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I am just wrapping up the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men which is a non-fiction account of the tenant farmer's lot in life in the mid-1930's of Alabama. It is like nothing I have ever read style-wise and is at the same time breathtaking prose and mind numbing frustration. Let us now praise the fact that I am almost done! But I am glad for the knowledge and know that the images and moments with the families involved will stay with me forever. That is why I enjoy non-fiction reads - the impact that things just naturally tend to have when they are real. Just like how I always prefer to see the documentary to the fictionalized "based on a true story" portrayal.
My first exposure to non-fiction was in the form of biographies and auto-biographies for book report assignments in grade school. It was much more interesting to learn the details about these people in one of those books as opposed to flipping through the encyclopedia or some made up story featuring a historical figure. I liked to read their words. Their first hand account. See the world through their eyes whenever possible - via quotes, letters and diaries.
I have became especially interested in adventure accounts. People who shared their personal stories of survival, of discovery and of the human spirit. Disaster on snowy peaks or stranded ships. Lost hikers and brave explorers. The more dangerous and incredulous the faster I read them.
I also love books that share the good deeds of the world. The ways people have given of themselves selflessly for the benefit of so many others. Doctors, teachers, caregivers, rescuers, public defenders, counselors. It inspires me and generally sends me seeking out other books about the particular field or location involved.
I am less interested in evaluative research - one writer's collection of facts and their interpretation of how they impact us. Their interpretation makes it subjective rather than objective and it tends to blur the line of non-fiction for me. It makes for entertaining fodder and food for thought, but often times it leaves me annoyed - looking for less words from someone so wrapped up in this topic that they can't stop talking about it ad nauseum.
One of my favorite kinds of non-fiction is the true crime genre. In Cold Blood did that to me. Though it reads so much like a story at times and there is plenty of opinionated observation from the author to blur that non-fiction line again, the subject matter is just too enthralling to pass up. Why do horrific crimes grip us so strongly in books, film and television? Why do we instinctively look at car accidents when we creep past? Who knows. But give me a good true crime accounting and my nose will be buried in that book until it is complete.
Memoirs are my favorite genre of all but I separate them from the non-fiction category. Less clinical, more lyrical.
So many readers get lost in the world of fiction - but non-fiction can pull you in just as strongly and show you parts of the real world you'd likely never get to see otherwise. Here are a few that I've enjoyed. Can you add any suggestions for my to read list?