So, I saw this post over at Rinn Reads, a blog I’m glad someone pointed out to me because I immediately said Yeah!. Then I said, Oh, memoirs? Because to me the experience of reading a memoir is identical to the experience of reading fiction, only (usually) not as interesting, because, well, fewer dragons, right?
There are exceptions, though. Have any of you read EIGHTH MOON?
Here’s what Amazon says about it: “Sansan was four when the Communists took Tientsin. She was seventeen when she left China in 1962. This is her story of the years between: how she lived, what she hated, whom she loved; a sturdy, stubborn girl’s true record of an existence none of her readers has ever known.”
Here’s what I say about it: It’s an amazing story. Sansan is so ordinary, and her circumstances are so extraordinary, and the juxtaposition gives you whiplash. I knew about the Cultural Revolution, but this will bring that to life — on a very small scale, because this is a story about Sansan’s life, not a political treatise. What she knows about is what’s happening to her and to her family and neighbors. This is a story I keep giving away, but luckily paper copies are easy to come by and not expensive, and the Kindle edition I linked is also inexpensive.
But memoir is definitely not at ALL what I think of when I think of nonfiction.
I read a lot of nonfiction when I’m supposed to be working on a project of my own. Since that’s the case at the moment, I currently have on my coffee table:
WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND CHARLES DICKENS KNEW, by Daniel Pool. It is quite entertaining, plus since I’ve been reading Regencies lately, it’s nice to finally know the difference between a guinea and a pound (I thought they were the same thing, but it turns out not quite) and how to play whist. Did you know that when a gentleman escorted a lady down to supper at a ball, he stood by while she ate, but he didn’t eat anything himself? I had no idea.
WHAT IF THE MOON DIDN’T EXIST by Neil Comins, an entertaining look at what happens to Earth-like planets if they form under different conditions.
A MAN FOR ALL SPECIES, by Marc Marrone, which is supposed to be anecdotes by a guy who is owns a pet store — one presumes he doesn’t sell puppy mill puppies, but I haven’t read the book yet — anyway, the store is called Parrots of the World, so I expect it’s one of those specialty places that raise their own parrots and things.
EVERYDAY LIFE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA, edited by Kathleen Adams and Kathleen Gillogly, which I want to read to develop a SE Asian “flavor” for a book I want to write sometime. Don’t hold your breath; I only have a few pages of that one written, plus I suspect there is a dragon in it somewhere.
ART THROUGH THE AGES, edited by Crosby, because it was free to a good home and I picked it up. I’m hoping it is nice to flip through, but this is not likely to be something I read from cover to cover.
DOLPHIN SOCIETY by Karen Pryor, which I’ve read before but want to read again.
HOW TO READ A FRENCH FRY, by Russ Parsons, a book on food science — Parsons explains why French fries don’t brown as well in perfectly clean new oil as in oil that was used once already, and lots of other things. I’ve read this one before, too.
Okay, all those books really are just sitting here on my coffee table. I didn’t cheat by going and getting a couple more to pile up here.
It’s true that fiction is more compelling on a must-turn-the-page level. That’s why I don’t read much fiction when I’m working on something of my own. But . . . honestly, if you don’t ever voluntarily read anything but fiction, I think you’re missing out. And as a writer, I know I would be. I may not be doing the research a true historical novel would require, that’s way too much work for me, but I believe that any writer will do better worldbuilding if they actually know something about the world. Something deeper than the snappy soundbites we’re handed by pop culture and mass media.