It took me a long time to start reading non-fiction. Partially, I blame the way we were taught history growing up. Back then it was labeled "social studies" and was a somewhat incoherent mess of information. My teachers would use the class period to write an outline of the assigned text book chapter. We'd memorize the outline and regurgitate it on the test. It's really not surprising that I thought history was inherently boring given how we were being taught.
Much later, I had one excellent history teacher in high school (and one of my best writing teachers as well), who was the first to introduce me to the idea that history is really just a complex multi-arced story. He'd lecture at the front of the classroom, rarely writing on the chalkboard except to illustrate relationships between different events/people/processes. He was a natural storyteller and had no problems keeping a quiet classroom. We were all too busy listening to his way of making history into these incredible plotted episodes to think about misbehaving.
Only years later did I start to read historical non-fiction, so it took me a while to realize that my history teacher was not an aberration. A good historian is someone who is a both a driven researcher of primary sources and a good storyteller. Some of my favorite non-fiction books that exemplify these traits include Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder, and my current reading, Voices of Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by this year's Nobel Prize in Literature winner, Svetlana Alexievich. Yes, I am a little fascinated by the history of communism. It's also good research for my own book.
Lately, I've also been supplementing my non-fiction reading by listening to the history podcast, History Extra, from the BBC's History magazine. Each episode features an interview with a historian who discusses their recently published book of non-fiction. The topics are usually British-centric, and if they're not about British history, then they're almost always Western history, but regardless of the eurocentricism, I still enjoy listening to these excellent stories that just happen to be true (or as true as historians can determine based off research). Another history podcast I love is the History of Rome series. It's so good, but maybe I'm biased, because Roman history is probably my favorite time period. I guess now I just need to find a world history podcast now to round me out a little more (open to suggestions!)
Anyway, all of this is just to say that history contains a lot of excellent stories and characters that in some ways stand out even more than fictional variations because they were real. For similar reasons, I love historical fiction, though I have to be careful as I do have a tendency to equate historical fiction with fact. But don't you think King John (John Lackland) would make a great character for a book? Or Richard III?
Do you read much non-fiction? How about historical fiction?
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