A lot of people avoid the non-fiction section of libraries, and they all have their reasons. Some don’t have the energy to pore over educational material and are looking for a simple read. Others aren’t in the habit; non-fiction just isn’t their “thing.” I’d argue that venturing into the non-fiction wing is something that everyone should do at least once in a while.
It’s not that fictional reads aren’t equally valuable — it’s just that fiction is already popular, whereas many avoid non-fiction. Of course, there are plenty who appreciate a solid informational read, but for the rest, consider this a gentle push toward didactic literature. Here’s why you won’t regret it.
1. Non-fiction is not boring
Non-fiction doesn’t have to be a 400-page textbook in Latin — unless you’re into that kind of thing, of course. There are innumerable non-fiction page turners out there that would surprise the most skeptical James Patterson loyalist. Just because a book teaches you something doesn’t mean it can’t have a compelling narrative or that it can’t also be a thriller or a romance. Biographies are a great example of non-fiction literature with a storyline.
People click on Internet articles filled with random facts all the time — but why? Why is a list of strange science facts so attractive while many avoid books that do basically the same? The answer lies in our fast-paced world. Very few have time to read more than a few blurbs. That doesn’t mean we don’t have time for the book versions, only that people need to learn the advantages of skimming. A non-fiction work doesn’t have to be read like a novel: You can skip around and get to the good parts when time is tight.
2. A library card is cheaper than a college education
For those looking toward college, reading non-fiction books is a great way to prepare. Textbooks can be a bit drier than the works we might pick for ourselves, but it’s still good practice for getting used to the rhythm of educational reading and learning to highlight the most salient facts. For those already in college, it’s sometimes hard to return to reading for pleasure after getting burnt out on class readings. However, it’s important to remember that learning can be enjoyable. We don’t only do it because we’re forced to — at least, not always.
For those out of college, education shouldn’t end with school. And finally, for those with no intention of traveling the university route, a library card can arguably teach you as much as four years at an institution, as Matt Damon reminded us in Good Will Hunting.
3. It’s a chance to expand your expertise
All books can teach you something: vocabulary, syntax, storytelling, morals, etc. A good story is very much worthwhile. But in the end, if you really want to understand a topic well, you have to buckle down and open a book written by an expert.
Too often we find ourselves with one specialty, one thing in life we know a lot about. Often, this focuses on whatever we do for a living. That’s all very well and good, but expanding your horizons can break up the monotony, and you never know when a knowledge of the history of the Mississippi River might come in handy.
4. Curiosity leads you interesting places
If you pay attention, there are a lot of things most people wonder about on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s a fleeting question you barely realize is going through your head. If you’ve always had a strange, out-of-place fascination with the Congo, Bill Gates, or vegetation, there’s a book for you! If non-fiction isn’t your thing, start with something halfway there like historical fiction, or a really well-researched novel. Trade back and forth — read something easy and relaxing between the books you might find a bit dry.
5. The best story is a true story
This isn’t completely true — just look at Harry Potter. That said, reading about something that actually took place has a certain appeal to it that a fictional book can’t manufacture. Reading someone’s story and knowing it’s real can be like shaking the hand that published the book that someone truly great wrote — except somehow considerably cooler than that suggests.
There’s a reason it was such a scandal when A Million Little Pieces turned out to be largely fabricated — it matters to people that a story is true. Sometimes it gives us strength to know how someone’s life was reshaped, and sometimes reading the account of life from a real woman in the 1920s can feel like time travel.