sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

May 31, 2013


armchair bea: non-fiction
posted by soe 11:14 pm
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Emily’s Reading Room

Today’s Armchair BEA genre topic is non-fiction. Do we read it? If so, what kinds?

When I first started considering this topic, I was sure my list would be short, but it turns out I am a sucker for a broader swath of non-fiction than I expected.

If you divided up my reading time, only a tiny proportion of it would be devoted to non-fiction. Fiction fills a far larger percentage of my reading life. But if you looked at my shelves you could fill a whole bookshelf with non-fiction. That means, in general, I’m more likely to buy non-fiction than fiction, although I suppose if we took away books I purchased for college or grad school classes that number might shrink back to being more proportional.

Among the books you’d find on my shelves are:

  • I like a good reference book. Dictionary, thesaurus, literture desk reference set… I know my use of these books have been cut down by the internet, but it doesn’t matter. I still want a hard copy. If I ever win a lottery, I’m going to buy myself a full-size set of OED. Then I will need to move in order to have enough space to store it.
  • Writers manuals. I acquired some of these as a teen and still can’t help picking them up when I see them for sale for cheap.
  • Foreign language textbooks. Apparently I really feel I can learn how to speak a foreign language just through reading about verb conjugation. Failed attempts at three languages aside, I still have hopes.
  • Women’s studies texts. Also books on minority studies and American studies. I have an unofficial minor and a graduate degree in these topics, so they’re near to my heart. Also, when I first read Women in the Global Factory, I carried the thin book with me from dorm room to dorm room just pelting my friends with horrifying facts about atrocities visited upon women and children all in the name of our getting cheap goods.
  • Cookbooks and knitting books. I want to live in the worlds portrayed in their pages. This theory was first posited in the podcast Stash and Burn in regards to particularly nicely styled photos of unremarkable knitted goods. I have expanded it slightly to include cookbooks, since I like to buy them, but I hardly ever cook.
  • Identification guides. I love being able to flip through and find the bird I saw on the canal or a tree with unusual leaves.
  • Poetry. Why this is considered non-fiction, I don’t know, but it is. And I love it. Mary Oliver. Elizabeth Bishop. Anthologies. All good.
  • Shakespeare plays. Again, it feels particularly weird to classify these under non-fiction, but that’s where a library would put them.
  • Travelogues. I quite enjoy reading travel narratives, be they about the Appalachian Trail or the Proven├žal countryside. Guide books are also interesting, but I only really read the ones for places I’m going, with the exception of themed guides, such as Storybook Travels, which offers vacation ideas for places like Chincoteague Island and the Plaza Hotel.
  • Memoirs. When I was a kid, I devoured biographies, particularly that series of books that focused on famous people’s childhoods. But these days I more prefer memoir to biography. I have Penny Marshall’s on my iPod now and am looking forward to listening to Tina Fey’s and Mindy Kaling’s, too. Epistolary memoirs, such as The Delicacy and Strength of Lace or 84, Charing Cross Road, are especial favorites.
  • So that’s about it. Are there any aspects of non-fiction I didn’t touch on? Sure: history and economics and design and science and medicine and self-help and philosophy, to name just a few. None of them really do it for me as a class of books, although there are certainly individual books that fall into those categories that stand out.

    How about you? What non-fiction categories are your favorites?

    Category: books. There is/are 4 Comments.



    The fact that you want to buy a set of OED makes you my best friend, lol. I *just* finished a nonfiction book called The Professor and the Madman about the creation of the OED!! It was remarkable.

    Comment by Jennifer 06.01.13 @ 6:18 am

    @Jennifer: The Professor and the Madman has been in my reading queue for ages. I should really see if the library has it this summer.

    Comment by soe 06.01.13 @ 12:56 pm

    I always think of myself as not liking nonfiction, but about a quarter of my shelf space is devoted to it. I would be lost without my reference books.

    Comment by Karen 06.04.13 @ 8:20 am

    @Karen: I feel like with nonfiction, I’m better able to stop in and visit for a while, then go on my merry way. But with (good) fiction, I’m drawn in and then there is no more here, only there until either the book ends or I’m forced by circumstance to extricate myself from it.

    Comment by soe 06.06.13 @ 1:09 pm