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BAND August Discussion: Nonfiction Beginnings

BAND August Discussion: Nonfiction Beginnings post image

BAND — Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees — is a group organized to promote the joy of reading nonfiction. We are “advocates for nonfiction as a non-chore,” and we want you to join us. Each month, a member of BAND hosts a discussion on their blog related to nonfiction. 

The host for our August nonfiction discussion is Amy of Amy Reads, who asks:

How did you get into reading nonfiction? Do you remember your first nonfiction book or subject? If so, do you still read those subjects?

It probably won’t surprise anyone reading this post that I’ve almost always wanted to be a writer of some kind. When I was in elementary school, I imagined that I’d be a novelist… not because I had great stories to tell, but because that was the only kind of writing I could wrap my brain around. As I got older, through middle school and high school, it dawned on me that I didn’t have the imagination to write fiction. I loved the techniques of fiction — strong characters, well-imagined settings, dialogue, plot, and conflict — but just couldn’t invent stories to save my life.

I didn’t find the words to describe the kind writing that I wanted to do until I discovered my love for narrative nonfiction in a college writing class called Creative Nonfiction. The class was about writing personal essays, but in order to write better we spent a lot of the class reading and discussing a variety of narrative nonfiction: Anne Lamotte’s Bird by Bird, Robert Sullivan’s The Meadowlands, Jane Brox’s Here and Nowhere Else, and Kathleen Norris’ Dakota, among others. While I didn’t love every one of the books, the class showed me beautiful examples of the kind of writer I aspired to be.

Unfortunately, most of my other English classes didn’t offer me more choices in narrative nonfiction. I loved the novels, poems, and plays we explored, but nonfiction really only came into the curriculum in essays and critical theory. I had to look out on my own to explore narrative nonfiction more, and I did that the best I could in the time I had outside all of the other projects and readings I had to do for classes.

I don’t think I fully started to explore everything that nonfiction has to offer until after I graduated from college. My first few reviews for this blog, started in May 2008, were nonfiction reads: Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House, and Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You. I think my love for nonfiction has just continued to grow since then as I’ve expanded the topics and types of nonfiction I love to read, and found more books that help me imagine the kind of writer I hope to be in the future. Yay, nonfiction!

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  • Amy August 16, 2011, 6:15 am

    Very neat Kim. While I never wanted to be a writer myself, my reasoning was because I couldn’t come up with a story to save my life! Creativity just isn’t me, at least in the inventing stories way. Now that I read more nonfiction I think well I could possibly do that, but I still prefer reading to writing 🙂 Love your answer!

    • Kim August 17, 2011, 6:10 pm

      I like when I read a nonfiction book and it feels like something I could write myself. Of course, I also love books that are so amazing I could never write them, but I always aspire.

  • Julie @ Read Handed August 16, 2011, 1:15 pm

    Kim, your journey with writing sounds a lot like mine, except I didn’t give up on fiction until I was in college. Like you, I just don’t have the imagination for it. I don’t do much writing at all anymore, except on my blog. Nonfiction is fun! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Kim August 17, 2011, 6:11 pm

      As much as I thought I was going to be a novelist, I don’t think I ever actually wrote a book. I had some friends in high school that wrote much better and much more than I did, which I think helped change my mind.

  • Brooke (Books Distilled) August 17, 2011, 7:18 am

    Thanks so much for this great post! I LOVE Anne Lamott and Kathleen Norris! I’ve been wanting to put more nonfiction on my reading list, and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is at the top because of your recommendation. It’s interesting, when I was at my MFA residency in July I started thinking a lot about writing narrative nonfiction, specifically personal essays. Very interesting!

    • Kim August 17, 2011, 6:12 pm

      Yes, yes, yes to The Spirit Catches You…. I love that book. Writing personal essays can be fun and quite hard — mine were never that great, but I think it’s because my life just isn’t that interesting.

  • Lu August 17, 2011, 4:34 pm

    It’s so interesting to me that you really discovered your love of non-fiction while blogging. I’ve always assumed that that was a life-long love of yours!

    • Kim August 17, 2011, 6:12 pm

      It really hasn’t beed. I just didn’t read a lot of nonfiction as a kid or in high school — I mostly read long fiction until just a few years ago.

  • Violet August 19, 2011, 3:07 am

    I read only fiction too when I started reading. I started reading non-fiction just 4-5 years back and now it’s one of my favorite genre’s. I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned, thanks for adding them to my Wishlist 🙂

    • Kim August 20, 2011, 4:02 pm

      I hope you like the books when you get a chance to read them. It was funny to me, given how much nonfiction I read now, to think it’s only been a relatively recent development.