I’ll admit it: I’m a fiction junkie. When I walk into a bookstore, I will make a beeline straight for the fiction section. Most of my favorite books are fiction. Like many readers, I just love escaping into fictional worlds and seeing what writers are able to do with the craft of writing fiction. I don’t often reach for non-fiction books, and when I do, they aren’t really my favorites, and I’d much rather skitter back over to my novels and my short stories. But every now and then, I run across a few non-fiction works that just blow me out of the water. Those few books always stick with me, and often become favorites that I return to again and again, like some of the titles featured here. So if you’re curious about what non-fiction books a total fiction junkie has made an exception for (and even got a tattoo from), read on to find out!
Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan
You have probably heard me mention this book before, especially if you follow me on bookstagram. In fact, you may be sick of hearing me mention this book. But the fact of the matter is, it’s one of my top favorites and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon! Carl Sagan, in case you don’t know, was an American astronomer/astrophysicist/astrobiologist/all around frickin’ genius who also wrote several books about space and space exploration. You may have heard of the TV show Cosmos, hosted by Neil Degrasse-Tyson, which was based on another of Carl Sagan’s books.
But for me, Pale Blue Dot is the Sagan book that really hit home. While yes, this book is about space and space exploration, Sagan touches on so many other topics throughout, from the way humans relate to each other to religion to world views. Part of his introduction to this book, from which the term “pale blue dot” originates, is not only one of the most famous and oft-repeated lines from his work, but also stood out to me so much that it became one of my favorite quotes of all time, and I got a portion of it tattooed on the inside of my right arm. So I guess you could say that this book is probably my favorite book on this list.
If, like me, you’re interested in space, space exploration, or astronomy in any way, I highly recommend Pale Blue Dot (or really anything by Carl Sagan). Not only is it immensely interesting and will open your eyes to new things, but it’s also written in a way that makes it easier to understand if you’re not a genius level scientist—or even if you’re just not a particularly science-minded individual—so definitely don’t shy away from learning more about the epic universe we live in just because you’re afraid you won’t understand the material!
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
While this may not be the type of book you initially think of when you think of non-fiction, these letters from poet Rainer Maria Rilke are from his real life and feature a lot of real life advice and real life observations which, despite being written in the early 1900s, is still very relevant today. In these letters, Rilke is addressing a young man who wishes to become a writer professionally and has asked Rilke if he can look over some of his work and share some advice with him. Rilke muses on writing and life in general, but it is perhaps his words about a passion for writing that hit me hardest.
“This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”
I think this book of letters (which is a short and very quick read) can appeal to anyone, but if you are a writer or artist of any kind, it will really speak to your soul.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
I have a read a tonnnnn of books on writing. I mean, I majored in creative writing in college, so it kind of comes with the territory. There are a lot of good books that discuss writing (and if you want a separate post on my favorites, I’d be happy to do one! Just let me know!), and there are some not so good ones, too But one of my favorites and perhaps one of the most popular is On Writing by Stephen King. On Writing was one of the first books about writing by a writer that I read when I was a teenager and had officially decided that writing was what I wanted to pursue as career (Ramen noodle diet be damned). As a teenager, so much of what King said in this book was significantly helpful, and looking back at it as I have many times over the course of my life since, it really seems like tried and true advice that can stand the test of time. Again, if you’re a writer, this is a must-read, as King really lays out the skeleton of what it means to devote your life to this particular craft. Some of your favorite quotes—especially favorite quotes from King—might actually be from this very book. I know I’ve seen the quote “books are a uniquely portable magic” on everything from buttons to pillows to T-shirts on bookstagram and other book-centric social media.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
“If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids (edited by Meghan Daum)
Okay, I’m about to get pretty personal here: I don’t want kids. Like, ever. This is not an “I don’t want kids right now” situation. This is more of an “I don’t want them at all” situation. And for a long time, I felt very, very alone in that. Almost everyone my age was having kids, already had kids, or plan to have kids and are very open about children being a part of their future. I always felt very alone in my intent to not have kids, and it turned out to be sort of a touchy subject. For some reason when you say you don’t want kids, a lot of people want to tell you that you’re wrong.
I’ve heard everything from, “oh, you’ll change your mind someday” (I won’t) to “oh, when it’s your own kids, you’ll like them” (no guarantee of that) to “but what are you going to do with your life?” (um, literally anything else? What kind of question is that?) For some reason, I just couldn’t find a lot of people who understood where I was coming from, which was what made this book of essays from people like me (1. Writers & 2. Don’t want kids) feel like practically a godsend. Finally, I had found people like me who were talking about the things I thought and felt, and who were going through similar struggles with people not understanding why they would possibly not want children or judging them as being selfish (or shallow, or self-absorbed, hence the title) for not wanting them. This is a really amazing book of essays that makes me feel like people get me and get where I’m coming from. This is an excellent read not just for people who don’t want children and feel increasingly isolated in that decision, but also for people who just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that people who don’t want kids exist or their reasons for not wanting kids. There’s a lot of media positivity surrounding raising children and having a traditional family, but not as much about this valid and alternate decision, so it could be a very educational read even if you don’t agree with the sentiments expressed within.
Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me by Lily Collins
Books by celebrities can sometimes be a bit of a gamble. Is it going to be full of insightful stories and make the author feel more relatable, or is it going to be a self-aggrandizing, poorly cobbled together disaster? Thankfully, Lily Collins’s book of essays, Unfiltered, falls into the first category. Collins (the star of unpopular but adorably charming Mortal Instruments: City of Bones book to movie adaptation) already has a background in writing, so she manages to imbue some of the craft into stories that take a very frank and honest look at not just the good things about her life (an amazing career, a kickass attitude, and a wonderful relationship with her mom), but also some of her struggles (her eating disorder, emotionally abusive relationship, and distance from her dad), which successfully paint her as a down-to-earth, relatable human being who we can learn from. This book is full of good advice, poignant moments, and even brought a tear to my eye once or twice.
Fine. Three times. Maybe.
But you have no proof.
Long story short, if you’re going to pick up one book that falls into category “books by celebrities”, this one would be an excellent choice.
So, that’s my round-up of my favorite books from a not-so-favorite genre! Since non-fiction definitely isn’t one of my favorite genres, a non-fiction book really has to bowl me over to become one of my favorites!
What about everyone else? Do you read non-fiction often? Do you have any stunning non-fiction recommendations that I should read? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3