Thursday, October 6, 2016

Nonfiction That Has Changed Me

While thinking about our topic for the latest Book Blab, I started reviewing all the nonfiction books I've read over the last few years. If there has been any sort of change in my reading life from my adolescence to now, it's how much I read nonfiction. I was almost exclusively a fiction reader as a kid. Nonfiction just felt boring. Too textbooky or something.

But I LOVE reading nonfiction now. I don't know if it's because nonfiction has gotten better, or I've just woken up to the possibilities of this genre, but some of the best books I've read in recent years have been nonfiction. I just wanted to take a moment and highlight some of the most influential non-fiction books I've read over the last few years. I want to stress that this list does not represent all of my favorites or even the categorical best of the non-fiction I've read. I just realized that some of these books had been super influential in shaping me in some way, and I wanted to highlight them here. It's always a powerful thing when a book can actually change the way you think or act, and I would argue that all of these books have done that for me in some way.

Books That Were So Interesting They Blew My Mind

Born to Run  by Christopher McDougall

I believe I can safely credit this book with being the one to fully turn me on to non-fiction. I'd never read any book like this before, and I absolutely loved it. It was just so fascinating, and the writing was good! I'm not even a runner (and probably never will be, despite how close this book came to convincing me I should try), yet I couldn't put this book down. This was the book I told everyone about for months after reading it and forced on all my friends and family. It is a good one.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Okay, this one is a bit thicker, and a bit more text-booky, but still very readable. And also, this book legitimately blew my mind. I found Diamond's ideas and theories about how human societies have been shaped by the resources in our environment to just be amazingly brilliant and fascinating. I feel like this is a hard book to talk about because it starts feeling academic pretty quick, but it's so worth a read. I mean, if you're interested in this kind of stuff. Which apparently I totally am.

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukhenjer

I've read quite a few medical non-fiction books, a lot of them more enjoyable and better written than this one (most recently, Being Mortal), but for whatever reason this is one that has stayed with me the most. I just learned so much about cancer, some of it fascinating, some of it frightening. I don't even have a reason to be all that interested in cancer, it's thankfully not a major presence in my life, but for whatever reason this book really spoke to me. He just laid out the history of this disease in such a compelling way that it felt epic to me (although, like I said, not the most well-written book I've read, there were lots of slogging moments).

Books That Changed the Way I Think About People

Quiet by Susan Cain

This was another book I couldn't stop talking about and recommending to people. This book entirely changed the way I think about myself, and for that I will forever be indebted to it. I definitely grew up feeling guilty for my introverted tendencies and lack of social skills, but this book taught me to view these traits as positive attributes, not negatives. I also appreciated her idea (or, maybe not her idea, but an idea presented in the book, I think), of an introversion/extroversion sliding scale, in that not everyone is totally one or the other, but might be a little of both. This book totally influences the way I think about people around me in social situations. I'm constantly looking for signs from my fellow introverts and giving them grace for being just as socially awkward as I am.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Actually, this book didn't influence me quite as much as I expected when it comes to habit formation. I am an Upholder, so all it really takes for me to form a new habit is to really mentally commit to it. But, her Four Tendency framework (from which I get the term Upholder) was super fascinating for me as a tool for analyzing other people. Understanding that my husband is an Obliger has been a pretty big game-changer in how I encourage him to stick to good habits (and also allowed me to let go of some of the annoyance I felt that it always seemed up to me to keep certain family traditions and habits going--it's not that it's not important to him, it's just that he needs to rely on me as an outer expectation). Now I look at all sorts of people around me and try to fit them into this framework to help me make sense of why they act the way they act.

Books That Changed the Way I Act

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

So, How Not To Die might eventually overtake this as "book that most influences my actual eating choices," but Pollan's brief little manifesto about eating real food, mostly plants, rings through my head every time I meal plan and grocery shop. I wouldn't list this as one of my top favorite non-fiction books or anything like that, but any book that actually influences the choices I make in day-to-day life is obviously pretty powerful.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up by Marie Kondo

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you'll recall how much I bought into the MarieKondo craze when I read this book last year. So how's my clutter a year-plus later? Well, to be perfectly honest, the spaces I share with my husband and children remain on the side of untidy the vast majority of the time. But the spaces where I have complete control (my closet, my side of the bathroom, the kitchen and laundry room) have really and truly stayed magically organized, just as promised. I really expected things to fall apart during the worst of this pregnancy, but my clothes remained neatly folded in MarieKondo style all throughout. If you don't buy into her method 100%, that's fine, but her system truly, honestly works for me on a daily basis.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham

Okay, so it's only been a few months since I read this one (and raved about it here), but this book has honestly impacted my day-to-day parenting so much that I can't even recognize the parent I was before. I'm not going to say that I've figured everything out and now parenting my children is a snap and a breeze, but I feel like I have such a better understanding of my children now, and so much more compassion and connection, and everything about my relationships with my children has improved dramatically. Remember how skeptical I was of the no punishment thing? Yeah, well, I just realized the other day that I can't remember the last time I thought punishment would even be appropriate. It's not that behavior has changed significantly, it's just that now I have a better grasp on what's motivating behavior and realizing how much of it is my fault (not giving enough attention, etc.). Anyway, this book has made a pretty big impact.

Okay, so I want to emphasize again that this list doesn't even begin to represent all the wonderful non-fiction books I've read and loved over the last few years. Just, in these three categories, these are the books I would pick as being most influential. There's just so much good non-fiction out there. Please, I'd love to know, what nonfiction books have changed or influenced you in some way?

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