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Book-Talk Monday: Fiction vs. Nonfiction

Monday, March 12, 2012

What’s the ratio of fiction vs. nonfiction that you read?

And I’m not talking about devotionals or Bible study books. I’m talking biographies, memoirs, histories, essay collections, etc. And reading, not just books for research. A nonfiction book you choose to read versus one you have to read for a school paper or for what you’re writing.

Last month, I read the novel The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir, who, I learned, is better known for her nonfiction histories of eminent personages from the Tudor era (mainly) along with other historical British personalities. Since one of my major gripes with the novel was that it was apparent she was more accustomed to writing nonfiction (way too many info dumps/too much unnecessary historical context given throughout), I decided to read her nonfiction account of Elizabeth’s mother, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn. The same “wait, let me backtrack and tell you all the details leading up to this event” tendency is there, but in a nonfiction piece, for me it’s not only acceptable, but I appreciate it.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction by choice. I do enjoy research when it’s for a project (I’m the person who, in college, wrote a research paper on a historical figure I was interested in just because I wanted to—properly annotated and everything—and no one else has ever read it!), but to just sit down and read something nonfiction isn’t really something I do. There are some nonfiction books I’ve enjoyed—many of which are memoirs/personal accounts of public figures or celebrities I’ve liked (I’ve read Bill and Hillary Clintons’ books, Barack Obama’s books, biographies of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, the psuedo-autobiography of the Judds, and a couple of Frank Schaeffer’s most recent books). I have a huge number of books on the Civil War—but the only ones I’ve actually read cover to cover are the ones I had to read for my college classes.

On the flip side, I enjoy watching documentaries: Rome: Engineering an Empire, Queen Victoria’s Empire, The Civil War, Ken Burn’s The West, The National Parks, and so on. When I had cable TV, more often than not, when there was nothing else on, I might find the TV parked on H2 (formerly History International) on something like The Dark Ages or America: The Story of Us or Life After People. But just don’t ask me to sit down and read 400 pages on those topics!

So I’d have to say that my fiction to nonfiction ratio (not counting research books, remember) is at least 100:1 (100 fiction books to every 1 nonfiction book). My reading goal for this year is to read at least thirty-six new-to-me books, and I’m going to alter that goal to include at least two nonfiction books read for pleasure, not research.

What about you?

14 Comments
  1. Monday, March 12, 2012 12:09 am

    I would say I read almost no non fiction books. In fact the last one besides text books would probably been a few years ago. I did use to read more cricket books but haven’t read one of them in a few years either.

  2. Jennifer permalink
    Monday, March 12, 2012 6:37 am

    I’ve tried several times to alternate 1 to 1, fiction then non fiction to deepen my perspective on life. Yeah, that lasts for a couple non fictions, then off I go on a fiction spree of 5 or more:) I did get two non fictions read in February-David Platt & Madeleine L’Engle (whom I love in any genre). The next on my list is A. Wetherall Johnson-we’ll see how it fits into the ration! Still reading for school too, so it does cut down on enthusiasm

  3. Audry permalink
    Monday, March 12, 2012 7:05 am

    According to goodreads, I read 64 books in 2011, 6 of which were nonfiction, which gives me a ratio of about 10:1. I enjoy nonfiction, but when I want to turn my brain off and escape the world for a while, nonfiction doesn’t quite cut it!

    • Audry permalink
      Monday, March 12, 2012 7:08 am

      Interestingly, 58 of 89 books on my “to read” shelf are nonfiction

  4. Monday, March 12, 2012 7:58 am

    I actually just finished my first non-fiction book in ages — A Night to Remember by Walter Lord, about the Titanic’s final hours. It was amazing!

  5. Monday, March 12, 2012 9:35 am

    Kaye, like you I rarely read nonfiction except for research. In fact I read far more of it now because of fiction than I ever did before I became a writer.

  6. Ann Street permalink
    Monday, March 12, 2012 11:03 am

    I hardly ever read non-fiction books. I do like to read historical fiction and enjoy reading the authors historical notes at the end when they include it.

  7. Sarah Richmond permalink
    Monday, March 12, 2012 12:31 pm

    I have a lot of fiction books.

  8. A foolish one permalink
    Monday, March 12, 2012 2:41 pm

    I picked up THE KILLING ANGELS about the battle of Gettsburg and enjoyed it very much. That lead me to read the bios of Jefferson Davis and his wife; and Robert E. Lee and his wife. I don’t remember the titles, but for me they were not only informative, but enjoyable.
    THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY was non-fiction, about the first World’s Fair in Chicago and enjoyed that. I like to read the bios of authors. I think they help me to understand their writings better. I’d say my reading is half fiction and half non-fiction.
    If the non-fiction gets boring, I just quit.
    I love Beatrice Potter and her life story is facinating. (I got curious when I used to read her children’s stories to my boys.)

  9. Monday, March 12, 2012 3:12 pm

    I decided that I hadn’t been reading enough non-fiction, so decided tht this year I will read (and review) at least one each month, which means about 5% of my reading. It’s a bit hit-and-miss. I’ve been reminded why I don’t read self-help (even Christian self-help), and while I don’t mind a biography about an interesting person, I have trouble with memoirs.

    I’ve just finished If Walls Could Talk, which had some fascinating information, including a titbit about pay toilets at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

  10. Monday, March 12, 2012 3:21 pm

    Very little nonfiction. Almost none. Three last year, and one of those was a devotional (please let include it!) I have tons on my To-Be-Read list. I just rarely find the time to read them.

  11. Rachel Wilder permalink
    Monday, March 12, 2012 5:57 pm

    I’m the same. Way more fiction than non-fiction, except for research books. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d still be reading my research books.

    I am a total sucker for horse biographies. I whipped through Seabiscuit in less than a week. Secretariat’s on my shelf but I haven’t cracked it open yet. Not enough hours in the day to research the fall of 1860 AND read non-fic for non-research purposes.

  12. Pam K. permalink
    Monday, March 12, 2012 8:17 pm

    Once in a great while I will read a biography but I mostly read Christian fiction. I like stories rather than facts so I think that is what draws me to fiction rather than nonfiction. A good fiction book allows me to escape for awhile!

  13. Monday, March 12, 2012 9:24 pm

    I’m in school, so I read a lot of non-fiction, though most of them are only inspired by class subjects, not required. My reading list, thus far, includes 4 nonfiction, 6 fiction. I’ll definitely be reading a lot more fiction this year in comparison to 2011 due to a HUGE number of short fiction assignments. (I also read stacks of poetry.) And like you, I dig the documentaries :)

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