today I pulled out my slim volume of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. There is much truth in this tiny novella, and, even though it was written in the 1800s. But my mainstay is nonfiction, and likely always will be.
    thanks for sharing.
    Lynn

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I know, Lynn: for those of us who love nonfiction, it’s hard to understand why everyone doesn’t feel the same. 🙂 I went through a period where I forgot about fiction, but once I got back into the groove, I remembered that fiction was where I got started with reading and I do love it as well. But like you, I’ve got to have lots of nonfiction as my main reads! I throw in a novel to keep things interesting.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’m excited to be meeting so many like you who love nonfiction as much as I do! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Melissa. And feel free to leave me recommendations of your favorite nonfiction books.

  7. blankLiz Dexter

    Oh, this is great – I mean, you’re preaching to the choir in some respects but I will remember your post if I’m trying to convince someone to read non-fiction. The most common responses I get are that they’re boring and somehow “hard” but I love to escape into nature or a different world, or see how life could be different, or whatever, with a non-fiction book.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Glad to hear about a book I’ve not read. Thanks for sharing about Relentless, Rebecca! I like to keep a fiction book going with my nonfiction too. It’s a nice balance for when I’m in the mood for more of a story.

  8. blankLaurie

    After a season of reading mostly fiction, all of the books on my nightstand are now in the non-fiction category. Right now, I am just finishing “Unlearning God”. Even though I don’t always agree with the author, there are so many passages I have marked up, so many pages where I have turned down the corners, and so many times this excellent book has made me think, I am very glad I picked it up.

    One sentence you wrote, though, that I don’t understand: “They fell asleep studying a high school chemistry text”. How in the world could THAT happen? 😉 (I was a chemistry teacher for over 30 years.)

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Oops, didn’t mean to offend the chemistry lovers out there. haha. I’m sure you were a better teacher than my chemistry teacher; she lacked the capacity to teach it or be excited about it, so we were basically on our own. 😉 I did enjoy chemistry a lot more when I was teaching it to my own daughters (but maybe that didn’t? lol)

      You sound like me with a lot of my books. I often disagree with things, but there are still things that make me think, or things that I DO agree with, that make a book worth reading. I’ll have to look into Unlearning God. Thanks, Laurie.

  9. blankAmmie

    I LOVE reading non-fiction…always have. I am a history nerd, so certain historical topics I especially gravitate to…Civil War, Revolutionary War, Native American and African American history. I also read a lot of biographies and non-fiction Christian/religious books. I enjoy learning which is the main reason I like reading these books. And it does open us to other perspectives, the why’s behind people, people groups, cultures, etc. and gives an appreciation I think for others.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I wonder if you’re into the Enneagram also, Ammie? Because a lot of your reading choices sound like me (I identify with type Five); I love to learn too. It’s so interesting to me to learn about things that I’d have no way of knowing about if not through reading.

  10. blankLois Flowers

    I appreciate how you encourage us to be thoughtful readers, Lisa … not just wholeheartedly absorbing and accepting everything we read but evaluating it to see if it lines up with what we believe, while at the same time reading for understanding of how others think. I read lighthearted fiction on the treadmill because, well, I need something to keep me going. And nonfiction elsewhere … one title I’m reading right now is “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If your Life Depended on It” by Chris Voss. I can’t remember where I first read about this book, but I’m really enjoying it.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yay! I loved that book, Lois! Never Split the Difference was NOT a book that I thought I would enjoy just by the title (when am I negotiating as if my life depended on it? ha). But after hearing an interview with the author, I knew I had to read the book, and I found it so interesting.

      1. blankLois Flowers

        I wondered if I had read about Never Split the Difference here, Lisa … now I’m sure I did! I just finished the book yesterday and feel like I need to read it again to absorb more of it. Alas, it is due today at the library. 🙂 Guess I’ll need to get on the wait list again.

  11. blankAnita Ojeda

    As a history major, I had to read a lot of non-fiction books in college. I went on a fiction spree for the next twenty or so years ;). I’ve recently rediscovered non-fiction books–but now I listen to them! I confess, I usually listen to them at x1.25 speed (except for the Benjamin Franklin biography, that guy read so slowly I had to bump it up to X1.75!).

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Don’t you love having the speed option, Anita? I listen to all my podcasts on at least on 1.5, and if they’re a slow talker, on 2x. ha. But audiobooks I usually go to 1.25 as well. I’m afraid I’ll miss something otherwise. 🙂

  12. blankPatsy Burnette

    I almost 100% read non-fiction. It’s just my thing. I probably need to read a post titled “3 Reasons You Don’t Read Fiction and Why You Should Anyway.” I’m sure there is value in both. I do have friends though that rarely read non-fiction.

    Pinned.

    Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I go through spurts where I only read nonfiction as well. It’s my true love. To read novels, I have to intentionally pick one out to insert in the middle of my nonfiction books. My favorite thing to do at the library is go to the new nonfiction section and pick out several books at a time. 🙂

  13. blankTheresa Boedeker

    A post after my own heart. As a book lover, I love both. In grad school we had to read about 100 fiction books before graduation. So when I graduated, I started reading more non-fiction. Then went back to fiction for something different. Now I read both, but more non-fiction. I am also listening to more non-fiction audio books. There are so many fascinating ones. Thanks for your list. Wrote down a few to try.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      It’s fun to be able to switch back and forth between fiction and nonfiction. I love both as well, even though I do read more nonfiction because yes, there are so many fascinating subjects that have been explored in nonfiction books! I’m very grateful for the miracle of words and books. 🙂

  14. blankTina

    I really love how you broke this down! I am a nonfiction fan but I think you make a really compelling case. You also reminded me I have to read Dreyer’s English!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Tina, I know you’re a nonfiction fan because you have (a) heard of Dryer’s English, and (b) want to read it. 🙂 It was fascinating! I kept quoting things to my husband as I was reading it. Who would have thought a book on English could be so interesting! lol.

  15. blanknylse

    As a bookie (not someone who facilitates gambling), I love this post. I love it and your recommendations. I’ve read quite a few of the books you listed and will probably read more of your recommendations. I like reading non-fiction that challenges me while introducing a new way of thinking.
    Add a Malcolm Gladwell book to your non-fiction collection.
    Can you see me smiling!!!!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I love being challenged through books as well. And Malcolm Gladwell–I love his writings! I finally got around to Outliers this year, but I’m really excited to read Talking to Strangers as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. Have you read it yet?

  16. blankCathy

    I used to read mostly fiction in my 20’s and 30’s than discovered non-fiction in books like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and I was hooked! I probably read mostly non-fiction now, but still love a good novel.

    I recently finished ‘Just Mercy’ and loved it. So humbling and encouraging to hear about someone like Bryan Stevenson, who is making a difference in this world for good.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Mere Christianity is a favorite of mine, too, Cathy! It’s one I have to read slowly so I can really get it (and even then, I’m sure I’m missing a lot.) Of course I’m also a fan of his Chronicles of Narnia books. 🙂

      I’m excited you just finished Just Mercy! It’s one of my all-time favorite nonfiction books. Bryan Stevenson is an amazing person, yes? I can’t wait for the movie to come out soon. We went to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, AL, awhile back that he had spearheaded. It was VERY sobering; it brought me to tears more than once. So well done but so very sad.

  17. blankTrudy

    Except for the Bible, I think I favor fiction. I do love some nonfiction, but I always have to read them slower to sort out and soak in the truths in it. I’m always amazed by the variety of nonfiction you read, Lisa. Love and blessings to you!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      A lot of people prefer fiction over nonfiction so you’re not alone, Trudy. For awhile I was reading only nonfiction because I forgot how much I loved fiction. But now I’m back to keeping a novel going at all times too. But only one novel at a time. 🙂 I have a friend who says the same as you: she can read novels quickly but has to slow down with nonfiction. I’m the opposite. With fiction, I’m afraid I’ll miss something crucial to the plot if I don’t read it slowly! But with nonfiction, they often repeat or say things you already know anyway so I read quicker. lol.

  18. blankfloyd

    I like nonfiction! I appreciate the tone of personality that comes from writing in the first person. I think that’s why fiction, which is mostly written in the first person these days, has become more popular.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I agree, Floyd. A lot of the modern fiction I read is in the first person, even alternating narrators every other chapter to keep it in the first person from different perspectives.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Just visited your favorites too, Shelley. It’s sometimes difficult to put our finger on exactly why we love nonfiction so much. I do appreciate good anecdotes sprinkled into nonfiction as well, as long as they stay on target. 🙂 I’ve read some nonfiction that I want to send back to an editor to cut out unnecessary stories. ha.

  19. blankLisbeth @ The Content Reader

    I know a lot of people do not read any nonfiction. They should read your post and get inspired. So many good ideas, thoughts and references how and why to read a nonfiction book. Very inspiring!
    I love nonfiction books and read them regularly. I think that nonfiction books these days are better written than before. Meaning, they stray away from the pure academic way of writing and making into popular writing. It is a great development, and the authors still stay with the facts.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I totally agree with you, Lisbeth. I feel like today’s nonfiction writers have released the urge to write in a high academic style. I just finished a book written that way, and it was SO difficult to get through (and also unncessary). I’m sure there is still a time and place for that style, but I’m grateful for the proliferation of “everyday” style of writing in nonfiction.

  20. blankJean Wise

    I am like some of the other comments and yours that I lean more towards nonfiction and would benefit from escaping into a great story sometimes. Good stories can be found in both.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Exactly. I do love a novel for escapism and for letting me understand more about other cultures (in America or elsewhere). Advantages in both genres and a good story is always welcome in either!

  21. blankTiffany Montgomery

    I love to ready but you got me, non-fiction is not my favorite. I can devour a historical fiction piece in days while a biography takes me months if I ever finish it. I’ll try again though, you’ve inspired me. It was great finding this in the Grace & Truth Linkup!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Depending on the topic, there are times I actually prefer fiction too so I understand. Before we went to South Dakota a few months ago for the first time, I got a novel written about the building of Mount Rushmore because I knew it would be a far more interesting way to learn about its history than a straight history book. 🙂 It contained so many actual facts (I double-checked a lot of things).

  22. blankBetty Jo

    Very informative post, Lisa. I have to admit, other than scripture, I lean more towards fiction. But, just reading some of the titles you’ve shared has sparked a desire to check some of them out. Thank you! ♥

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Maybe you can find one that interests you, Betty Jo. 🙂 On the flipside, I actually don’t have any fiction in my stack right now; I am missing it. I like to have at least one novel amidst all my nonfiction books. I’ll have to remedy that soon!

  23. blankThomas Clarence

    It’s great that you mentioned that it is possible to learn more about yourself by reading nonfiction books. In my opinion, a great to learn how to improve yourself is by reading about other people and how they have dealt with the things that they have experienced. Learning from others is a good way to ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes that they have made.

Leave a Reply

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