What To Read If You Think You Don't Like Nonfiction

by Charlotte Ahlin

So you think you don't like nonfiction. Look, I get it. In general, I prefer stories to non-stories too. I will always choose fantasy over reality if given the chance. But if you're not reading nonfiction because you're tired of the news, or because you had a bad experience with a high school history textbook, then boy are you missing out on a lot. Nonfiction is not simply a dispassionate list of real events that actually happened. Nonfiction is full of romance, murder, and thrilling mysteries. Some of the best writing out there right now falls into the nonfiction camp. So here are a few books to check out if you really think you don't like nonfiction.

Part of the problem, I think, is with nonfiction's image. When we hear "nonfiction," a lot of us think of academic writing, or encyclopedias, or intense books about economics. And, with all due respect to economics, those aren't topics that scream "fun beach read." But the category of creative nonfiction actually covers everything from long form journalism to memoirs to humor essays. Nonfiction books tell stories, too. They're just stories that actually happened (and usually involve more murder).

Check out these nonfiction books, and don't let anyone tell you that nonfiction is boring ever again:


'In Cold Blood' by Truman Capote

In 1959, in Holcomb, Kansas, a family was brutally murdered with no apparent motive and almost no clues. In one of the all-time classic true crime books ever written, Truman Capote dives into this chilling case and reconstructs the murder and investigation that led to the trial and execution of the killers. The result is a breathtaking, masterpiece of a true story that reads like a novel.

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'Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim' by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is an expert at taking normal, everyday events, like eating a hamburger or playing in the snow, and turning them into hysterical rants on the minutiae of life. If you think you don't like autobiographical essays, allow Sedaris to put you right (and to make you laugh out loud in public, disturbing the other bus passengers).

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'Reading Lolita in Tehran' by Azar Nafisi

Every week for two years, Azar Nafisi would get together with seven female students to read the classics of Western literature. This was not any ordinary book club, however: under the Islamic Republic of Iran, these books were strictly forbidden. Nafisi's story is a gripping one for any book lover, and fiction readers especially will appreciate a true story told through novels.

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'The Devil in the White City' by Erik Larson

Daniel H. Burnham is trying to construct the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. H.H. Holmes is trying to serially murder people while masquerading as a charming doctor, also in Chicago. The Devil in the White City tells the story of both of them, with so many wild plot twists that you'll forget you're reading a nonfiction book.

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'Bossypants' by Tina Fey

This is a book that you can easily tear through in a day, and you definitely should because Tina Fey is hysterical. She writes about being an awkward high school drama kid, being an awkward 20-something pursuing a career in improv, and being an awkward boss on SNL. Above all, though, she's a comedy writer, and she's written a terrifically comedic memoir.

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'Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer' by James L. Swanson

This nonfiction book is quite literally one long chase scene. It's all the action you could possibly want out of a book on the Lincoln assassination, as Swanson pursues actor John Wilkes Booth through the swamps of Maryland and the forests of Virginia in a thrilling country-wide manhunt.

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'A Long Way Gone' by Ishmael Beah

If you're looking for a more contemporary, disturbing, poignant, action-filled memoir, then pick up A Long Way Gone. Ishmael Beah was forced to flee from violence at age twelve, only to be captured at thirteen and turned into a child soldier. This forceful memoir tells the story of his time as a soldier and his subsequent rescue with brutal honesty and mesmerizing imagery.

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'Modern Romance' by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

You may claim that you don't like nonfiction, but everyone likes complaining about the state of modern romance. Find a kindred spirit in Aziz Ansari, who writes about romance with hilarity and nuance. I mean, why does it feel like we have more romantic options and more frustration nowadays? Was it always like this? What does the pizza emoji mean in a sexual context? Help!

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Editor's Note: On Jan. 13, Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct by a woman who went on a date with him. Ansari has since responded to the claims, saying:

"In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual.

The next day, I got a text from her saying that although 'it may have seemed okay,' upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.

I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue."


'Night' by Elie Wiesel

No horror writer could ever come close to the horrors of Night. Elie Wiesel's masterpiece is a candid account of his life as a teenager in Auschwitz. But this book is far more than a list of atrocities: it's a story of survival, and humanity's response to almost unimaginable hate and cruelty.

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'Fun Home' by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home is a "family tragicomic," a graphic novel memoir in which Alison Bechdel tells the story of herself and her father. Both grew up in the same small town and both were gay. But her father killed himself, while Alison went on to become a well known cartoonist. It's both tragic and comic, and a beautifully crafted coming of age story.

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