Books don’t bite: approachable non-fiction for the non-non-fiction reader

Broaden your literary horizons with three unintimidating non-fiction reads

Many shy away from non-fiction because it reminds them of dreary textbook readings.
Credit: 
Supplied by Delphin Media

Non-fiction has a bad reputation in the world of literature, and it’s time we change that misconception. 

We often read for an escape from reality. Fiction offers a much-needed escape, whether it’s set in our world or a wildly different one. 

Other times we read for school. While some of us enjoy sitting down for an afternoon with a textbook, few people think of non-fiction texts as leisure reading. 

Somewhere in between, there’s a realm of non-fiction books that provide information about the world we live in while remaining immersive.

Here are three non-fiction books I recommend to those not usually inclined towards them. Although their subjects and styles are diverse, they all share one trait: they’re entirely true. 

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

By Jon Ronson

Have you ever suspiciously looked into the faces of those nearby and checked for signs of psychopathy? Have you ever consulted the list of 20 traits that mark a psychopath after watching a movie or reading a book? If you haven’t, you probably haven’t read The Psychopath Test

You may know Ronson as the comedic author of The Men Who Stare At Goats, which was made into a 2009 film starring George Clooney. He has an eye for interesting perspectives and imbues the dry skepticism of an outsider in every situation. 

In this book, Ronson explores the meaning of the word “psychopath”, a term all of us are familiar with, but few can accurately define. He delves into the divisions of society and the grey areas in between. Why do some psychopaths end up sitting behind bars, he asks, while others sit behind the CEO’s desk at some of the most successful companies in history? 

This book is informative while remaining funny and light-hearted. Ronson uses his background as a journalist to propel the story forward. He introduces a few different characters and provides us with the tools we need to determine if we’re dealing with a psychopath, or not.

Ronson knows his audience well. The Psychopath Test reads like a documentary. It’s short, snappy and completely manageable for a first-time non-fiction reader.  

Have You Found Her: A Memoir

By Janice Erlbaum

From its title, this book sounds like the name of a star-studded romantic comedy intended for late nights and tubs of ice cream. But in this case, don’t judge a book by the title.his book sounds like the name o

This is Janice Erlbaum’s second memoir and her best book, in my opinion. I’ve read it a few times and I enjoy it equally every time. 

Erlbaum ran away from home at 15, and spent five years moving between the streets, homeless shelters and halfway houses. Twenty years later, she returns to the same homeless shelter as a volunteer. Despite warnings against becoming emotionally attached, she begins to form connections with the girls at the shelter over time. 

Erlbaum unintentionally forms a deep friendship with one girl at the shelter in particular, whom she calls Samantha in the memoir. 

Although she grew up on the streets, Erlbaum’s street smarts are put to the test as she tries to navigate her relationship with Samantha and maintain other aspects of her life. 

Samantha — who Erlbaum initially saw as a victim of unusually bad luck — is smart and friendly.  Erlbaum notices Samantha in the crowd at the shelter, and she can’t prevent herself from projecting her past self onto the girl.  As Erlbaum gets closer to Samantha, she finds herself more and more impressed and surprised by Sam’s humour and intelligence. 

There’s not too much more I can say about the plot without ruining it, but I will say this — if I had begun the book unaware that it was a memoir, I never would have known from the plot. Erlbaum’s experiences with Samantha remain unrivalled by any other book I have read, both fiction and non-fiction. 

The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes But Fed Up with Fondue

By David Sax

When I first moved to Kingston, there were five cupcake stores on Princess St. alone. Now, local bakeries offering a selection of fair trade coffees in a variety of roasts have slowly replaced most of these cupcake cafés.

We live in an age where diets change as quickly as seasonal styles. Few people think about why these trends exist or who determines them.

David Sax explores why some foods become trendy while others fail to fly off the supermarket shelves. The book begins with a brief history of the cupcake (did you know it was made famous by Sex and the City?) before branching off into a detailed yet engaging section about ancient grains and rice varieties (have you ever had black rice?)

In doing so, Sax gets to the root of the food trends that govern our groceries. 

While books about food have become more commonplace in non-fiction aisles as we’ve grown more culturally removed from food, The Tastemakers stood out for me. Sax does a great job of discussing a wide range of relevant and delicious foods in-depth, and the book will leave your mouth watering and your brain wanting more. 

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