Non-Fiction for Fiction Lovers

Reading non-fiction often feels, to me at least, like choosing the healthy option at a restaurant. Yes, it might nourish my mind and it might be quite enjoyable, but surely it won’t be as tasty as a novel?

Lately, however, I’ve been branching out and discovering some non-fiction authors that I genuinely enjoy reading as much as fiction. In each case, these authors manage to do something that the best fiction writers do, whether it’s portraying colourful characters, telling an engaging story, or exploring fascinating themes.

For characters, try reading… Ben Macintyre

If you’re the type of reader who forgets the plot of a book seconds after finishing it but remembers the characters for years, you should definitely consider reading some Ben Macintyre.

Everything I’ve read by him has been about WWII – a time at which there was rather a lot going on. But instead of focusing solely on events, Macintyre gifts the reader with colourful, insightful, and often humorous pen portraits of the main players.

The language employed to convey personality is often beautiful. Douglas Bader – a famous, flawed, disabled fighter pilot – is described as “a man with legs of tin, a heart of oak and feet of clay”. Paddy Mayne – one of the original members of the SAS – is described as “a man with enough personal demons to populate a small hell.” There is nothing dry or dusty about Macintyre’s portrayal of historical figures.

For plot, try reading… Tara Westover

I’m mainly talking about her bestselling novel Educated, but Westover has also written powerful and provocative essays such as I Am Not Proof of the American Dream and Is College Merely Helping Those Who Need it Least?

Educated shows that non-fiction can be crafted with the narrative clarity of a novel, including strong character arcs, good pacing, and increasing tension and jeopardy. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to create something like this from your own life, particularly if your own life has been a difficult one, but Westover shows it is possible.

For themes, try reading… Margaret Atwood

One of the main reasons I love fiction – especially literary fiction – is because it engages with big, complex themes that rarely get discussed enough in everyday life. It also tends to do this in an accessible way, without being dry or over-intellectual.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that some fiction writers can also address meaty themes in non-fiction. Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, does this frequently in her essays. She writes about freedom, memory, the power of art and the responsibilities of artists, and she does it all with passion and humour.


Have you read any great non-fiction lately? What would you recommend to someone more used to reading fiction?

Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2022

I definitely read more new authors than familiar ones in 2022, and I’m planning to keep that going in 2023. Here’s my pick of the bunch…

Karen Joy Fowler

Who’s she? An American author of literary fiction, sci-fi and fantasy.

What did I read? ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ – a story about a young woman whose sister mysteriously disappeared during childhood.

What do I want to read next? I’ll probably go for her most well-known novel – ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’.

Philippa Gregory

Who’s she? Only the queen of historical fiction.

What did I read? ‘The Queen’s Fool’ – the story of a teenage girl who becomes involved in a Tudor power struggle.

What do I want to read next? ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ is her most well-known novel but I’m more drawn to ‘Tidelands’ – a novel set in 1648, about a woman suspected of being a witch.

Peter Carey

Who’s he? An award-winning Australian author. He is frequently named as Australia’s next contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

What did I read? ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ – a fictionalised account of the life of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.

What do I want to read next? ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ – strange adventures, an unlikely friendship, and an exploration of American democracy from the perspective of outsiders.

Zoraida Córdova

Who’s she? An Ecuadorian-American author, best known for her ‘Brooklyn Brujas’ series.

What did I read? ‘Labyrinth Lost’ – a YA fantasy about a young bruja who casts a spell with dire consequences and has to rescue her family from a strange world.

What do I want to read next? ‘Bruja Born’ – the next book in the ‘Brooklyn Brujas’ series.

Noel Streatfeild

Who’s she? A British author who published children’s and adults’ fiction from the 1930s to the 1970s.

What did I read? ‘Ballet Shoes’ – the story of three very different sisters who take to the stage to earn some much-needed money.

What do I want to read next? ‘Ballet Shoes’ was such a cute, feel-good story that I’d like to read another book in the series like ‘Tennis Shoes’ or ‘Party Shoes’.

Douglas Stuart

Who’s he? A Scottish-American writer (and fashion designer).

What did I read? ‘Shuggie Bain’ – a novel about a young boy growing up in Scotland, and his mother’s struggle with alcoholism.

What do I want to read next? Stuart hasn’t written many novels, but ‘Young Mungo’ – the story of a Protestant boy and a Catholic boy falling in love on a Glasgow housing estate – definitely sounds worth a read.

Rachel Klein

Who’s she? An American novelist, essayist and translator.

What did I read? ‘The Moth Diaries’. Written in diary form, this novel explores the experiences of an intelligent, troubled teenage girl, and her obsession with Ernessa – the new girl at school who may or may not be a vampire.

What do I want to read next? As far as I can tell, ‘The Moth Diaries’ is the only novel Klein has written. Maybe I can find some of her short stories to read.

Ben Macintyre

Who’s he? A British historian and writer of non-fiction books, mostly about soldiers and spies.  

What did I read? ‘SAS: Rogue Heroes’ – the absolutely barmy story of the formation of the SAS in World War II.

What do I want to read next? It’ll have to be ‘Colditz: Prisoners of the Castle’. One of the main players from ‘SAS: Rogue heroes’ ended up in this POW camp and I want to find out what happened to him there.

Melissa Harrison

Who’s she? A British novelist and nature writer.

What did I read? ‘All Among the Barley’ – the story of a teenage girl and her rural community in the 1930s.

What do I want to read next? ‘The Stubborn Light of Things’ – a nature diary written in Harrison’s beautiful, unshowy prose sounds blissful.

Agatha Christie

Who’s she? You know who she is. Literally the world’s best-selling author of all time.

What did I read? I’m embarrassed to admit I got to my mid-thirties before reading an Agatha Christie, but at least I started with a good one. I read ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, in which detective Hercule Poirot must solve a murder on a train while the murderer is still aboard.

What do I want to read next? There are plenty of novels to choose from (Christie wrote 66) but I’m drawn to ‘Death on the Nile’ – another Hercule Poirot whodunnit.

Have you read any of these authors? If so, which of their books would you recommend?

You can find more topics for Top Ten Tuesday here.