Non-fiction. Even the word fills me with a sense of dread and conjures images of huge volumes with tiny print, long words and a bibliography longer than all the chapters put together. But then I look back over the books I’ve read over the years and realise that a large amount of them were interesting, accessible non-fiction.
Here are a few examples to get you going if you dread the concept of non-fiction.
1) How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Read my review here.
To be fair, I manage to find a way to recommend this no matter what the list topic or request from a friend actually is. I love this book so much I’d happily stand on a street corner all day to wave it at passers by. And now I’ve made myself sound like some kind of literary prostitute, but there are worse kinds, I suppose.
‘It also turns out that husbands do not read Grazia, and no matter how magnificent or loving they may be, they can’t help themselves from sporadically saying ‘£225! For a purse! JESUS CHRIST,’ as if you’ve just stabbed them quite violently in the balls with a fork, left the fork there, and then hung your coat on it while you go and have a bath.’
So this is an absolutely hilarious memoir of Caitlin Moran’s journey through adolescence and into womanhood. She talks about periods, feminism, babies and everything inbetween with absolutely no inhibitions or awkwardness. Every single woman (and man – they might learn something!) from the age of 17 or so should read this book.
This book is an actual non-fiction book as opposed to memoir, but it’s still funny in parts. It’s a tiny book, but it discusses the concept that perhaps women themselves are responsible for the negative portrayal of women.
If male chauvinist pigs of years past thought of women as pieces of meat, Female Chauvinist Pigs of today are doing them one better, making sex objects of other women – and of themselves. They think they’re being brave, they think they’re being funny, but in Female Chauvinist Pigs, New York magazine writer Ariel Levy asks if the joke is on them.” In her quest to uncover why this is happening, Levy interviews college women who flash for the cameras on spring break and teens raised on Paris Hilton and breast implants. She examines a culture in which every music video seems to feature a stripper on a pole, the memoirs of porn stars are climbing the best-seller lists, Olympic athletes parade their Brazilian bikini waxes in the pages of Playboy, and thongs are marketed to prepubescent girls.
This is not anti-women, not at all. Ariel Levy doesn’t look down on those women who choose to bare everything for reality TV shows, she just thinks that perhaps women shouldn’t judge the women who don’t so harshly. It’s a hard book to explain, but it’s well-worth reading.
3) Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girly Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein
Read my review here.
I have to admit, I didn’t actually agree with this book. I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed it because I think the whole concept of biological gender differences fascinating. But Ms Orenstein refuses to allow her daughter (who has the clearly masculine name of Daisy) to watch Disney Princess films or have Barbies because of their potential negative influence.
Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls’ successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today’s little princess become tomorrow’s sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?’
To me, she seems a little over-the-top although she does have a few good points. Surely moderation is the key with this issue? Regardless, she writes very, very well and it’s an interesting (and sparkly!) book.
4) Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence
My review is here.
So, just to prove that I occasionally read non-fiction that isn’t vaguely feministic, let’s have some animals instead.
Babylon’s Ark is fascinating and moving, all at the same time. Mr. Anthony travels to a war-torn country to save the abused, starved animals that resided in the Baghdad Zoo, using nothing but the money in his pocket and the help of the occasional well-meaning American soldiers.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a non-fiction book that made me quite so angry.
5) Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
Wouldn’t this be a great idea for all of us? While searching her many, many bookshelves for a particular book, Susan Hill realised how many of her own books she’d never actually read. God, can you imagine doing that? How silly. *looks shifty*
So she resolves to not visit the library or purchase books for an entire year and writes about her journey. This is a wonderful book, discussing her early childhood Enid Blyton books to the reading habits she’s amassed over the years.
Who doesn’t love books about books?
6) Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
‘I’m a PEZ dispenser. True story. Which not only has really made my life great, but it’s enhanced the lives of everyone I run into. If you can get someone to make you into a PEZ dispenser, do it. And my daughter loves it because like I told you, she’s a teenager, and they love to humiliate the parent for sport, so all she has to do is flip my head back and pull a wafer out of my neck.’
7) We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee
This is such a great book that it’s actually been made into a film with Matt Damon – it’s due for release this year, in fact.
So the title kind of gives it away. Benjamin Mee and his family, for no logical reason and with no zoological experience, buy a zoo. Mr. Mee clearly isn’t a professional writer, but it almost works in his favour here. The tone is informal and chatty, which makes it a joy to read.
His descriptions of the animals, the staff and his wife’s battle with Cancer are moving, beautiful and hilarious.
8) The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
My super awesome review is here.
This is the only self-help book I’m going to include on this list. Partly because it’s also the only self-help book I’ve ever actually read, I admit. Still, it’s wonderful.
Ms Rubin comes across as a person not some holier-than-thou, preachy psychologist. She formed her own experiment by focusing on one particular aspect of her life every month for a year – her husband, her children, her house, her finances, etc – until she could truly say there was nothing wrong with her life.
I actually liked her and found I could relate to her victories and failures. I’d recommend reading this, but as more of an interesting autobiography of a normal person.
9) Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
Alright, so there’s not a whole lot of new information in this book. There can’t be – it’s Shakespeare, for God’s sake.
But the information that is here, as familiar as it might be, is presented in an entertaining and accessible fashion and it’s truly a joy to read.
I’ve always found the man fascinating, especially the idea that he didn’t write his own plays (not that it really matters in the end).
10) Coffee, Tea or Me? by Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones
I hadn’t realised how old this book was until my Mum caught me reading it and told me she’d read it when she was my age. There’s absolutely nothing in this wonderful memoir about two air stewardesses to suggest that it wasn’t written last year.
I’ve always found that profession interesting and this account is accessible and hilarious. It’s easily the best air hostess book I’ve read and there have been a few over the years!