My favorite kind of reading

The winner of the Dole Fruit Bites is commenter #90 Angie who writes the blog Heartchild.


For some reason during the school year with everything we have to accomplish for school, we don’t get to the library very often.  So summertime is library time around here.   We’ve already gone twice, and I’ve been enjoying finding books for myself as well as for my children.  Back in my teens I was an avid fiction reader.  These days I read almost all non-fiction, mostly in the parenting/adoption/self help genres, with a hefty dose of cookbooks tossed in there.  But another type of non-fiction  is truly my favorite.  The books I like best tell a story about people while also illuminating a corner of the world in a new and interesting way.

Years ago I read Tracy Kidder’s book House which tells the story of a couple building a house while also giving insight into the inner workings of the building industry. Melissa Faye Green’s There Is No Me Without You illuminates adoption and orphans in Ethiopia in a similar way– by following an Ethiopian woman caught in the middle of the Ethiopian AIDS crisis.

This month I’ve enjoyed two more books that fit into this genre.  The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters is a story about brides preparing for their wedding day, families that support them as they take this step, and an iconic family business in the Midwest called Becker’s Bridal.  Last night I was up late reading another true-life story titled Fragile Beginnings: Discoveries and Triumphs in the Newborn ICU.  It tells the story of a baby born more than 3 months early and fighting for her life in the NICU, even as it tells all about advances in neonatal medicine.  Fascinating and heart-rending all at once.

I’m not sure if there’s an actual genre into which this type of book fits– anybody know?  I recognize one when I pick it up, but as far as I can tell there aren’t any neat categories on amazon that make finding this type of book easy.  Have you read and enjoyed any non-fiction books like these, ones that tell a person’s story while also giving you a insider look into a new world?


  1. I think the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is like that – the story of a real woman and her family, but also about science and medicine and ethics. I read it for my book club, and we had LOTS to talk about!

    • I agree with Lauren. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a must read for you. I also read it with a book club and there is so much to discuss.

  2. Atul Gawande’s books are a fascinating look into medicine.

  3. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is an awesome look at anthropology, the sometimes fatal miscommunications that can occur from cultural misunderstanding, and the Hmong people.

    I don’t know if it would exactly fit, but The Middle of Nowhere by Mary Pipher (who wrote Reviving Ophelia) is the author’s story of getting to know refugees in her town- it was super eye-opening as to what refugees and immigrants experience when they come here. As well as a joy to read.

  4. Heather says:

    I also enjoy reading non-fiction books. I enjoyed Melissa Fay Greene’s book too. Here are a few non-fiction books that I have enjoyed:

    The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

    Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus

    The Voice of Hope by Aung San Suu Kyi

    Mukiwa by Peter Godwin (there are 2 others by Godwin- When a Crocodile Eats the Sun and Fear, but of the 3 I like Mukiwa the best)

    Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (Eggers also wrote What is the What which was quite good too)

    Savage Inequalities by Johnathon Kozol

  5. It’s called narrative journalism, literary journalism, or creative non-fiction. Truman Capote is often credited as one of the modern originators of the genre, though the elements can be seen in earlier authors, also.

  6. I generally only read non-fiction with these as some of my favorite ones: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Late Homecomer, 10 Mindful Minutes, Stolen, Burn Journals, Because of Mr. Terupt, The Girl In the Picture, The Seventeen Second Miracle, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Elaine’s Circle, The Little Princes, The Blue Zones (book about living longer lives), I Called Him Father, Into the Wild, Three Cups of Tea, Love in Black and White the Triumph of Love Over Prejudice and Taboo, and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and my list could go on and on with the books I have read and thoroughly enjoyed.

    Every single one of these is well worth the read for different reasons. You will not be sorry you read any one of them. Even if you don’t think you want to read one of the books, look up a short description–you will be surprised. They are all fantastic reads.

  7. I just finished and enjoyed “The man who quit money”. Talk about living simply!

  8. as recommended by Chookooloonks (I believe you are also a reader there) I found –the Boy who Harnessed the Wind– and loved it! I recently bought the children’s version for the illustrations.

    A few months ago, I read — My Own Country– by Abraham Verghese, who was a medical doctor during the early days of the AIDs crisis.

  9. I just read this review for unPlanned by Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who is now pro-life. It looks like it’s a similar type of storytelling.


  10. Recently read The Blue Sweater (Jacqueline Novogratz) about her journey into microfinance in Africa. Also just read Possum Living: How to Live Well without a Job and (Almost) No Money by Dolly Freed (written in 1978, fun).

  11. I went to a lecture and book signing by Tracy Kidder this year and he calls his type of writing narrative non-fiction. I would recommend more of his books especially Mountains beyond Mountains and Old Friends or Among Schoolchildren.

  12. jennifer says:

    My own country by Abraham Verghese- its about a primary care dr who was treating aids patients back when aids was new.

  13. The American Plague by Molly Crosby was fascinating!!

  14. A wonderful book about the victims of Alzheimers and the underpaid, overworked employees who care for them is called “Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s” by Lauren Kessler. Very interesting and touching story.

  15. What is the What by Dave Eggers
    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
    Yes Man (can’t remember the author – better than the movie based on it)
    Lessons in Letting Go by Corrine Grant

    I’m sure there’s more but I just can’t think. Lol.