I seldom see non-fiction reviews in my feed and when we post non-fiction reviews here on the blog, they are some of our least-viewed posts. However, non-fiction is often very readable and very accessible, not at all like reading a textbook for class! Furthermore, there are plenty of reasons why adding some non-fiction to your reading list could be immensely valuable to you.
Support your arguments with evidence.
It’s not enough to make a claim. You have to be able to demonstrate 1) that the claim is true, and 2) why the claim is important. So you can talk all day about your views on how the education system works or how publishing works or ought to work–but without solid facts to bolster your authority and show you’ve done the research, you won’t be very convincing. Throw in some statistics, some data, some evidence and now you have an argument people will be willing to listen to.
Theorize your own work and create deeper and more complex arguments.
No matter what your field is or where your interests lie, it can always pay to examine them closely and to ask questions about what you are doing and why. That is, you might ask yourself how far a scientist can go with research before it becomes unethical. You might ask whether the rights of the individuals or the rights of the group should take precedence. You might wonder what the effect is of using “he or she” instead of “he” or “they” instead of “he or she.” Read some non-fiction that addresses the values of your field, theorizes the work performed in it, or questions the current paradigm. Your own work will be richer because you will have the tools and the words to engage with the ideas you already have.
Understand the political, social, and historical contexts out of which texts arise and be able to critique them in an informed manner.
Can Chaucer’s work be “unfeminist” if feminism wasn’t yet a concept when he was writing? How racist is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work? How racist were Abraham Lincoln’s views, for that matter? Experts in the fields typically examine texts from a perspective that acknowledges the contexts out of which they arise. Learn to speak their language and you add to your own authority.
Understand the values of literary studies and the ways in which Experts Criticize Literature.
Again, by learning the values of a field you add to your own credibility when speaking on related matters. Reach some current criticism to get an idea of where the field currently is. You don’t want to be citing a critic from the 1980s without realizing that others theorized the field after him and added to the conversation–not if you want to be taken seriously! You can also read literary criticism to get an idea of what kinds of arguments literary professionals make and how they make them. That is, you can learn to make complex arguments based in textual evidence–arguments that go beyond your emotional reactions as a reader or summarization of the plot.
Create realistic worlds for your fiction.
If you’re writing historical fiction you will obviously want to do research to make your world believable. But most novelists will end up having to read nonfiction to create a credible world. Does your fantasy book include mages who work with fabric or rocks or sea creatures? You’ll probably have to research those things because even fantasy worlds must have some resemblance to reality if readers are to find them believable. You don’t want to lose readers because they’re distracted from the plot by wondering why your mage is so ignorant about geology, or why your female protagonist is acting very oddly for a lady from eighteenth-century England.
Become a more interesting conversationalist.
The more you read, the more you have to offer during those awkward office parties or family get-togethers. Prevent yourself from being on the outside of the conversation by storing up a reservoir of interesting facts and pertinent knowledge. In fact, even if you just skim the news headlines before you go out, you can probably insert yourself into the conversation–but it’s always better to be prepared with more information should your audience become intrigued by what you said!
Why do you read non-fiction? What are some of your recommendations?