Delving into non-fiction can be intimidating, especially if the only time you’ve experienced it is at school or university. My first experiences with reading non-fiction for pleasure was exploring every Beatles book I could find at my local library. I flew through these books as easy as any novel once I found a subject I was passionate about. My non-fiction reading stalled at university, where I was snowed under with textbooks and discovering #LoveOzYA. The last year or so I’ve discovered a new love for non-fiction, which has become a normal part of my reading routine.
Again, it was a passion (in this case, feminism) which spurred my new interest in non-fiction. At the same time, I saw some great recommendations for non-fiction texts from Jean at Bookish Thoughts. In fact, it was her video on easy non-fiction reads, and one of our Better Words discussions, which inspired me to compile my own recommendations here.
Non-fiction isn’t all about statistics and dry facts; there’s a reason ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ has become such a clichéd phrase. Take, for example, one of my recent reads about a murder revealed only after a shark, captured and kept in beach swimming baths, vomited up a tattooed arm. Who’d believe that, right? Except it’s a real case from 1930s Sydney. Some of the most fascinating stories I’ve read in the last year have been entirely true.
The key to finding something that’s going to hold your interest, especially if you’re a non-fiction virgin, is looking for creative non-fiction. This can encompass so many styles from journalism to essay, but is defined by the literary techniques used to tell the story. So if you’re more used to reading novels, it shouldn’t feel like a drastically different experience. While the aim is to make it read like fiction, creative non-fiction is still bound by the constraints of truth.
The key to good non-fiction for me is people. I’m usually sucked in by anything which has wonderful characters and nonfiction is no different; it’s just that the characters are real. If anything, it makes them even more interesting to me. After all, telling people’s stories is my favourite part of being a journalist. On this note, reading memoirs of people you find interesting/admire is also great way to dip your toe into the non-fiction world without too much pressure.
Six books to spark your love of non-fiction
Ctrl, Alt, Delete: How I Grew Up Online by Emma Gannon
Most millennials will find this super #relatable, especially if they’re as addicted to social media as I am. Reading this felt like sitting down for a coffee with my best friend, so easy and natural was the writing style. As well as reflecting on her own experiences online, Gannon explores how she leveraged the rise in digital to build her career || Review
Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O’Toole
O’Toole blends memoir and research to delve into a discussion on gender identity and the roles assigned by society. It was particularly interesting for me to question the origins of my own strong ideas of femininity and masculinity, and why they’re so hard to shake even though I know they’re only social conventions. It’s compulsively readable, but with the backing of some strong research || Review
The Woman Who Fooled the World by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano
Very rarely does a book grab my attention so fiercely. I finished this in about two days and whenever I did manage to pull my eyes away, Belle was on my mind. This is a brilliant example of engaging investigative journalism, with a thought-provoking discussion on the wider implications of the rise of wellness bloggers and our belief in social media influencers. Donelly and Toscano were the reporters who uncovered Belle’s cancer lies and the book delves deeply into their process and the way her fake life unraveled.
Girl Logic by Iliza Shlesinger
I am a huge fan of Iliza’s stand-up, and was hanging out for her book which blends memoir and advice with her trademark humour and wry life observations. The emotions and anecdotes are real and I’m sure most women would find them incredibly relatable, from dating to body image and friendship. There are no pithy platitudes from someone who’s ‘made it’. It’s wonderfully fun to read and a great introduction to nonfiction || Review
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
If you haven’t heard about the Golden State Killer by now, you may have been living under a rock. Or, you know, in a happy place where you’re not as obsessed with murder as me. Michelle McNamara died suddenly before she finished writing I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, her investigation into a series of horrific, sadistic unsolved sexual assaults and murders in California in the 1970s. The unfinished manuscript was posthumously completed by her husband and friends, released just months before the alleged killer was unmasked by familiar DNA. If you have any inkling of interest in true crime, you must read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. McNamara writes with such beautiful depth and empathy, creating such good characterisation that at times it feels like you’re reading fiction. Her voice is strong throughout, even the parts which were compiled after her death. Combine your reading with the My Favourite Murder discussions on the book, as well as a podcast of the same name.
Ice Cream for Breakfast by Laura Jane Williams
I tore through most of this book on the train between Hastings and London. It was one of those books which seemed to come into my life at the right time, just adding to my feeling of inspiration and motivation (amazing what a holiday will do, hey?). In this, Williams expands on the lessons she learned from nannying and how childlike solutions can solve our bullshit adult problems. And my god it just struck so many chords. It’s all common sense, but someone you need someone to point out the obvious and this was fun to read, as well as motivational. Perfect combination!