Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Should Writers Read (Non-fiction) ?

"Generally, there are two things that writers recommend to others who want to improve: more writing, and reading. More writing is an obvious one, since practice makes perfect. But writing in a vacuum won’t do us much good. Reading exposes us to other styles, other voices, other forms, and other genres of writing. Importantly, it exposes us to writing that’s better than our own and helps us to improve."

-Beth Belle Cooper 

I can't stress how important it is to read and to read a variety of genres if you want to be a good writer. First, for the technique aspect of it (see Cooper's quote) and second, to challenge ourselves. To be a good writer -or a good artist of any kind- you must first know yourself intimately. I've found some of my best "thinking about who I am" moments have come from reading books that I wouldn't normally read (i.e. YA novels) and being exposed to situations and people way outside of my comfort zone.

It can be intimidating to read outside of your comfort genre, so in this post I want to help you find good books (none of this boring, dense stuff!) to read that are part of the non-fiction genre. I know it will be outside of a lot of comfort zones, and reading NF is a great way to do research and gain insight on topics for your writing, which is why I picked that genre to zero in on in this post.

Sunny Smith's Thought-Provoking Non-Fiction Book Recommendations 

And Then There Were Nuns: Adventures in the Cloistered Life by Jane Christmas

Just as Jane Christmas decides to enter a convent in mid-life to find out whether she is "nun material”, her long-term partner Colin, suddenly springs a marriage proposal on her. Determined not to let her monastic dreams be sidelined, Christmas puts her engagement on hold and embarks on an extraordinary year long adventure to four convents—one in Canada and three in the UK. In these communities of cloistered nuns and monks, she shares—and at times chafes and rails against—the silent, simple existence she has sought all of her life. 

Why you should read this book: It's a book about religion by a non-religious person. It offers insights into convents and monasteries, as well as contemplation, spiritual matters and letting go of the past. This is a memoir, which is a great way for a fiction-lover to dip their toe into non-fiction.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 freshly laundered nuns' habits.

Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do edited by Meredith Maran

Anyone who's ever sat down to write a novel or even a story knows how exhilarating and heartbreaking writing can be. So what makes writers stick with it? In Why We Write, twenty well-known authors candidly share what keeps them going and what they love most—and least—about their vocation.

Why you should read this book: Even if these authors mean nothing to you, it's great to read about what inspires these best-selling authors. Many of them share tales of how they almost quit or how hard it was to get started. It also great to see so many different voices all beside each other. This book will help you in understanding why you write. 

My Rating: 4 out of 5 red, ink-stained manuscripts.

Nobody's Mother: Life Without Kids edited by Lynne Van Luven

Statistics say that one in 10 women has no intention of taking the plunge into motherhood. Nobody's Mother is a collection of stories by women who have already made this choice.

From introspective to humorous to rabble-rousing, these are personal stories that are well and honestly told. The writers range in age from early 30s to mid-70s and come from diverse backgrounds. All have thought long and hard about the role of motherhood, their own destinies, what mothering means in our society and what their choice means to them as individuals and as members of their ethnic communities or social groups.

Why you should read this book: This might seem like an odd choice, but it's really interesting to read from the perspective of a minority: childless women. Not only did I find it challenging to my personal beliefs, but I also found it to be a good reference for character building. Creating round characters for stories can be difficult, but it becomes much easier when you give them an uncommon trait, like a woman having no children. Since this is a collection of essays, you're free to skip over the ones that you find less interesting (that's what I did).

My Rating: 3 out of 5 globetrotting travelers.

Additional Recommendations:

My biggest tip for reading non-fiction is to let yourself skip sections of the book. It's okay to only read the parts that interest you, especially if you're just starting to read NF. 
Have you read any good nonfiction? Are you a fiction lover, dreading having to read non-fiction? Let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Reading: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
Listening: to the hum of my computer
Watching: Arrow, and the Olympics

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