Thursday, August 11, 2011

BAND: August Prompt

I'm participating in BAND: Blogger's Alliance of Non-Fiction Devotees, and it's time for the August prompt.

Over at Amy Reads, Amy asks: 

Last month Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness hosted the first discussion, asking What’s your favorite type of nonfiction? I had a lot of fun reading the answers that everyone submitted and they helped lead me to my topic for this month. One of my favorite things about reading is how one book leads to another which leads to another and so on. For a lot of us, nonfiction wasn’t something we always read and it was a specific topic or book that drew us in. And then once we started, we just couldn’t stop.
So this month I’d like to know:
How did you get into reading nonfiction? Do you remember your first nonfiction book or subject? If so, do you still read those subjects?

While I read a fair amount of non-fiction as a kid (probably considerably more than average), I didn't get into non-fiction as a genre until I was in college. When I was in elementary school, I was the kid who liked to read reference books (dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias) for fun. Whenever I ran across a topic I was especially interested in, I'd visit the school or public library and check out books on the subject. My family didn't have a lot of money growing up, so the library was an invaluable resource for me. I didn't read non-fiction for pleasure, though. I only read about subjects I was interested in, and then, it was more for the acquisition of knowledge than anything else.

That changed when I started college and took classes that used shorter works of non-fiction instead of textbooks. The first semester of my freshman year really changed the way I looked at non-fiction, particularly my introduction to writing course. Rather than offering a generic "how to write papers" class, Scripps had several topics within the Writing 100 label to choose from. Since I was among the last to register, I was assigned to the section whose focus was on genocides, to be taught by a professor whose (Jewish) family fled the Nazi regime. Cheerful! I wound up really enjoying the class, despite the incredibly depressing subject matter, because the books we were assigned were so good. We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, and A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power are still high on my list of non-fiction works I recommend to others.

I wasn't quite hooked yet, though. That happened after taking a number of women's studies and sociology courses over the ensuing four years. They, too, primarily relied upon shorter works of non-fiction rather than full-length textbooks, and I found myself seeking out additional works by the likes of Susan Faludi, bell hooks, Barbara Ehrenreich, and many, many others. I found myself branching out to related fields by exploring the whole of the 300s section in the library, and using's recommendation algorithm to find new subjects to read about. I felt the same way that many do when they discover fiction: a whole world had opened up for me, only it was the real world instead of the world of make-believe.

These days, despite having majored in literature, I find myself reading more non-fiction than fiction, at about a two to one ratio. I think I may still have fiction fatigue from undergrad!


  1. I LOVE Power's book! So freaking amazingly good! Or at least that is what I remember from reading it a few years ago :) I am quite jealous of your classes, by the way. What fantastic books.

  2. My education definitely has its upsides and downsides! I took some awesome and interesting classes and am crazy well-read as a result, but getting a job is a tad difficult.

    Oh, well. I'm okay with being all erudite and stuff.

  3. I think I really got into nonfiction the same way as you -- discovering shorter nonfiction books and narrative nonfiction rather than textbooks.

  4. Oh, that Gourevitch book is horrifying. I've had the Samantha Power on my tbr for quite awhile, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. I can only take so many depressing books at a time, you know? But they are so important to read.

  5. Barbara Ehrenreich! Love her!

  6. I'm reading the Gourevitch book right now. This is the second book I've read this year that makes me want to throw stuff because of inaction in the face of people dying. (The first book was Randy Shilts' And The Band Played On about AIDS).

    That's awesome that college hooked you up with some great books. My comparable experience was that for a memoir class in college, we were assigned Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt and The Liar's Club by Mary Karr.

    - Christy