Historically, my non fiction track record is b-a-d. I’ve never been interested in them before. I found them boring and, sometimes, I can barely keep my eyes open reading more than 10 pages at a time in the past. I used to resent my Pops because he kept criticizing my reading habits (I exclusively read fiction before, unless required otherwise in school or for work) not realizing that he just wants me to balance it out with other realistic and more useful books. But lately, there has been a strange shift in the way I choose to consume books and spend my time. I been watching a lot of productivity videos in YouTube and reading a lot of book recommendations from important people that emphasize the need to consume important non fiction work that can help you be a better person and help you achieve and do more. It was inspiring, really. And I was forced to look at it in another light.
I realized, after all these years, that the key is reading about topics I care about. In reading non fiction works, you need to be intentional. Mindless reading won’t work. You can’t just go with the flow and wait for a twist that will blow your mind. You need to be very clear about what you want from a book and find the right books that will suit your needs.
Reading fiction is great but there’s always this gnawing sense in the back of my head that it falls more under the “pleasure” category. That the lessons and experience from reading fiction are only incidental. But that’s for another discussion and I digress. These days, I kind of fell into this non fiction black hole fueled mainly by my Audible and, recently, Scribd subscriptions. I’ve adapted several reading habits that helped me read more non fiction books and feel more productive during this quarantine. Here are some reading tips that have worked wonders for me in appreciating this genre:
- Change it up! Listening to audio books has been nothing short of revolutionary. I find it more appropriate to read memoirs in audio books as they follow a fixed narrative. This also works for books that tackles history and expositions. For books that teach you about something (specifically, on a step-by-step basis) and those that are illustration-heavy, it is better, I found personally, to read them in print or in a digital copy so you can properly absorb them.
- Highlight! Annotate! I’m an advocate of annotating and I think that this practice is more practical for non-fiction books. You can highlight, underline, or put comments (or write on it) in the books that you are reading, especially if it is trying to teach you something. This is one effective way to truly absorb the topics being discussed in the book.
- Take notes. Whenever I am studying for exams, I make it a point to take notes and sort of summarize the topics I am reading. Per my experience, it is better for me to have a general overview (summary) of it then go into the details afterwards. In non fiction books, it is usually helpful to go over the table of contents first so you have a sense of what you are getting into. The notes can be diagram, points, or important things that appealed to you. I am a “visual” person so this totally works for me. And, personally, I find that I remember stuff better if I write them down. I know it is a bit ineffective and, depending on the person, it might be too much – but it can definitely help you remember, if that is one of your goals.
- Reflect afterwards. This is not a required step, but it is something that I find really useful ever since I started this habit. Luckily, we have a corporate subscription to getAbstract, a site that provides summaries of a lot of non-fiction books. After I read a non fiction book, I go to getAbstract and download the respective summary. This help me go over the key points I learned (i.e., remembering the important details, ^refer to “Take notes.”) and commit them to memory. I try to reflect on which concepts will help me and in which situations I can use them in. Of course, reflection can be done at any point of your reading (via your notes and annotating). The key is filtering what is applicable to you currently, and then tucking away and committing to memory the items you think will be useful to you in the future.
I’m not saying that I 100% absorb all the non fiction books that I’m reading – that’s too good to be true. But as much as possible, I try to find the the value in everything I read since I spend a considerable amount of time and energy consuming them. I also figured I can round up all the non fiction books I’ve read lately and give a brief review for each of them. This is the first post for this series: Non Fiction Round Up.
HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE by Dale Carnegie – 5 ☕
It started with a random YouTube video that, for some reason, made it to my recommendations list (I can’t even trace it now). YouTube is funny that way, recommending you things you never knew you needed until you’re a few minutes in and you are questioning your choices in life. This book is more than 80 years old by the time I discovered it – and the usual sentiments came up: “Why am I only reading this now?“. This was God-sent. As socially awkward as I am, this is like a textbook of sorts – on how to navigate tricky (or even the simple) social situations – presented in a practical way that is inspiring and not-to-preachy. I wanted to make friends with the author after this. I wanted to hug him and thank him for writing this book. I have a copy of this in quick-reach – written, tabbed, highlighted – so I could refer to it over and over again. Instantly, this became my bible-of-sorts for social interaction. I’ve read this late last year and tagged it as the best non-fiction book I’ve read in 2019. How to Win Friends and Influence People is definitely one of the most important books I’ve ever read.
MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb – 5 ☕
I first discovered Maybe You Should Talk to Someone in one of Cindy’s videos where she rated this book 5 stars. I expected to be moved reading this one, based on Cindy’s review, but I didn’t expect the extent of emotional impact it would have on me personally. This is a memoir written by a pyschotherapist where she talked about an event that caused her to come crashing down and seek out the help of another therapist. In the process, she also wrote about her patients and the stories that had lasting impact on her. This book made me more aware of therapy and counseling as a practice. I’ve written before how therapy has and continues to change my life, but at the back of my mind there’s still this stigma that if you sought out a professional, it is sort of the equivalent of admitting that you are not okay and, in turn, making it more real. It’s an idea that I’ve really grappled with in the past and one of the many major reasons why I refused to seek out a professional for such a long time. Reading this book cemented the idea more that you don’t really need a mental condition to seek out professional help. It can be about processing your emotions, processing your grief, coming to terms with loss or a confusing major moment in your life – it’s actively putting in the effort towards making yourself feel better with the assistance of others. The realizations as well as the stories that Lori has shared in this book are re-affirming and touching and I found myself getting really emotional and invested especially towards the latter part of this book. I’ve learned so much during this read and it helped me process a lot of emotions and ideas as well. This also re-affirmed in my mind that I did right by choosing to go to therapy when I did. This is necessary reading for any mental health advocate and to people that are still trying to figure out whether they need therapy/counseling. Read this and it might just give you the proverbial kick (or gentle nudge, if you might) to finally go.
CAFFEINE: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan – 4 ☕
I got a copy of Caffeine as part of my monthly free credits in Audible. This is a short audio book about one man’s journey through withdrawal and the reflections that he had during the 3-month period without caffeine. This book presented engaging facts surrounding the world’s most commonly consumed psychoactive: caffeine. As a religious coffee drinker, I find this book really interesting and I definitely learned a lot. During the course of the narration, he proposes a theory that caffeine and its effects has been one of the major influences in the creation of the modern world – and there is so much evidence towards it. This is a nice, quick read if you are looking for short and informative pieces (it clocks around 2 hours!) to get yourself engaged.
TALKING TO STRANGERS: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell – 5 ☕
This is honestly the first book I’ve read from Malcolm Gladwell and I was really impressed. It kept me engaged, add to that, I guess, the wonderful job he did in this audio book (I listened to his narration via Audible). This was fully cast, podcast-style, featuring original recordings and dramatizations – a full-on production. I learned so much and it opened my eyes in terms of dealing with people for the first time. I was also able to take note of some very fascinating tidbits that I might spend a whole lot of time researching later. This book is not perfect, of course. It was not a “how-to” (i.e., how to talk to strangers), as I initially thought. More or less, this book presented many real-life instances where people judged strangers and act according to their bias – and its repurcussions. It is more of an examination of past critical instances and what we can learn from it when viewed microscopically. I find the bit about the Cuban mole Ana Montes and the Bernie Madoff investment scandal particularly interesting. Malcolm Gladwell goes really dark in this book venturing to a child sex abuse scandal, a rape case, police violence as well as a notable suicide (there are a couple of times where it was really hard to listen), so some trigger warnings are in order if you are planning to delve into this book . I’ve read a lot of reviews of this book saying that Gladwell has lost his touch in this book but I thought this was really good. I’m honestly excited to read his other notable works like Outliers and The Tipping Point so I’m expecting it will only be better from here.
Bonus: BECOMING by Michelle Obama – 5 ☕
I’ve also made a full post about Becoming – the critically-acclaimed memoir written by Michelle Obama, which you can read here.
That’s it for the first post in my Non Fiction Round Up. I hope I could share more posts like this in the future because these books are really changing my life. I hope this can also amp up your interest in reading non fiction books.
How about you? Do you read this kind of books? Have you read any good one lately? Comment up if you want to recommend something to me. I take book recommendation seriously. 😀