An embarrassment of fictions
Now that I’ve finally got myself back on the reading bandwagon (oh, reading, I missed thee!), I’ve stumbled into another challenge: I can’t seem to stop reading novels!
At first, I was inclined to blame this glut of fiction on my recent release from graduate school. The freedom associated with “real life” reading was intoxicating—you mean I can read whatever I want whenever I want without guilt? Sweet, dizzying liberty! Suddenly, the whole world of non-academic text was open to me and I gorged myself on novels.
That moment was nearly eight months ago. Yet my delight in the freedom to read novels continued unabated. At this point, I’m not reading particularly good novels, even, just pointedly continuing my fiction spree, apparently intent upon thumbing my nose at my former constrained reading life as a student.
As novels began to lose their luster slightly, I realized that, as I’d been merrily luxuriating in novels, I somehow forgot how great, and how stimulating, nonfiction can be.
I read Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer by Richard Holmes recently and was stunned at the pleasure I received from it. It’s a pretty great book that tackles the complex challenges facing a biographer from the interesting perspective of autobiography. With its marvelous blend of memoir, literary criticism, and biography, Footsteps tells its readers as much about its various subjects (among them Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy Shelley) as it does about Holmes himself.
Somewhat to my surprise (it was a random Strand book, after all), Footsteps was refreshing and very intellectually stimulating for something so blatantly non-academic. The lighter intellectual side of nonfiction—books in the neighborhood of Antonia Fraser and David McCullough—had somehow eluded my notice during my eight months of adventures in novels. My mind prickled with a desire for more.
Perhaps this is a reflection of the quality of novels I was reading—for those of you following my little Autumn Reading series, you’ll notice that I wasn’t really reaching for the stars in terms of fiction. In my haste to return to my former reading liberty, I snarfed down anything fictional that moved practically and hardly enjoyed most of them.
So now I’m going to try and get back on the nonfiction wagon, so to speak. Recommendations for stellar nonfiction (biography, books about books, and history strongly preferred!) would be much appreciated. I’ve already written about some of my favorite nonfiction authors (apparently this nonfiction slump is a recurring theme in my reading life!), so chime in below with your favorite bit of nonfiction!