Nonfiction fantasy

Eva has written recently about learning to love nonfiction; I’ve loved certain forms of it for quite a while, although I still read many more novels than nonfiction books. Eva’s post caught my eye because I’ve had a longing lately to read some good nonfiction; alas, I don’t seem to be able to get to it, as my reading time has been limited and when I do have time to read I read novels for class or for book groups. So I thought I’d do a little a little fantasizing here about what nonfiction books I would read if I had the time and energy for them. I’m going to pretend for a few moments that I have nothing to do for the next couple months but read for fun. Here are some of the nonfiction books I’d pick up:

  • Richard Holmes’s Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772 – 1804. Although I didn’t particularly like the Romantics when I studied them in college, I’ve changed my mind completely since then and have become a bit obsessed by them. I just received this biography of Coleridge from Book Mooch, and I’d love to dive in.
  • Also about the Romantic time period is Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. I so want to know what a woman’s life in Georgian England was like!
  • William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages, and it’s high time I get to it.
  • John Kelly’s The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time. I’ve been interested in this book ever since reading Geraldine Brooks’s novel Year of Wonders, which is also about the plague. It would be great to have a nonfiction as well as a fictional perspective.
  • Helen Deutsch’s Loving Dr. Johnson. Here is what Amazon says about the book: “Loving Dr. Johnson uses the enormous popularity of Johnson to understand a singular case of author love and to reflect upon what the love of authors has to do with the love of literature.” That sounds appealing, doesn’t it?
  • Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. NYRB has an attractive-looking edition of this 17C classic. Amazon says this: “Dr. Johnson, Boswell reports, said it was the only book that he rose early in the morning to read with pleasure.” That intrigues me …
  • William St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. The Romantics again. You can see what kind of nonfiction I am most attracted to — the literary history and biography kind. The title is self-explanatory — about reading habits in the Romantic period, based on quantitative research.
  • Jenny Diski’s On Trying to Keep Still, or any of her work, actually. I fell in love with her blog (although she doesn’t post much) and must now read her books.

That would keep me busy for a while, wouldn’t it? Are there any nonfiction books you’ve been longing to read?


Filed under Books, Lists, Nonfiction

19 responses to “Nonfiction fantasy

  1. what a great list. I read The Great Mortality and enjoyed it. Kelly really likes the gruesome details though so don’t read it while eating lunch unless you have a cast iron stomach. I’ve got a long list of nonfiction books I’d like to read but at the moment I wish I had time to fit in Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf and Lonesome George by Henry Nichols.


  2. Eva

    This was a fun post to read! If I had nothing to do but read, I’d dive into:
    A History of Russia (which I want to read this year, but I’d love to start it right away)
    The Middle Ages (I bookmooched this ages ago since I find it the most fascinating period of European history, and after reading Pillars of the Earth, I want to read it Right Now)
    The 8.55 to Baghdad (a neat looking travelogue I mooched-the author retraces Agatha Christie’s experiences on the Orient Express)
    Will Storr v. the Supernatural (a book about a guy trying to find out about ghosts that I also bookmooched)

    I could go on, but those are the four that are teasing me the most!!


  3. That’s a lovely list. I would very much like to read Jenny Diski – should look into it!


  4. I like the sound of everything on your wishlist!

    In a similar vein, I’ve got a copy of ‘Dared and Done: the Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning’ by Julia Markus that I’ve been meaning to read for ages.


  5. Great list. I’m looking forward to your posts on then when you get to them. I also want to read the Plague book (I pulled it out last year, but I only made it through the introduction–too many other things going on). I’d like to read something by Jenny Diski, too–I managed to mooch a couple of titles. I also want to read Michael Pollan’s book, and the book I received for Christmas on Women’s Work (weaving)….too many books to list! I like thinking about what I’d read if I had more time, too. Hopefully you’ll actually get to some of these soon.


  6. Edd

    Kelly’s “Great Mortality” is an extremely good informative look at a disease that changed the face of Europe. Another small episode of this disease can be found in Marilyn Chase’s “The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco.”


  7. Oh, do read Jenny Diski’s On Trying To Keep Still – I loved it. I’ve been interested recently in finding out more about Coleridge, so that biography of him sounds interesting. I read William James a while back – very interesting too. I wish I had nothing else to do as well – there are just too many tempting books.


  8. Ever since that non-fiction meme went around a few days ago I’ve been craving non-fiction which is why I started The World Without Us. So far very good.
    I’m so intrigued by the Diski book.


  9. LK

    What a great list. I haven’t heard of a number of these books, and I really enjoy nonfiction.

    I liked the Kelly book on the plague all right, but the best “disease” book is Gina Kolata’s Flu, about the 1918 influenza epidemic. Just in case you’re looking for another pestilence book!


  10. Stefanie — I kind of do have a cast iron stomach, so I should be okay! I’d like to read Proust and the Squid too; the other one I’ll have to look into, because I’ve never heard of it.

    Eva — a good history of the middle ages would be great to read; I find the period fascinating too.

    Litlove — doesn’t she sound great? I’ll have to break down and order a book or two of hers one of these days.

    Jess — now that book about the Brownings sounds great! I think I’d enjoy that.

    Danielle — lucky you for mooching those Diski books! The Women’s Work you mention sounds quite good too.

    Edd — thank you for the recommendation! It’s possible to read books about diseases for quite some time, I think.

    BooksPlease — oh, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the Diski book! That makes me even more eager to get to it.

    Iliana — I’m glad you’re enjoying The World Without Us — I look for future posts on it!

    LK — another great recommendation — thank you!


  11. verbivore

    I would also love to read more non-fiction but like you I find I always reach for fiction first. The non-fiction gets shelved for far too long. I’ve had The anatomy of melancholy on my list for a long time too – it looks just wonderful!


  12. musingsfromthesofa

    I would like to re-read “The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe 1500-1800” by Olwen Hufton.
    Yesterday I spotted “A Biography of Latin” that I’d like to read too.
    But I am bad at getting round to non-fiction.


  13. Verbivore — part of the problem for me is that I feel like I have to have a certain amount of energy to pick up a nonfiction book, and I so often feel tired that that moment doesn’t often come…

    Becky — oh, now the book about women’s history sounds great; I’ll have to look it up.


  14. The big question for me isn’t “Which nonfiction books do you want to read?” but rather, “Why haven’t you read them yet?” Right now I’m fantasizing about reading some Erich Fromm. I also want the read the new Charles Schultz biography that Bob has. And I always have quite a few books about math to get to.


  15. zhiv

    This is a great subject/structure for a post, and your list is great. I didn’t read fiction for an extended period–or at least it didn’t seem like I was reading much fiction at all–and was very happy moseying through biographies and history. I’d have to look at the shelves to explain the type of thing that interested me, but it seems that there’s a whole genre of slightly odd or dramatic true/historical stories. I guess that Perfect Storm or Into the Wild/Into Thin Air are good examples, although something like “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling” comes to mind.

    But I’m just excited to see “Loving Doctor Johnson” on the list. It’s probably a little on the academic side, but the author is a dear friend, and we’ve both been lovers of Johnson for a long time now. Beautiful.


  16. Emily — oh, books about math! How fun. I’m going to take some math classes one of these years.

    Zhiv — how interesting that you know Helen Deutsch! I’ll make doubly sure to get to her book without putting it off for too long, and a book a little on the academic side sounds just fine to me.

    You’re right about the odd or dramatic true/historical stories! What other ones come to mind? I haven’t read any of the ones you list and would love to hear of more. I’d put John Brewer’s A Sentimental Murder and Adam Sisman’s Boswell’s Presumptuous Task in that category too.


  17. Lokesh

    I was particularly interested to see the William James book in your list (echoing everyone else, I look forward to you posting on all of them!). After reading this article on James’s book ‘Pragmatism’, I’d like to read some of his work myself.


  18. Lokesh, thanks for the link; I’ll have to check it out — I suspect there are lots of James books I’d enjoy.


  19. “The Anatomy of Melancholy” is an imposing brick of abook, but the 100 page “introduction” “Democritus Junior to His Reader” is well worth reading on its own.


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