On Becoming a Nonfiction Reader / by Madeleine Riley

Isn't it fascinating how our reading personalities change over time? This time last year, my reading life looked so different than it does now. That change is thanks to multiple factors, but one of the biggest changes I've experienced even since the start of 2018 is my relationship with nonfiction.

Nonfiction is not my preferred genre. I know plenty of readers who loved it (my dad being one of them), but it takes a lot to motivate me to pick up a nonfiction book over a fiction one. This year has been a little bit different in that I started 2018 with a really good nonfiction read. That set the tone for my attitude towards nonfiction this year, and I've made some big strides in my ability to pick up (and thoroughly enjoy) a nonfiction book.

In the past three months, I've actually read more nonfiction than I read in the whole of 2017. See below for a quick look at the ones that I've loved and would recommend for non-nonfiction readers (I still consider myself as straddling that line.)

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

We read Lab Girl for the Diverse Books Club in March as we celebrated women in science. This was a book that I had heard about on What Should I Read Next? and when I spotted it tucked into our little free library, I snagged it and stuck it on my shelf. I only pulled it out when RA lobbied for it during our selection process. Though I recently realized I'm not much of a memoir reader, this one kept my attention. Hope Jahren is obviously brilliant (and in addition to being a scientist, a wonderful writer) and this memoir chronicles her life on the edges of a field dominated mostly by men.

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Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

I had this one on my list after reading (and loving) All the Light We Cannot See. This slim memoir (it clocks in at just over 200 pages) is Doerr's account of life in Rome while writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. What I loved about this one was how average it felt. It's just a simple story about the everyday of living in an unfamiliar place, but Doerr's fabulous talent for prose makes every bit of it sound magical. I can't quite pinpoint why (maybe it's just the setting), but it gave me similar vibes to Eat, Pray, Love.

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Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is my go-to author in self-improvement books. I've read and loved The Happiness Project and The Four Tendencies, but Better than Before may just be my favorite of the bunch. Anne Bogel's Reading People got me hooked on personality measures last year, and Rubin's books are helping me put that self-knowledge into practice this year. Better Than Before is specifically on the topic of habits; I'll be totally honest, though I love routines, I struggle to make exercise a solid part of mine. I'm using some of the tools from this book to frame my thinking around exercise habits and it's been so helpful.

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The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn

This is one that I listened to on audiobook, and I have to credit that format for keeping me interested. (The narrator also read A Man Called Ove and is supremely talented.) For the first 40-50% of this story, Jim Jones didn't seem like that bad of a guy. He was particularly progressive on the subject of civil rights, and I found that really admirable. As the story unfolded and Jones became more powerful, however, I listened with rapt attention to the mangling of the People's Temple from a community church into a cult. Jones' decline into obsessive control and paranoia was fascinating. I knew nothing about the history of People's Temple going into this book (aside from a topical knowledge of the event that made him a household name), and despite my opinion that this book was a little too long, I'd still recommend it.

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Educated by Tara Westover

This was my most recent nonfiction read and I blew through it and promptly handed it to my dad so we can talk it over once he's done. You can read my full review here.

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Unbelievable by Katy Tur

This was the first nonfiction book I read this year and the one that convinced me to give nonfiction a try. You can read my full review here.


Do you have a favorite nonfiction title to recommend?