Fifteen years later I still find this ridiculous. The benefits of reading don't come solely from reading novels and other works of fiction. Nonfiction also enriches our reading lives and can be very fun to read! My college boyfriend was not a reader, despite the fact that his mom was a librarian who kept a steady supply of books in the house. This wasn't because he didn't like to read, but that he hadn't yet found what he did like to read. It turned out that his literary interests veered more towards humorous memoirs, popular science, and books about American politics that featured a strong narrative voice. For him, it took discovering nonfiction to really grasp the concept of reading "for fun."
Classifying fiction as "fun" and nonfiction as "work" does a disservice to readers. If you haven't dipped your toe into the pool of nonfiction recently, then try picking one up on your next trip to the library or bookstore. I find nonfiction easier to read in small chunks because there aren't generally cliffhangers at the end of the chapters, so it is perfect reading material for a busy schedule. Here are a few of my favorite works of interesting, informative, and amusing nonfiction that are great additions to any summer reading list:
Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey
Have you ever wanted to know what it is like working as a researcher in a large museum? Trilobite expert Richard Fortey takes readers through the Natural History Museum in London with fascinating stories about the history of the natural world, gossip about what happens behind the museum doors, and a love of learning that will make you care more about fossilized creatures than you ever thought possible.
Country Matters: The Pleasures and Tribulations of Moving from a Big City to an Old Country Farmhouse by Michael Korda
If you have ever daydreamed about moving to a picturesque farm where you could drink summer cocktails on the front porch while surveying your land and livestock, then this is the book for you. This memoir about country living is not all sunshine and rainbows, but that makes it all the more endearing. In every chapter they face a new issue, sometimes with the house, other times with the neighbors, but always with wit and charm.
Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government by Gregory Levey
Do you ever wonder what it is like to be a diplomat? In this humorous memoir, a Canadian finds himself working as a speechwriter for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations where nothing ever really seems to run smoothly. There are the daily issues, like trying to decipher the screams coming from the library down the hall, as well as panic-inducing moments, such as when he is the only Israeli representative at a vote on nuclear proliferation and has to ask the United States how he is supposed to vote. It is a fascinating insight into diplomacy and politics in the Middle East, and is wrapped up in a narrative that will keep you laughing.
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges
I realize that this list is getting a little heavy on the memoirs, but the tone of this book is quite different from the others. Chris Hedges is a longtime war correspondent and this book is part memoir, part philosophy on war. He weaves his own experiences and the stories of the people he met in war zones into a meditation on what it means to go to war and how it affects those who live through it. It is a relatively short read, but will stay in your thoughts after you finish.
Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 by Janet L. Abu-Lughod
This book was originally assigned to me my freshman year of college, but not in its entirety. The parts I initially read were so compelling that I consumed the book cover to cover over the following winter break. My K-12 education did not have a lot of focus on world history and what little we did cover was focused pretty squarely in Europe. This book looks east and uses the trade routes of the time to discuss politics, economics, and trends of the time. There are plenty of maps so you don't have to keep an atlas handy while reading and the narrative is quite compelling. Though I hesitate to compare its readability to a novel (which seems to be the en vogue way of saying a work of nonfiction is "fun" to read), it is a work that is engrossing. I reread it on a regular basis because it is packed with interesting tidbits about a time period and area that I know less about than I should.