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Big Kids’ Table: Switching It Up with Non-Fiction

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Greetings, friends! You made it to Friday and (believe it or not) the final Friday of September. Hasn’t this year just sped by? I can’t even keep track of the days lately. It’s all a blur.

I hope that you are out there reading some fantastic books right now, and maybe, quite maybe, picking up a grown up book. Part of my reading resolution to myself this year was to branch out more. I didn’t just want to read young adult books. Reading is about learning about new things and new people, and I wanted to make sure I was making a conscious effort to do just that.

So today we are going to talk a little bit about non-fiction.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a BIOGRAPHY. Shocker, I know. It’s been so long since I’ve read one, and I feared it so much. What if it was boring? What if I just wasn’t getting the point? You know, the natural fears we have when we embark on something new. Lucky for me, I was reading Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. Jim Henson was the creator of the Muppets and he helped created Sesame Street. The bio tells an honest story of a creative, hardworking man who never ran out of ideas but instead died way too early. (He was only in his 50s.)

Jim Henson The Biography by Brian Jay Jones

For those of you who aren’t Muppets fans, I hope you’ll keep reading but Jim faced a stigma that certain grown up young adult readers seem to face all the time. That self-consciousness that we are adults reading little kid stories. Jim wanted to create an art through puppetry that reached adults AND children. But he hit several roadblocks because critics and audiences couldn’t always look past the fact that puppets were just for kids.

“Good, solid entertainment is funny for young and old,” he patiently told one reporter. “There is a tendency to think of children’s entertainment versus adult entertainment. It’s possible to have an identical level for both.” Still he admitted it was difficult to convince adults that puppetry wasn’t just kids’ stuff. “People don’t tend to like [puppets],” Jim said. “They turn off alt the idea, but that’s because puppets are generally not well done.” (page 178 of Jim Henson: the Biography ARC.)

I couldn’t get over how much his struggle compared to our tastes in books or even our tastes in other hobbies. (For me, loving Walt Disney World as a travel destination fit too.)

As much as I enjoy fiction and being wrapped up in a character’s story, there’s something to be said about journeying through someone’s life and hearing from the people who loved them, the trials they faced, and the accomplishments that set forth their legacy. It’s also quite fun to have a few facts up your sleeve. Think of what a hit you would be a dinner parties!

Here are a few other non-fiction books, I’m hoping to cross off my list soon:

  • Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton — I’m sad to admit that I’ve owned this book for more than 3 years now (thanks to my lovely coworker) and haven’t read it yet. I’m a huge fan of the Presidents and I love American history. The prologue to this book is so intriguing, and I can picture myself in a warm, woolly sweater reading this while it’s snowing outside.
  • Everything was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies — I bought this book about two years ago after seeing Follies on Broadway. This musical is very special to me. I spent a lot of time at my first college, the summer they put it on and the story itself reminds me so much of my school closing. I’m a huge musical theater fan and I want to know the backstory!
  • Slimed: an Oral History of Nickelodean’s Golden Age — I’m actually going to an event for this book tonight. (Marc Summers from Double Dare is going to be there!) When I was a kid, I loved SNICK so much. I stayed up every Saturday to watch it and made sure I always had the lights out for “Are you Afraid of the Dark?” I’m also a pop culture junkie so I’m looking forward to checking out this “history” book.

Just for kicks, here are three I’ve already loved + adored:

  • Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett: I read this book for a memoir class and ended up loving it so much, I kept it. It’s about Ann Patchett’s friendship with a gal she meets in college, and soon-to-be fellow writer. I loved this book because I felt Ann portrayed the struggles of wanting to be a REAL writer so well, and of course, the girls together are heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
  • What Remains by Carole Radziwill: This one is kind of a tearjerker but it’s remained a steady recommendation from me for years. Carole was best friends with Carolyn Bessette, who was married to JFK Jr. This book details their friendship, the tragic passing of the pair, and also the cancer that will take Carole’s husband.
  • Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion:  This book is near and dear to my heart — a collection of short stories by a fantastic journalist who writes about writing, home, and pop culture. Definitely something I would suggest to the budding writer or a fan of travel writing.

For me, non-fiction is a way to make way for my other passions. I never want to be just about fiction books or just about young adult. There are so many different genres out there to discover, and fun facts and stories to learn about living and breathing people. It’s important to make space in your reading wish lists for these too.

Now it’s your turn! Have you been reading non-fiction? What subjects do you want to learn more about? I’d love some suggestions and just to hear from you about embracing other genres and true stories!

Happy reading, all!

September 28, 2013 - 6:55 pm

Hannah @ So Obsessed With - Just realized The Girls of Murder City was written by Douglas Perry – not Donald. Whoops!

September 28, 2013 - 6:54 pm

Hannah @ So Obsessed With - This Big Kids’ Table post made me so happy, E! Partly because I love non-fiction and partly because I love when you talk about branching out and challenging yourself with what you read. I like the comparison you draw between Henson/puppets and adult readers/YA books. I definitely find it frustrating when it feels like I need to defend the fact that I like all kinds of books, including ones geared towards teenagers. Shouldn’t people just be excited that people are reading?!

So, anyway, back to talking about non-fiction. I’m actually pretty open to lots of different topics in non-fiction, although I do tend to gravitate towards certain ones. I love biographies, especially of actors and actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood OR of authors I love and adore. I’l basically read any non-fiction that has anything to do with Jane Austen. That’s like almost an auto-buy for me! I’m also drawn to certain historical figures or time periods, so will sometimes pick up more “history-focused” non-fiction. I also love travel memoirs, too!

Here are a few I’d definitely recommend to you if you haven’t already read them:

The Lost Girls by Jennifer Bagget, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner – Three friends quit their jobs and travel around the world for a year. So interesting!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – Absolutely one of THE BEST books I’ve read EVER. Not just best non-fiction. Best books of all time, genre, etc. Such an engrossing read!

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling – I literally laughed out loud while reading this in public and now want to be Mindy’s best friend.

The Girls of Murder City by Donald Perry – Knowing you love musicals, I’d highly recommend this book to you! The musical Chicago was actually based on real things that happened in history. It was originally a play written by a journalist who had covered a series of trials of women murderers – SO fascinating! I didn’t realize this was something that had actually happened, so I loved seeing how the musical/real life compared!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – A science-focused book that I wouldn’t normally pick up but am glad I read. This was about a topic I knew nothing about and had little interest in but I found myself so fascinated by this woman and what she contributed to science.

Okay, I think I’ve written enough! Either way – had so much fun reading this post 🙂 I’ve got a post about non-fiction coming up soon so I was really excited to read your thoughts on it!

September 28, 2013 - 11:12 am

Bookworm1858 - I’m not much of a NF reader but I do like what you’ve written about Henson. I’m tired of people criticizing my “childish” pastimes although I’ve gotten better about politely defending them because they are what I love and feel passionate about.

September 28, 2013 - 11:01 am

Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook - First, that’s so interesting about Jim Henson! I feel that way about children’s books, sometimes. I love kid’s books. Picture books, readers, chapter books, you name it. There are some amazing books out there, and just because they are aimed at children, that doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy them as well. It also made me think of some Pixar movies: Up, Wall-E, where both adults and children adored those movies.

Second, I really do enjoy non-fiction, although I don’t read enough of it. I am going to recommend a few though, that are aimed at middle-grade kids and teens, but are amazing and well researched books.

Steve Sheinkin has written some AMAZING non-fiction titles, and since you like American History, I highly recommend them. There’s a biography called The Notorious Benedict Arnold which provides such an interesting look at Arnold, and his role in the American Revolution (also the cover is kick-ass!). The other book by Sheinkin that I’ve read is Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal-The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Another fascinating book, and both of these won a ton of awards.

The other book I want to recommend is Charles & Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. This also won a few awards, and it’s a biography about Charles and Emma Darwin and how even though they had vastly different religious beliefs, they still loved and respected each other deeply. It’s a wonderful story, and it’s even better because it really happened.

September 27, 2013 - 9:55 pm

Devyn - If you are looking for a good biography, I absolutely loved Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing. But I might have to add some books from this list onto mine to enjoy, thanks for the suggestions!

September 27, 2013 - 10:09 am

Leah @ The Pretty Good Gatsby - YAY YOU WAVE THAT NON-FIC FLAG, E! Non-fiction can be so much fun + way interesting but I feel like it gets a bad rap from people claiming it’s too dry or boring. NOT SO! Oddly enough, I have a soft spot for bios on the Founding Fathers (‘MERICA!) & my studies dealt with the Civil War so the 1800s leaves me starry-eyed. That said James Swanson’s MANHUNT was so fascinating and was my very first audiobook! An ex & I were going on vacation and we brought this one with us and didn’t speak the entire car ride (10+ hours) because we were so engrossed in the story. It’s about the 12-day search for Booth after Lincoln’s assassination and it’s SO accessible and easy to listen to.
Douglas Preston’s THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE is also fab. I might be slightly morbid, but I love True Crime. This one is about Italy’s most infamous serial killer & at one point during the research Preston was actually targeted by the police!
THE HOT ZONE by Richard Preston (I don’t believe there’s any relation to Douglas other than being AWESOME non-fic authors!) is terrifying and intense and delves into another morbid soft spot of mine: DEADLY DECEASES. This one will forever and always hold a special place in my heart + always reminds me to wash my hands.
I love a good popsci & MY BELOVED BRONTOSAURUS by Brian Switek was perfect. Easy to understand without being weighed down by technical, unfamiliar terms. Plus, you know, DINOSAURS. Switek does such a fabulous job of separating fact from fiction and although I have always been a dino fan, I hadn’t realized just how much I DIDN’T know.
Kate Summerscale’s MRS. ROBINSON’S DISGRACE is definitely different than the non-fic I tend to pick up, but it completely drew me in. I took this one with me on vacation last year and for the majority of that time I stayed inside our cabin and read. Mrs. Robinson is a Victorian lady who writes some very UN-Victorian things in her diary. With her husband travelling all the time her thoughts wander and she develops a crush on a man. She writes about him and her husband eventually discovers the diary & wants to get a divorce. ONE YEAR before this, divorce had been illegal in England so this trial is A PRETTY BIG DEAL and it really changed the way society thought of woman and sexuality.
Other incredible non-fic authors are Jon Ronson, Erik Larson, Bill Bryson, & Mary Roach. Also, because I’m a bit strange, I LOVE microhistories (GR has an excellent list!) – the history of one particular thing. The history of salt, the history of lobsters, the dictionary, coffee, the number zero. SO FASCINATING!

September 27, 2013 - 9:57 am

Diane Tibert - Thank you for sharing. I love the Muppets and introduced them to the wonderful characters years ago.

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