Non-Fiction I Recommend
I am not a big reader these days (I really hope the reading bug will bite me again, I am quite annoyed by my inability to focus on a book) but I used to read a lot. This of course intensified during my time at university when I had to read lists and lists of essays and and theoretical works. It was then that I discovered, that I love reading non-fiction just as much as I enjoy reading fiction. It was fun to read philosophers and theorists. I got to learn new things and expand my knowledge.
I also enjoy reading autobiographies of the people I admire. In general, I find biographies a bit problematic as they are more based on assumptions of people’s feelings and thoughts. But there are still a few that I enjoyed reading. I also like books about history, mostly about how life was like during different times and in different places. I have never read books about historical events much, I was always more interested in how people lived, the customs and the struggles that they had to endure.
While you might assume that I am going to talk about Marx’ Das Kommunistische Manifest now, I think I am going to stay away from way too overly political recommendations. But if you want anything ideological, I really love Slavoj Zizek, who is my favourite contemporary philosopher.
The Madwoman in the Attic
The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) by Gilbert and Gubar is a work of literary criticism. I know that might be a turn off for many, but hear me out. I think this book is important for anyone who reads literature written by women, or any women who write themselves. It explains the difficulty of 19th century Victorian female writers like the Brontë sisters, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, George Elliot and others, who didn’t have any female role models to look up to when it came to their writing. So they used and adapted to the styles of male writers, who either described women as angels (pure, sweet, virgins, domestic) or monsters (wild, have a mind of their own etc). Female writers basically didn’t know how to describe their own gender without using the tropes of male writers. And unfortunately, we can still see that sort of writing in contemporary books, where female authors subconsciously use a male gaze on their female characters.
Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble is a difficult read, yes. There are many chapters that I had to read more than once, to actually understand what she was saying. But what she is saying is so very important to understand gender identity, and I think it is an especially important read for those who still don’t have a clue what being non-binary even means. What I found most fascinating was her explanation how not only gender, but also sex is culturally and socially constructed. Words matter and the moment we name something, we define it. Another term she taught me is heteronormativity. Judith Butler deconstructs the gender categories, and her book is truly educational.
The God Delusion
Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion is such an interesting read, I just had to put it on my list of non-fiction recommendations. I am an atheist and he didn’t need to convince me of the non-existence of God with his book. Nevertheless, he writes in a really entertaining way and I love how his arguments just make sense. I also admire one of his other books, The Magic Reality, which explains the workings of nature and the universe in a really comprehensive way.
Can the Subaltern Speak
Can the Subaltern Speak by Spivak is an essay on the silent voices of Indian women. Her main point is that male white European men shouldn’t speak for those who are silenced already. She attacks the big theorists like Foucault for trying to translate the female Indian voices and making them inauthentic by merely becoming a translator tainted by assumptions. She talks about imperialism and patriarchal power, and becomes an advocate for those who often don’t have a voice: not by speaking for them, but by fighting to give them a safe space to speak.
I love Stephen Fry. If there is one person I’d call my role model, it would be him. I adore him, I want him to be my dad, my best friend and my mentor. He has published three autobiographies so far: Moab is my Washpot, The Fry Chronicles and More Fool Me. You get to read about his upbringing, his time at prestigious schools, his sexual orientation, his rebellious years, his mental illness, his creativity. That guy has stories to tell! I immensely enjoyed reading all three of his autobiographies so far, and I really hope that there is going to be a fourth one.
The Long Hard Road Out of Hell is about the most rock’n’roll book you could ever read (okay, unless you read Keith Richards’ autobiography. that dude had an insane life!). Marilyn Manson (aka Brian Warner) talks about his upbringing, his years at college and how he started the band Marilyn Manson. But not only that, he talks about what touring is like, how being a chickmagnet ruined his reputation, and all the cool rockstar friends he has made. It is an easy read, but one that will imprint itself on your mind. Crazy stuff, very crazy stuff.
He obviously couldn’t have written this book, with his suicide in 1981 and all, so Touching from a Distance is the biography about Ian Curtis written by his widow Deborah Curtis. It is the story of her and Ian’s relationship, and it is also the story of Joy Division. Of course it is all written from her perspective, so some things might be left out or seen from a certain point of view, but it is still really interesting to read how the postpunk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s was like. There is also a movie called Control that is based on the book, if you are too lazy to read!
So these were my non-fiction choices. It was hard to pick just a few but I think that those that I have written about here pretty much represent what I kind of literature I enjoy reading outside the fiction world. Other books that are worth checking out are Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody and Desert Flower by Waris Dirie.