2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 1 book toward her goal of 285 books.

2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

On Non-Fiction or When a Story is not a “Story”

Well, here we are on Book Review Tuesday yet again. This week’s theme: non-fiction. You see, I have recently taken on a new role – I will be a guest reviewer, providing book reviews on a variety of non-fiction topics and themes, for LuxuryReading.com (check it out – it’s a very cool site, and sometime in the future you will be able to see me there). As I was selecting the first two titles that I will review for them, I got a burst of excitement about the slew of non-fiction titles in my library that I want to get through. So, I thought that today’s reviews would feature the last few non-fiction books that I have read.

Turns out I have read three non-fiction books so far in 2011 – which is to say, only 10% of this year’s thirty books to date. Not very impressive as showings go – or so I thought. I love non-fiction – history, memoirs/biographies/autobiographies, humor, political commentary, cultural analyses, books on how/why we think and write and behave. Not only do I like to learn things, but there is a lot of history that reads so unbelievably, with such outrageous characters and plotlines, that the stories seem like they have to be fiction even when they are not. So I figured I had to be off-track, and thought I would run some numbers on the last year/so to see how far off I was, exactly.

Well, turns out I was not off-track at all – I was ahead of the game. In 2010, 11 out of 155 total books were non-fiction – that is to say, barely over 7% of what was a fairly impressive annual total (check out On Challenges and Obstacles, a previous post, for more on that). In 2009, out of a whopping 140 books (ha!), 11 again were non-fiction (nearly 8%). Starting to see a trend?

Oddly weirded out that it was 11 in consecutive years, I of course then had to keep investigating to either find more 11s or to see an end to the trend (ah, the joys that slight touch of OCD bring me… sigh), so I ran some more numbers. Teehee – I make this sound quasi-painful, by referencing numbers, because anyone who knows me knows I subscribe to the “Math Is Hard” school of life-philosophy. But don’t feel too bad for me just yet… Truth be told, these kind of numbers are fine and dandy, because anyone who knows me also knows that there are few things in life I enjoy more than reviewing my reading lists and/or library. So here’s what I found. In 2008, I read 152 books; 18 were non-fiction (nearly 12%) – a banner year!

I was originally going to stop with the stats here, since the 11-trend had obviously been a non-trend after all, but then I got curious and so had to keep going. Seriously – my version of OCD is certainly not debilitating by any means, but it is sometimes a pain in my own ass. So here goes: in 2007, 6 of 155 books (barely 4% – in other words, eek!); in 2006, 7 of 131 books (just over 5%); in 2005, 8 of 124 books (nearly 6.5%); in 2004, 3 of 112 books (not quite 3% – super eek!); in 2003, 5 of 81 books (just over 6%). And now – drumroll please, for the grand total: of the 1050 books I have read since 2003, 69 were non-fiction, or just over 6.5%. So apparently I trend toward reading non-fiction on a fairly not-so-consistent basis. Interesting, she said.

And so, with statistics out of the way, at long last (and if you actually stuck around long enough to get here), I give you the actual reviews of the last three non-fiction books I read (in chronological order, starting with the most recent):

  • The Skeptic’s Guide to Conspiracies by Monte Cook – This was a used-book sale find for me – I was intrigued by the cover art because it included not only the text on the cover, but what looked to be handwritten notes in the margins. How fun, I thought – a conspiracy theory book with a sense of humor! The seemingly handwritten notes appear throughout the text – the typewritten text is presented as the explanations – and debunking – of the more popular conspiracy theories, with the handwritten marginalia apparently penciled in by a conspiracy theorist eager to prove that he knows what is “really” going on. It is a cute and novel premise and was fun to read – for the first five or six theories. After that, the marginalia got rather repetitive and became less fun and more annoying. If you have never read/heard anything about the major conspiracy theories, it is a quick read that hits the high points; if you have any prior knowledge there is not a lot of detail here and not likely to be much to hold your interest – besides the fun factor.
  • The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs – I want A.J. Jacobs’ job. Here is a guy who gets paid to do crazy things and then write about the experience. Seriously. The only person with a better job is the woman who got paid to write a book about reading books (see So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson). How does one get this kind of gig? Oh wait, I know – by being a columnist with a following and the ability to turn everyday life into witty, clever, self-abasing yet still self-congratulatory (in the best possible way, I assure you, and without any sense of egotism) prose. Admittedly, this was not my favorite of the A.J. books, largely because it was a series of vignettes about his shorter “experiments” and therefore did not contain as much of the minutiae-of-daily-life-while-doing-something-somewhat-crazy element (or as many guest appearances by his wife – who cracks me up and has to be the most patient and accepting woman in America) that features so prominently (and hysterically) in his longer projects. It was, however, still highly entertaining and left me yet again wanting to be A.J. – and to outsource my own life…
  • Dear Old Love by Andy Selsberg – This managed to be simultaneously horrifically mean, utterly hysterical and heartbreakingly touching – all in the span of less than 200 pages comprised entirely of notes to exes and unrequited crushes. It is a read-out-loud book – I found myself unable to read many of the notes without commenting: “oh how sad!” or “can you BELIEVE anyone would SAY that?” being the most common vocalizations – well, aside from maniacal laughter of course. I love the idea behind the project – the book derived from a website set up so that people could say the things they had always wanted to say but never had the nerve or the strength or the heart to actually tell another person. I don’t know how much closure actually resulted from some of them, but they certainly were fabulously interesting to read!

    It is a little depressing to realize that none of these three was an “outstanding, fabulous, amazing, if you don’t read this your life will be empty and meaningless!” kind of book… And so I have decided in advance that next week’s book review will feature favorite non-fiction books. I wouldn’t, after all, want to leave any readers with a bad taste in their mouth about non-fiction, particularly as I get ready to start a new gig reviewing it!

4 comments to On Non-Fiction or When a Story is not a “Story”

  • I’m not a non-fiction reader, though I totally agree with your points on why it’s wonderful. I start several but finish few. Sigh. However, despite the fact that you didn’t totally love the three you posted here (yes, I made it through all of the OCD stats…prolly because I do the same type of thing), I am totally intrigued by the Dear Old Love. I will add that to my list and let you know if I finish it.

  • Jodie Brownlee

    Hi Jill Elizabeth,

    This is my second visit to your blog and I enjoyed each post. I thought I followed you last time but my name wasn’t there for some reason. I’m there now!

    I always dive into non-fiction books with such enthusiasm but rarely finish them. Non-fiction books are good candidates for the high-speed read. I enjoyed your reviews.


  • Hi Jill, happy to find you through bookblogs, following on GFC!

  • The one thing I love about non-fiction is what you mentioned, that some of those stories are so outrageous that if the book was fiction you would have thrown it at the wall in disgust.


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