I talk a lot about fiction on my blog, about reading it and writing it. Usually when I mention loving to read I’m referring to fiction, and during the summers I really indulge myself there. I also prefer to write fiction over nonfiction, although I’ve actually sold well over a hundred nonfiction articles and the pay is much better than for fiction. Writing it is definitely a different kind of animal.
But my focus on fiction here shouldn’t be taken as a ‘dislike’ of nonfiction. I’ve often said that, as writers, nonfiction will feed our heads better than fiction, and I read a lot of nonfiction that is not just for work but for pleasure. I thought I might talk about it today. My nonfiction reading generally falls in three areas.
1. Science: I consider myself a scientist, and, as a teacher, I feel it absolutely necessary to keep up with scientific developments in the field of psychology. In the past five years I’ve been reading very heavily in the areas of evolution and evolutionary psychology, partly because I’m working on a book in that area, and partly because I’ve developed a couple of evolutionary related courses at my university. I’ve read some very good stuff in this area. The granddaddy book of them all in this field is Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, which I read many years ago but still reread passages from here and there. Some other good writers in this field include Loren Eiseley, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen J. Gould. Unless you’re working on a book, however, I’d suggest you not read many of the “Intelligent Design” screeds, which generally give a bad name to both science and religion.
2. Books on Writing: Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller, Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words. These have been three of my favorites in this area in the last few years. But I also really enjoy reading writer’s biographies, and I’ve got a bunch, from Hemingway to Stephen King. I love hearing about how other writers work, and about their successes and not so successes. A lot of writer’s lives are probably pretty boring to people who aren’t writers, but I find them fascinating. Of course, I’ve actually written my own book in this field, my collection of writing tip articles and essays called Write With Fire
3. Music: I think I always secretly wanted to be a rock star. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I sometimes think I would. And these days those dreams are way behind me. But I still read books about rock stars, mostly aging stars these days. Two of the more enjoyable works in this field that I’ve read have been Lemmy’s autobiography, White Line Fever, and Dave Mustaine’s self titled autobiography. I enjoyed Motley Crue’s The Dirt. I will eventually get around to Ozzy’s books.
I do read outside these three areas, though not as much. I’ve read a fair amount about motorcycle culture. I wouldn’t consider myself to have been an outlaw biker. I definitely was no 1%. But I enjoyed my years as a biker and I found the sub-culture pretty fascinating. I still read a few books about that world, including Ralph Barger’s Hell’s Angel. I devoured history when I was younger, particularly the history of ancient warfare, and World War II. I came close to becoming a history prof rather than a psychologist, and I would have specialized in WWII. But there’s only so many hours in the day and history has fallen off my radar for the most part in the past ten years.
What about you? What are some of your favorite nonfiction works, nonfiction areas?