Getting into nonfiction as a fiction reader

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Vanshika Dhyani shares her experience with the genre of nonfiction and some tips to help you get started.

I was a geeky eight-year-old who devoured the Goosebumps series like it had been dipped in chocolate. A ‘true horror fan’, I called myself, roaming the horror section at every bookstore. Eventually, I made the leap from R.L. Stine to Stephen King, trading Slappy-themed nightmares for Pennywise-themed night terrors. I had never been too picky about what I wanted to read, so when a friend recommended The Alchemist, I read it. On the surface, the book is a fable about a shepherd and a treasure hunt, but, after digging deeper, the allegory peels away and the book questions purpose and the true meaning of life. While The Alchemist is disguised as fiction, in reality, it is a truly spiritual book.

My first experience in the genre of nonfiction came when I read Into Thin Air, a travel account by Jon Krakauer, a journalist who lived through the 1996 Everest disaster. I had watched the 2015 movie and came across the book during my research. As I made my way through Krakauer's brilliant narration, I found myself on the mountain in the biting cold with frostbitten fingers. It was the book that opened myself to the brilliant world of nonfiction. After giving the book a five-star review on Goodreads, I decided to read a memoir. After I read Neil Armstrong’s memoir, my childhood hero, I went on a spree: “The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, a gripping account of that unfateful day; Why I killed Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated the famous Indian anti-colonial nationalist; Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow, a story about the man who landed a plane in the Hudson River, saving 155 people; and What Happened by Hillary Clinton. I read it all and realised memoirs are my favorite style of writing when it comes to nonfiction. You’ll never know whether or not you’ll like a book unless you read it. 

“Nonfiction gets a bad rep from self-help books that are strewn all over the internet and social media.”

When people think of nonfiction, a Jay Shetty flavoured thought quickly emerges with words like ‘power,’ ‘life,’ ‘fulfilled,’ and ‘grateful,’ moving in and out with their synonyms. Nonfiction gets a bad rep from self-help books that are strewn all over the internet and social media. Unfortunately, self-help novels now fall into the genre of pop culture that people reject before thinking twice. 

My advice for including more nonfiction reads on your ‘To Be Read’ (TBR) list is to start with a book about someone you admire, perhaps a topic that interests you, or a book a movie you enjoyed was based on. Nonfiction doesn’t have to be about you waking up at 4 am and adopting ‘5 things billionaires do’; it can be about you learning a little more about British colonies or the textile industry, something you personally find interesting, and going from there.