The Joy of Reading Nonfiction

As much as I love fiction, occasionally I am lured by real stories. Isn’t that what feeds the fiction writer? Ideas from real life? Who knows what books would be sitting on the mystery shelves in stores if writers couldn’t binge on CNN and Dateline Mysteries.

When I packed my suitcase with books I had saved for Mexico, my annual winter hiatus where I read endlessly under a palm tree and sip margaritas, I included a few nonfiction works I had been waiting to savor.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe is as compelling a murder mystery as any fictional one I have ever read. This reads nothing like some of the flat feeling true crime books I have read. This is a lyrical account of the brutal abduction and disappearance of a mother witnessed by her many children during The Troubles that brought me the same kind of chills I get reading Stephen King. Keefe is deft at creating a vivid backdrop to a story that spans decades, if not centuries, and manages a cast of hundreds, if not thousands. I often read a nonfiction book at the same time I am reading a fictional one, choosing to go with the nonfiction when I don’t have the time and luxury of being swept into a story. With non-fiction, I can usually keep enough distance from the story to maintain my equilibrium. Not so with, Say Nothing. My mother used to say that I would go “comatose” with a good book. She would have declared me catatonic while reading this one.

Don’t miss The Library Book by Susan Orlean, which the Washington Post described as “a dazzling love letter to a beloved institution-and investigation into one of its greatest mysteries.” While relating the story of the Los Angeles library fire in 1986, Orleans tells a far bigger story about libraries and librarians, their history and place in the community. Her writing is beautiful.

I read The Lie: A memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out by William Dameron to research the secret lives some people attempt to live and considered it homework. It ended up being a moving account of someone whose life is turned inside out while he grapples with internal demons and resists acknowledging who he truly is.

And what about the places where nonfiction books take you? Here I am in the tiny coastal village of San Pancho, Mexico, and puff! By opening a book, I’m on the other side of the world.

I was transported to France twenty-plus years ago to I book I had missed that a cousin recommended. On Rue Tatin was a delightful escape into the world of French cuisine. Sprinkled with delicious recipes, I found myself constantly hungry while indulging in Susan Hermann Loomis’s charming account.

Similarly, Felicity Hayes-McCoy’s The House on an Irish Hillside took me to the Dingle peninsula in Ireland to share her adventures while she transitions from a busy urban in London into the Irish countryside and the lessons she learned. Her account lived up to the book’s description. It was “the true story of rediscovering what really matters.”

I am glad these nonfiction books found a spot in my suitcase next to my fiction picks. I always learn something when I travel. This year’s lesson is that I’ll try to be more conscious of the value and enjoyment nonfiction brings.



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