One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever seen was to read as much as you can, in as many different genres as you can find. It teaches you more about style, structuring, and characterisation than you can learn any other way – what to do, what not to do, what works for your story and what doesn’t.
Reading non-fiction can help with this as well, but I’ve found that it’s most useful for other things – ideas, worldbuilding, and backstory, for example. Reading non-fiction leads me on trains of thought that end up taking my fiction in directions I hadn’t expected. Here are some of the non-fiction books I’ve enjoyed most this year:
Brain on Fire by Susannah Calahan
Brain on Fire is Susannah Calahan’s account of what she describes as her ‘month of madness’ – a time when she suffered from an autoimmune brain disease that was initially misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder, then schizophrenia, then psychosis. Calahan’s in-depth, personal account of her illness is a fascinating and frightening read, reminding us just how complex the brain is and how drastically it can change in the face of an illness.
Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler
Thanks to the podcast My Favorite Murder, I’ve been on a true crime binge this year, and Whoever Fights Monsters has been the most interesting book I’ve read in a long time. Written by one of the FBI agents who set up their serial-killer profiling unit, it goes into great (and often gruesome) detail about the ways killers’ minds work, and what might be going on in the heads of the people who commit the horrific crimes Ressler describes.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Another true crime read, this book is about the case of H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who built his ‘murder castle’ in Chicago in the 19th century – but it’s also an amazing account of the building and success of the Chicago World’s Fair. The positive, creative forces of the World’s Fair designers and architects are pitched perfectly against the equal but opposite ingenuity H. H. Holmes applied in his carefully-planned murders.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
I think I’ve written about this book before (I have nearly 150 posts on this blog, leave me alone), but The Radium Girls is a horrific, terrifying, but ultimately hopeful account of the young dial painters who suffered from radiation poisoning after ingesting large amounts of radioactive paint that their employers had told them was good for them. The women’s legal battle to get decent compensation is heartbreaking and frustrating, but their stories deserve to be heard and remembered.
I’ve got a load more non-fiction books lined up on my Kindle, and I can’t wait to get through them. Which non-fiction books would you recommend?