2016 Resolutions, Part 3: Nonfiction

Looking back, maybe I should have started my series with this post. The subject matter isn’t as emotionally fraught as the other two. I could have eased you all into it. Then again, I am always the best at tackling the tough stuff first thing, while I’m still feeling fresh. Ask my college friends, who watched me go to class all day on Monday, then practice, then come back to the dorm to claw my way through a chapter outline or whatever was on the syllabus next. By late Friday morning, they would routinely find me in the basement of the music building, clutching a bagel and moaning about how much I wanted a nap. So, if you’ve had a stressful first week of work in 2016, sit back and enjoy a fluffy Friday post about my last resolution.

I finished 70 new books in 2015. The biggest, most undeniable, un-ignorable number in my reading tally was 69 (go ahead and chuckle at that if you’re fourteen at heart, like I am). That’s the number of works of fiction that I read this year. Even I can do this math; that means I only read one nonfiction book.

That book was Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over The World (link) by Anne Jamison. Here is a screenshot of the not-particularly-articulate review I wrote of the book on Goodreads:

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 1.33.19 PM

Note the starting and ending date on this one, it took me over three months to finish. Granted, it’s a book of essays, not one cohesive page-turning story, but still. Obviously I wasn’t terribly excited to pick it up. The five status updates are also telling, I usually only update my progress on a book if I’m bored with it.

The sentiments in the review really do hold true. There were parts of this book that really interested me. And yet.

I can count on my fingers the nonfiction books I remember reading for pleasure in the last decade. If there are more, they were so dull that I completely blocked them out. My justification of this, for many years, was that I had to read a lot of nonfiction type things for school, so there was no point in eating up my spare time with books of the same type I was already reading for class.

Well, I am no longer in school, so that excuse is thinner than discount leggings. I still like knowing things about the world, but I’ve become way too complacent in my ability to learn them through other means. Mostly the Internet. Recently I came across this interview  with Arissa Oh, the author of To Save The Children of Korea: The Cold War Origins of International Adoption. I devoured the interview, but I really didn’t give a second thought to reading the book. Could I have learned more if I read it? Absolutely. But it wasn’t in my hand, and to get it there immediately would cost fifteen dollars. Whereas I could just keep surfing for free.

As wary as I am of nonfiction books, it concerns me that my ability to read them has atrophied. I don’t want to be the type of person who can’t focus on a topic for more than a few thousand words. I want to learn how to engage with information again the way that I did in high school and college, and maybe even enjoy it more without the pressure of a grade hanging over my head.

So, resolution time: in 2016, I’m going to finish five nonfiction books. I’m starting small– set low goals, feel good about yourself.

My task now is to find nonfiction that I’m interested in reading. Here, in no particular order, are some other topics that I am a nerd for and/or would like to know more about:

1) Teaching. I have a teaching degree, I have been a teacher, these stories are fun for me. I downloaded The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy this week, which gets bonus points for being a memoir about a teacher in North Carolina.

2) Music. Mostly classical and jazz, but there are some other individuals or styles I’d like to know more about. I’m not sure I’m down for any 900-page biographies of Sousa, but the topic is so incredibly wide I’m sure I’ll find something before the year is over.

3) Folklore and fairy tales. One of the most enjoyable nonfiction books I read for school was The Owl, the Raven, and the Dove: The Religious Meaning of Grimms’ Fairy Tales by G. Ronald Murphy. I love learning about the stories that people tell and why they endure.

4) Travel/Other cultures. I really like reading books about places I’ve been to, or want to go to. I spent four months studying abroad in Florence, so I could pursue that. This summer I was in Istanbul for two days, and I’d really like to do some more reading about the history of that city in particular.

That’s a start. I could definitely enjoy other topics, if they’re handled well enough. The last nonfiction book I really enjoyed was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is part science, part American history.

Do you only like books if they’re about things that really happened, or are you a nonfiction slacker like me? Can you recommend any favorite nonfiction reads? Tell me in the comments.

4 thoughts on “2016 Resolutions, Part 3: Nonfiction”

  1. Maybe try some of the best music writing series Da Capo puts out every year to kind of ease your way into some music writing. I know Alex Ross is among the editors and they cover a wide range of styles. So if you’re bored with one, it’s easy enough to get to the next. And I haven’t read it yet, but I’m dying to read Jessica Hopper’s collection The First Collection of Rock Criticism By a Living Female Rock Critic. It came out last spring, I begged our collection development staff to buy it, but then it arrived as I was settling into my “Too sick to read” phase. So I plan to pick that one up soon.

    And this doesn’t fall into any of your categories (except I guess he’s technically a teacher) but you might like Nick Flynn’s memoirs if you haven’t read them. They’re very narrative driven and he’s a poet so the language is haunting. The first one is Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and focuses on him working in a Boston homeless shelter when his estranged dad comes in for a bed. I love him so I assume I’ve pushed him on you before but if I didn’t, try those out.

    1. Haha your account name is perfect. It made my spam filter dump you right in the trash, but I always check that before I delete anything forever. You haven’t pushed Nick Flynn on me before, I don’t think, but other people have. Something narrative-driven would probably be an easier place to start than a big book o’ facts. Adding all of these, thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *