There is one genre that makes even seasoned, self-proclaimed readers shudder. It is cloaked by imagery of old, dusty middle school textbooks and dense pages filled end to end with texts and tacky graphics or maybe hours spent on mirlyn looking for the right article. It is tiring, boring and unimaginative — it is nonfiction.
I am here, economics book and memoir in hand, to defend the honor of this noble genre that has been degraded by your high school history class assignments. If you peer behind the cobwebs and sweep the dust off the “boring” genre, I promise it will enrich your life in ways you have never imagined.
I know what you’re thinking: “Sure, there’s no lack of information to be found in the nonfiction genre, but why should I care? It’s boring information.” I once thought the same thing, too.
Before my senior year of high school, I was someone who avoided nonfiction at all costs. That summer, I was assigned a book for my macroeconomics class called “Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science” by Charles Wheelan. I absolutely dreaded reading it. I knew nothing about economics, other than that it was boring enough to be called the “dismal science,” and I did not want to spend a second of my summer reading a nonfiction book.
I was shocked when I started reading it because I actually really liked it — so much so that I disregarded my other books and blew through it, reading, annotating and writing down concepts for future research. Wheelan was funny, engaging and intelligent. I laughed at his jokes and was guided along by his easy-to-understand examples of concepts, which I still use today as an economics major.
Wheelan’s writing opened my eyes not only to economics and how it can explain the world around me, but also to the nonfiction genre and all that it has to offer. Nonfiction doesn’t have to be boring — it can be whatever you want it to be. Missed out on AMCULT 234? Read about it. Want to learn about constitutional law? Read about it. Still wondering just what went through Britney Spears’ mind during her infamous 2007 breakdown? You can read about that too. Seriously, the world is your oyster here.
After this nonfiction awakening, I began picking up nonfiction books whenever I had something I wanted to learn more about or better understand. Here are a few of my favorites.
“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This bold, powerful piece is a letter from Coates to his young son. He considers the construction of race in the United States, his history and growth at Howard University, and his thoughts on grappling with brutal historical and present discrimination. At a young age, Coates discovered the omnipotence of his race in his life experiences but couldn’t quite grasp why. When he attended Howard University, which he calls the Mecca, he dedicated himself to learning why race played such an important role in his life. Coates guides readers through his time there, during which he gained consciousness of historical and systemic oppression and learned that the “American Dream” — the standard of freedom and opportunity for all — was built upon the backs of Black Americans. His views made me see America through a lens never offered to me in my past U.S. history classes. “Between the World and Me” is immersive and pressing — Coates discusses, frankly and tragically, what it is truly like to be a Black man in America.
“Why We’re Polarized” by Ezra Klein
After the 2016 election, many Americans were surprised and confused at what felt like such an unprecedented turn of events in American politics and even more so at what felt like insurmountable polarization. In his book, Klein explains that the results of the election were inevitable. Given the rise of identity politics, our political identities have become almost inseparable from our personal identities, which explains why voting patterns are so highly correlated with things like race, religion and location. Or why, for example, you associate blue hair with liberalism and pick-up trucks with conservatism. Once you finish reading, you’ll be armed with a new perspective and a sense of understanding of polarization and identity politics as unavoidable functions of democracy.
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
This is a classic nonfiction book. Capote, the father of true crime, tells the story of a shocking murder. One night in Holcomb, Kan., a small, safe town where everyone kept their doors unlocked, four members of the Clutter family were murdered in their home. There were no suspects, no clues and no apparent motives. Capote guides readers through the case and investigation, describing all sides of the case and presenting readers with a complex, holistic view of crime. If you love true crime podcasts or TV shows, this is the book for you.
You can find a book on just about anything you’re interested in. So next time you’re looking for a good read, try a nonfiction book!
Daily Arts Contributor Claire Rock can be reached at email@example.com.