Armchair BEA: Nonfiction Ups & Mostly Downs

Posted by Steph on May - 31 - 2013

So, nonfiction and I aren’t best friends. Sadly there isn’t even a section for it on my blog because it’s only once every few years I find one that I actually want/force myself to read. For me reading is an escape, so when I go to pick out a book to read I almost always pick up the nonfiction book…look at it…think “I should really read this,” then put it back down and grab something about dragons.

There have been a few nonfiction books I’ve really enjoyed, which does give me hope for others.  (Two of them I read thinking there were fiction, so I was baffled when I realized they were nonfiction and I actually liked them.)

So Far from the Bamboo GroveThe first nonfiction book I remember reading and then re-reading multiple times as a kid was So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins. (This was a story I didn’t realize was nonfiction until this past year when I was shelving it at my library!)  I still remember parts of the story and am trying to get my younger sister to read (no such luck) but I did recently purchase a used copy so I will be giving it a re-read in the future. It is a powerful story about Korean’s and Japanese after WWII ends.  I remember being shocked and impressed with the Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dogfemale characters in the story for everything they had to survive through.

Another nonfiction I enjoyed (but didn’t realize was nonfiction until after I finished) was Marley and Me by John Grogan.  This one actually brought me back into reading my freshmen year of college.  It was one of those books I was excited to come home to and read at night. (And yes, the book is better.)

Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank FamilyThe most recent nonfiction book I’ve read was Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Familiy by Miep Gies and Alison Leslie Gold.  I guess I also adore The Diary of Anne Frank, which is one read by most, but this story was so intriguing because it was told by Miep! The lady who helped hide the Franks.  I listened to this book on audio and will probably give it another listen someday, because it was amazing (I am fascinated by how people lived during WWII).

I did also try listening to the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and it bored me to tears. I was really excited about it, but just couldn’t stick it out.

So do you have any nonfiction-that-read-like-fiction recommendations for me? I’d love to expand my horizons!

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18 Responses so far.

  1. rqpanda says:

    Like you, I head towards the nonfiction books and inevitably get distracted by dragons 🙂
    One book that I did read in. . . two days I think, that was nonfiction and read like a novel was Erik Larson’s In the Garden of the Beasts. Another would be “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” which I had to read for school and ended up buying and re-reading for my own interest. Those are two of the few nonfiction books that I remember liking. 🙂

    • Steph says:

      I’m glad to hear you liked In The Garden of Beasts! I found it at a thrift store not too long ago and bought it because I thought the cover was cool and the title grabbed me, maybe I’ll have to actually give it a try soon 🙂 Thanks for the recommendations!

  2. Becca Lostinbooks says:

    It sounds to me like you enjoy the nonfiction books that read like fiction books. Those are the best kind in my opinion, as well!

  3. jilliankleis says:

    Don’t feel bad about Henrietta Lacks…I am a biochemist, and I can tell you that book is DENSE with information. I always tell reluctant non-fiction readers to explore history and memoir sections. After all, they are stories, just true ones. I recently read David McCullough’s first book, The Johnstown Flood, which was excellent (check out the audiobook read by Edward Hermann). I also would recommend anything by Mary Roach or AJ Jacobs. Both fascinating and funny in equal parts. The best kind of non-fiction, to my mind.

  4. jilliankleis says:

    Upon further thought, here are a few non fiction books I think are very accessible.
    Paris in Love – Eloisa James
    The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
    Heads in Beds – Jacob Tomsky
    Same Kind of Different as Me – Ron Hall

    • Steph says:

      I’d heard so many good things about Henrietta Lacks, but just couldn’t get into it. I’m glad to know it’s not just dense to a non-science person though 🙂 Thank you so much for the recommendations I will definitely be looking into them! (The Johnstown Flood sounds particularly interesting!)

  5. Charleen says:

    I hardly read any nonfiction either. An occasional book about music history when I get to thinking about how I want to go back to grad school someday, and one recent memoir. That’s it. The memoir was really good, though, very funny — Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. You should check out her blog ( and if you enjoy her humor, definitely read the book.

  6. Laurie C says:

    Maybe Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo?

  7. Loved Marley and Me also. Other nonfiction books that I liked are “Silver Like Dust” which is about the Japanese Internment during World War II. Another is “Manhunt” which is about the John Wilkes Booth and his escape from D.C. I think you might like both of those.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I’m a big nonfiction nerd 😉 I loooved the book that Laurie suggested: Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Gorgeous read.

    I think a great way to get in some nonfiction reads are to go with graphic novels. Maus & Persepolis are both wonderful nonfic.

    • Steph says:

      Another endorsement for Behind the Beautiful’s sounding like a winner 🙂 I’ve never thought of graphic novels before so that’s a great suggestion! Thank you !

  9. I don’t usually read non-fiction – the books really need lots of nice pictures to pull me in. That said, anything about Anne Frank appeals to me.
    AH@Badass Book Reviews