Over the summer, I participated in a Sci-Fi reading challenge by Fortified by Books. In addition to motivating me to get around to reading some great sci-fi, it made me realize something liberating: you can invent your own reading challenges! For years, I have been participating in those year-long 50 category challenges, but sometimes they started to feel oppressive. That’s why I love these short-term challenges that increase my knowledge of a specific genre. So this fall, I challenged myself to break into a genre I rarely touch, by reading as much nonfiction in the month of November as I can. Here are some of the books I chose:
The Art of Asking; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer – I was familiar with Amanda Palmer through some of the most popular Dresden Dolls songs and through her relationship with author Neil Gaiman, but after reading this work I now feel like I know her like a friend, or at least like a hard-core fan. Amanda describes her personal journey from young human statue to crowd-funding-queen rock star and the role that learning to ask for help and accept help offered by others played in her success. We learn deep dark secrets about her own insecurities (and Neil’s!) as well as the trust and love she has for her fans. This book will have you crying, laughing, and suddenly appreciating and supporting your local street performers and independent artists.
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day – I met Felicia Day (known for her roles as an actress in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, The Guild, and Supernatural) at Book Expo 2015, when she was promoting this book but didn’t get around to actually reading it until now. Felicia’s memoir is another great work about creatively following your dreams and carving your own unique niche into the universe, just like the book above. I’m feeling super motivated to make something of myself now, you guys! Here, we read about her battles with depression, anxiety, and perfectionism (ouch a little too close to home). She fights through it all (or channels it) and becomes super internet famous, but it is only in the last few chapters that she learns to really take care of herself. Felicia had such a unique life growing up with the internet as it grew and developed itself, always on the forefront of online games and forums.
Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger – The writing isn’t the greatest in this one but the content is entertaining. The author goes on major digressions to talk about Byron’s life, and even his father’s life, but they were fairly interesting so I didn’t mind too much. I suppose if the author stuck only to the parts about Ada’s mathematics career, the book would have been much shorter.
Octavia E. Butler by Gerry Canavan – I was warned beforehand that because this was published by a university press it might be rather dry and academic, and so it is. The fact that I have not yet read any of Butler’s works made it even harder to get through. While I was hoping that it would get me excited to read her books, I think it has so far convinced me that her body of work is much more gritty and depressing than I usually like my reading to be. If you want some in-depth literary analysis of Butler’s work, and are well versed in it already, I recommend this book. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach – Given how much I enjoyed Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, I chose this book because it seemed to be in a similar vein (pun intended). Mary Roach takes a journalistic approach to the science behind dead bodies: she explores what happens to bodies donated to science, bodies as they decompose or are embalmed, bodies used as crash dummies, etc. She injects humor and wit throughout the piece but I still found it not quite as engaging as it could have been.
Status: In Progress
Conclusion: I gave it a valiant effort but it seems nonfiction is still not my cup of tea. There’s just nothing to keep me turning the pages, and the content doesn’t fill my mind even after I close the book the way fiction does. If anything, I like memoirs the best because they still read like stories or like talking to a person. I think I’ll keep trying to add some non-fiction to my life but in smaller doses, only one nonfiction work in between a few fictions ones. Five in one month was rather exhausting. I now see how someone can go a whole day without reading if all they read is nonfiction. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood.
Got any good books to suggest for a non-fiction newbie? Let me know in the comments! Are there any genres you wish you were more familiar with? Start your own reading challenge and be sure to tell me all about it!