Reflections on reading non-fiction

I feel smarter already.

Reading non-fiction is out of character (‘scuze the pun) for me. I read reviews for non-fiction every week, listing likely titles for my library as soon as the new budget year rolls around. The only non-fiction authors I read regularly are Mary Roach and Ben Macintyre, who tend to write about weird things. Macintyre in particular has a way of relating actual history as though it came straight from the mind of a thriller writer.

Given than I read primarily fiction, I’m not familiar with the conventions of non-fiction. I understand genres and characters. I expect certain things from what I read—not necessarily a happy ending, but at least a climax and a denouement. The structure of non-fiction books often strikes me as clumsy. They often read like someone stretched an essay out to 300 pages, so the introduction and conclusion sprawl over several pages.

That said, I always feel smarter after finishing a work of non-fiction. Like A.J. Jacobs in The Know-It-All, I feel almost uncontrollable urges to share the trivia I’ve learned—especially after reading linguistics texts. My family give me about five pieces of trivia before they cut me off. (And I apologize to my Facebook friends for the flood of facts when I feel the need to share.) This probably means that I should read more non-fiction. I love getting the chance to play student. The problem is that, unless the writer is very lively and skillful, non-fiction is a chore to go through.


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