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A Conversation With a Reader: Why Non-Fiction has a place on your shelf.

A Conversation With a Reader: Why Non-Fiction has a place on your shelf.

Aug 31, 2017

John Cleland. @KBE_John

A Conversation With a Reader: Why Non-Fiction has a place on your shelf

Welcome back and thank you for taking the time to join me this week. If you didn’t get a
chance to read last week’s post, feel free to go read that and come back. Seriously though, I’ll

Last week I discussed why I think reading is important, and to clarify, I will always be
talking about why reading is important. The importance of reading is essentially a common
theme throughout this piece, a main character that you will hopefully grow to love.
This week I want to talk about non-fiction. Before your eyes glaze and you close your
browser, stick with me. I have always, and I can’t stress this enough, hated non-fiction. Why
would I want to read dry text that probably has no application in my modern world? So I’m on
your side.

Just a brief pause to acknowledge my non-fiction lovers; I know you’re few and far
between, but here’s a chance for your voice to be heard. Help me show, through discussion, how important non-fiction can be and why it should be on your list.

My wife is an avid reader of non-fiction texts, and has been pushing me for years to read
some, but I always give some variation of “Non-fiction is boring and I like really crazy stories”.
Enter Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. This was the first true non-fiction piece I entertained as
an adult, and it has completely changed my perspective on the genre as a whole.
The point of non-fiction, as I see it now, is that the story (true or as close to the truth as it
can be) is so incredible and crazy that it seems it should be fiction. If you’ve ever read Unbroken, then you know what I mean by this. Even having seen the movie, which is significantly tamer than the full story, you get a glimpse at the insanity that Louis Zamperini experienced during World War II.

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In essence, the story follows Louis from an early age, describing him through his troubled
youth, into his adolescent success as a runner, and the bulk of the story then covers his time in
the army as a bombardier. He was an Olympic runner in the 1936 Olympics in Germany, he
survived for 47 days on a raft on open ocean, and he survived several Japanese prisoner of war
camps before being brought back home.

The story is so thrilling and captivating that you are left thinking that this has to be
fiction. There is no way something so incredibly insane could possibly be true. Herein lies the
beauty of non-fiction; they are indeed true stories.

Hillenbrand goes into true depth about Louis’ life and his experiences, not only as a
POW, but as a person and a veteran returning from some of the most traumatic years of his life.
She chronicles his time with excellent characterization that truly paints us a picture of what he
was like and what he became.

“Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen.”

A quote from the book that represents a major theme throughout Louis’ time in the POW
camps. The Japanese soldiers would do everything in their power to strip the American POWs of their dignity, and Louis was no exception. I won’t give you all the details, but public humiliation was a clear favorite, and one that came in all shapes and sizes.

If you’ve never read a non-fiction book before, or only a handful (which you didn’t
enjoy), then give Unbroken a chance. Tell me what you think. If you hate it, tell me why you
hate it. If you love it and it has changed your perspective, share that as well. It is a book worth
reading, a history worth knowing, and an experience waiting to be shared.

Other works on non-fiction worth mentioning: The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger,
Night by Elie Weisel, Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, The Boys in the Boat
by Daniel James Brown, and Adolfo Kaminsky: A Forger’s Life by Sarah Kaminsky.
As we close out, I will continue to pose questions in the hopes of developing critical
thought: Have you read Unbroken before? What did you think about it? Have you read any of
Hillenbrand’s other work?

Do you ever read non-fiction? If you do, what are some of your favorites (if not
previously mentioned)? Why do you think non-fiction either has or doesn’t have a place on your shelf? What are you reading now, if anything?

As always, please email me at or Tweet me
at KBE_John if you’re interested in engaging in a conversation about books and any other topics that interest you. Also email or Tweet if you’re interested in being featured on the blog to discuss what you’re reading, have read, or would like to read.

Please comment your thoughts below!