Nonfiction is hard to read. I get it — whether it be the emotional connection you form with the characters or the escape from reality afforded by a rich plot, fiction just hits different.
Usually, people’s mental image of nonfiction looks like dense academic articles, or weighty reference volumes that go way over your head. Nonfiction might conjure up memories of slogging painfully through class readings, something those of us who’ve struggled in school are all too familiar with.
However, reading nonfiction doesn’t have to feel like work. If you look beyond the cover, you’ll find that, just like fiction, nonfiction has a story to tell. Through reading nonfiction, I was able to uncover so many beautiful stories I wouldn’t usually have sought out in fiction — stories about how food helps us cope in dark times, women’s nuanced relationships with their mothers, the most ergonomic ways to fold my shirts, and sea otters’ comeback after being hunted to near extinction on the Pacific coast.
So, how do we teach ourselves to love nonfiction?
Remove existing mental blocks around the genre
First and foremost, unlearn the idea that nonfiction equates to reading textbooks. Though the genre itself is evidence-based, a book will always be more than just a bland recitation of facts. More often than not, the facts and statistics are connected by a narrative thread or chronological order, with interesting background and anecdotes thrown in.
The difference boils down to this: while textbooks are intended as knowledge aids, nonfiction is meant to be enjoyed.
Don’t read on a deadline
During school breaks, when my free time is at an all-time high, I often find myself devouring a novel a day, flying through the pages and falling headfirst into the plot.
Nonfiction books, however, tend to take me days or even weeks to finish. However accessible the content is, our brains can’t always process all that information the same as fiction, which is intended to flow with ease.
Additionally, don’t forget that nonfiction’s intended audience affects its readability. For instance, a book catering to people with a general audience will take less brainpower to read than one that’s written for professionals in a field.
So, allow yourself to read nonfiction at your own pace — there’s no reading response due at 11:59 p.m.
Start with a topic that interests you
Nonfiction has something for everyone. For any topic you’re passionate about, there’s bound to be a wealth of engrossing nonfiction books about it. If you’re not sure where to start, think about your favorite topics in other forms of media, or seek the answer to a personal dilemma.
Do you enjoy thriller novels and murder mysteries? Look for books on true crime. In addition to taking on the task of presenting the facts of a case, true crime writers work tirelessly to provide accurate context. This entails doing extensive research about the perpetrators’ and victims’ family backgrounds, and contextualizing crimes within the justice system and structures of violence and power.
Trying to kick start some positive change in your life? Find a self-help book or other guide that will give you insight into all sorts of questions you have, from people who’ve walked that road before. You can find all sorts of guides written by professionals in all sorts of fields: personal finance, keto diets, interpersonal relationships, mid-century modern interior design, and more.
Interested in reading about real people’s stories? Memoirs feature a wealth of anecdotes and life experiences, which add an excellent personal touch, as well as a stronger narrative structure than most other nonfiction. Seeing others’ points of view in this way can teach us countless life lessons regarding grief, family, culture, and more. This specific genre holds a special place in my heart — my gateway into nonfiction was reading memoirs by female writers, often Asian American like me, whose stories I could see myself in.
My Nonfiction Recommendations
Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe
Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
A Hard Day’s Write: The Story Behind Every Single Beatles Song by Steve Turner
Return of the Sea Otter by Todd McLeish
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
Educated by Tara Westover
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Eat Joy by Natalie Eve Garrett