Is non-fiction as entertaining as fiction is?

I had a conversation with someone today about non-fiction books. (You have to love those random conversations with strangers about books and reading – it is always an eye-opening experience for me.) He is a big fan of Charles Dickens, he finds his writing soothing and relaxing. I do not know about soothing and relaxing, but Dickens is undoubtedly among the writing geniuses of our time.

I am big fan of fiction because of it is ability to provide an escape from reality and take you to places that are new and exciting and sometimes wholly unbelievable. And while Dickens does indeed write fiction, a lot of his fiction is believable and sometimes as “ho hum” and “hum drum” as real life can be.

That being said, I have always been fascinated by the great foundation authors such as Shakespeare and Chaucer, Dickens, Joyce … and I have repeatedly promised myself that I would read more of them. I even bought myself the full Shakespeare collection in hardcover but it collected dust on my bookshelf for years until I migrated and had to leave it with my mother. I went as far as to get it for my Kindle and it still collects virtual dust because I just can’t find the time or the motivation to delve into literature that involved anymore. When I pick up my Kindle to read (or a book), I just want to escape to a world where I can lose myself and forget about the daily stresses.

Having this conversation today, however, reminded me just how much I had enjoyed reading Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution that I had to give my reading habits a second thought, and wondering whether I needed to pepper my reading list with more non-fiction pieces. Non-fiction can indeed be just as enjoyable and escapist as fiction and sometimes, as my reading buddy mentioned, truth can be stranger than fiction.

Today’s (November 30, 2011) Amazon Kindle Daily Deal is a non-fiction piece on JFK and the conspiracy theory surrounding his assassination. I subscribe to the Daily Deal because you can get some really good deals. Now that I am looking back at today’s deal, I wonder if it didn’t have some premonitory value for the subject of today’s post…

To get back to the subject, my reading friend was extolling one particular piece, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin and the way he described it made me want to go looking for it immediately – it sounds like a fascinating read. It is the story of a diplomat and his family in pre-WWII Berlin, Germany. According to my reading buddy, it chronicles the political climate at the time and personalizes the experience with excerpts from letters written at the time.

Everything aside, non-fiction written in periods such as the French Revolution and during the World Wars also helps us keep history alive. Who was it that said “If we do not remember our history, we are doomed to repeat it”? If nothing else, historical novels and non-fiction is one entertaining way to keep our history alive.

What’s the last non-fiction or historical fiction story you read? Share with us in the comments.

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