What’s With the Nonfiction?

What you should all know if you're going to read this blog at all, is
that I have a terrible, unforgivable bias against nonfiction. It just
doesn't make any sense to me; when deciding what to read, how could you
NOT want a made-up story in which anything can happen?
Watching Chestnut and Diana pick their way through the world of books
has been enlightening. One nonfiction book I did love as a child seems
to have held on to its perennial fascination. And, as far as I can tell, its appeal transcends gender, space, time etc.

Other ones seem to exude a powerful allure that I am incapable of understanding (or stopping).


The current Diana favorite?


And for Chestnut? Longtime favorite have been this series, with this one being the most compelling:


That last one is actually kind of brilliant, though I am uneasy sometimes when I am unsure of just how well fact-checked they are, but there you go. That's the whole thing with nonfiction, somehow.
am hoping that somehow seeing my children be so…inquisitive will inspire me to open my
mind and my world to see what's out there that's true. Sitting on my
night table is Gomorrah, which I am supposed to be reading for my
(grown-up) book group. But it exerts almost no pull over me. How is it
that I can willfully ignore history? Culture? Art? I am hoping that the
excellent examples of my children and their flexibility in viewing the
books around them will start to work soon. But I must say, it hasn't happened yet.

13 thoughts on “What’s With the Nonfiction?

  1. I was a total book junkie as as kid, to the point where once I was done with my books (or ran out of library books with a week to go before we returned them), I ransacked my parents’ personal library. The upshot of this was that in desperation I ended up reading a bunch of nonfiction that I might have never touched otherwise. I got hooked on some great stuff my mom had, such as Farley Mowat’s “Never Cry Wolf” and “Mawson’s Will,” Douglas Mawson’s account of his harrowing attempt to explore the Antartic and his near-death experiences. I also read some very disturbing stuff, like “Sybil” and Frances Farmer’s autobiography of her experiences in a mental institution. Disturbing, and not appropriate for a 3rd grader, but definitely fascinating.
    For me, nonfiction or fiction are both equally compelling – they just have to be well-written and about subjects I can get into. For anyone with a kid who likes nonfiction, the Farley Mowat books are wonderful, and the accounts of explorers are also fascinating (as an adult I still read about explorers; Roland Huntsford’s “The Last Place in Earth” was incredible as was “Kon-Tiki”).


  2. I’m with you on the nonfiction thing, with the possible exception of memoir, which if done right are full of plot and character and stories that you sometimes couldn’t make up. And my memory of the Bookmobile at my elementary school in the early seventies is so strong — especially when I purchased, each year, the newest copy of the Guinness Book of World Records. I still remember what it looked like (not the fancy one above that my boys have, too).


  3. The Guinness Book was a big hit among the third graders at school last year, and we found that shiny one above on sale and snapped it up. So, yes to that. Snuggly Girl also really likes the 500 Things About Science book and of course The Encyclopedia of Immaturity, which is the goofball’s answer to the Book for Boys and Book for Girls series.
    Biography/memoir is a special branch of non-fiction, because they do have a story, even if it isn’t totally made up. One that I remember SG especially enjoying is Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz, who is an author (mostly of historical non-fiction for kids) who spent her childhood in China with missionary parents.
    Did Diana just get a kitten, or is she day dreaming?


  4. I’m wasn’t into non-fiction as a kid and still am not, really. I do enjoy well written essays, sometimes, but not a whole book on the same topic. The Best Science Writing of 200X series is good. And fun stuff like David Sedaris, which is technically non-fiction but who can tell? My little boys love obnoxious non-fiction like the Star Wars Encyclopedia. How I loathe that thing! How I rejoice when it is out from the library!


  5. Seconding the Best Science Writing series and Farley Mowat.
    I don’t read a lot of book-length non-fiction. When I do, it’s very often stuff that has a “story” – autobiography, travel/adventure memoir, etc. – and reads like a narrative. I find it harder to get into books that don’t. Also, I gravitate towards certain subjects (such as history, but only if the writing isn’t dry). If it’s a subject that I think I “should” be interested in, but I’m not, too bad.


  6. Caveat: book for grown-ups ahead.
    The gripping book that pulled me into being a non-fiction reader is The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. (I might not have that spelled exactly right.) I came across it just after I graduated from college, and I could not put it down. I thought, if only my history textbooks were written like that, I’d’ve learned a lot more in school. As it turned out, I had learned more than I thought from all the novels I read; I just was not always sure what was real and what was the fiction part. In any case, I don’t know that I could read it now, since having kids has changed my endangered-child-story tolerance, but I still remember it as a gripping and enlightening read.
    Also, as some sort of cosmic payback for my fiction-enmeshed childhood, my son only seems interested in non-fiction.


  7. I used to be solidly in the fiction-only camp as well, and then I read “Red China Blues,” by Jan Wong. I read one hundred pages of it in an afternoon (borrowed from a family member who hadn’t read it yet and thus couldn’t lend it) and then spent an agonizing week looking for it in bookstores to try and finish the rest. Sorry for the adult-lit intrusion here!


  8. I’m the same way. I feel that if only I could apply myself to the non-fiction section in the same manner as I do to fiction, I would have this incredible body of knowledge. On the other hand, I tend to forget much of what I read pretty quickly, so maybe not. Like Kiera, I stumbled into any non-fiction I did read on my father’s bookshelf (he never read fiction). One book that I discovered in this way was My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, which is still one of my favorites (though apparently lightly fictionalized itself).


  9. As a kid I read widely: fiction but also books about sciences, crafts, math, biography, sports, magic, travel, etc. Then as an adult I veered almost exclusively into fiction. Then I added non-fiction with strong narrative arc to the mix, and that’s where I stand now. Since I was a film director, I definitely go to movies with my 4 year old, but I selfishly haven’t seen anything too awful. Our favorite is Finding Nemo, but there’s that bad “Bambi” thing that happens in the beginning to get past.


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