Currently, my boyfriend is reading a book called Surprises in Theoretical Physics. “Oh! Such surprises!” I tease when I see him reading it. I can be a book snob sometimes, I suppose. But I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be.
For many years, I snubbed the entire genre of non-fiction. For me, relaxing with a book meant meant reading a novel. I didn’t want a boring book that was going to teach me something, for God’s sake. And I got enough of reality as it was. I wanted a pleasurable escape.
What I didn’t realize is that sometimes non-fiction can be just as fun and exciting as a novel. And in recent years I’ve been dipping more and more into the pool of non-fiction books. Turns out, some of them are beautifully written. Some of them are funny or fascinating or heartbreaking. Some of them are real page-turners. Often the stories they tell are just as good as any novel.
So even if you consider yourself a fiction-reader, try out some of these titles. I guarantee, you’ll be entertained. And you might learn something, too.
THE BEST NONFICTION BOOKS FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE FICTION:
Religion/Philosophy: Life After Life by Rick Moody
Rick Moody investigates more than a hundred case studies of people who experienced clinical “death,” and describes the commonalities in their experiences. This book will not only have you pondering death, it will make you see your life in a different light. I found myself thinking about this book for a long time after I read it.
Psychology: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
I suppose Ronson is a journalist, but to me he is first and foremost a storyteller. His fast-paced tale of how he came to interview supposed psychopaths, both those locked up and those in corporate America, is fascinating, frightening, and often hilarious.
Animals: Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees by Roger Fouts
Roger Fouts is a kind-hearted scientist whose life was forever changed when he met a chimp named Washoe and began speaking to her in sign language. Although this book discusses the psychology and linguistics involved in chimp language studies, as well as the politics surrounding primate research, it is really the story of one man, and how his friendships with a family of chimps changed his life. It’s a wonderful book – interesting, intelligent, heart-warming, heart-breaking, and often laugh-out-loud funny.
Memoir: Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Wild is everything a memoir should be. Not only is is beautifully written and excellently crafted, it tells an amazing story. Coming down off a stint with heroin and still reeling from the death of her mother, Cheryl tackles the demanding Pacific Coast Trail, as well as her own demons. By the end of the book, you will feel like Cheryl is an old friend, and your feet will ache in sympathy for the long, hard trail she traveled.
Neurology/Medical: The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks rebelled against the idea that scientific writing must be objective and statistical; in his books he returns to the old-fashioned mode of medical writing: case studies. He writes about patients with neurological problems that cause them to see the world in the most bizarre ways. His case studies are more than just the facts of each case, however; they are thoughtful and intricate stories that often meditate on life and how we see it.
Biography: Heavier Than Heaven by Charles R. Cross
Of course, we are always most interested in the biographies of people who interest us, and I must admit to having a fascination with Kurt Kobain and Courtney Love. Often called the most complete biography of Kurt, Cross was granted exclusive interviews as well as access to Kobain’s private journals and photos. This look into the musician’s troubled life is so intimate it gave me goosebumps.
Sociology/Media: The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner
You know how parents are afraid to let their kids eat Halloween candy because there’s probably some psychopath neighbor poisoning the tootsie rolls and putting razor blades in apples? Yeah, it turns out there are actually no documented cases of any kid ever eating poisoned Halloween candy, or ever receiving an apple with a razor blade. In quick, confident prose, Glassner blasts dozens of other myths that mainstream media has made us fear, and tells us what we should really be afraid of.
Math: A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart
I know, you’re wrinkling your nose at the thought of reading about math, but trust me. This book is about why math education in this country sucks (you can agree with that, right?) and what we can do to make it more beautiful and exciting. It’s straightforward and passionate, and by the end of the book, you’ll be wishing you’d had Lockhart as a teacher all along.
Science/History: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
You wouldn’t think that a book about the Big Bang, evolution, and geology would be a hilarious page-turner, but I couldn’t put this book down. Bryson’s prose is humorous and accessible as he writes the story of the zany characters who have helped us to understand our universe. If you don’t read any other non-fiction, at least read this one. It contains nearly everything you need to know.