Defining Nonfiction: What It is and Why You Should Read It

What is nonfiction, why did it get such a nondescript name, and is it really worth your time to read it?
Defining Nonfiction: What It is and Why You Should Read It

What Defines Nonfiction?

Anything that has a basis in fact can be called nonfiction. That means reportage, textbooks, manuals, self-help, memoir, history, guidebooks, and so on, all come under the umbrella of this almost-too-broad term. Its very breadth, however, lends it a richness that has allowed it to dominate a large part of the global book market. In recent years, sales of nonfiction have been outpacing fiction year-on-year.
In the English language, some concepts are defined purely by what they are not. The definition of ‘nonfiction,’ for instance, “prose writing that is informative or factual rather than fictional” is an interesting case, not just because of how recently it came into use, but also because, etymologically at least, fabrication precedes fact.

The word ‘nonfiction’ made its first ever appearance in the annual trustees’ report of Boston Public Library in 1867, and debuted in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1903. The word ‘fiction’, on the other hand, has a direct root in Latin, came to English via Old French, and has been used to mean imaginative prose since the 1590s. So, what did people do before they had the catch-all definition ‘nonfiction’ to describe factual texts? Well, for starters, they were much more specific.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

According to the latest annual report from the Association of American Publishers, between 2016 and 2017, the adult nonfiction market in the US showed a revenue increase of 5.4%. While women read more than men generally — women read an average of 19.8 minutes per day in comparison with 13.2 for men, according to a 2017 survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — men are more likely to read nonfiction than women, and they’re backing up that choice with their wallet.

Within nonfiction, too, some categories are far outstripping others. For example, in 2018, political book sales rose by around 60%, according to major bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble and Waterstones, a trend also reflected in the Blinkist app. In fact, it’s common that nonfiction sales rise following global shocks. There was a similar peak in nonfiction book sales following the 2008 financial crisis. Where fiction can help people to understand the feeling of a moment, nonfiction helps people understand the hard facts of it. And in a world that finds its news sources increasingly unreliable, a widespread hunger for truth is reflected in rising sales of nonfiction books.

Audiobooks, too, are rising in popularity across the board, and while fiction audiobooks remain popular as one means of telling a story, nonfiction is really innovating with the form. In fact, some nonfiction books are now being released as an audiobook only with no written equivalent. It makes sense that the industry that deals chiefly with life-changing ideas would be quicker to focus on broad accessibility, and that bends to how people like to consume content. In the battle of fiction vs. nonfiction, where fiction also experiments with ideas and form, nonfiction is defined more by experimentation with delivery methods.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

Why You Should Read Nonfiction

Nonfiction is a rich vein to tap, no matter what you want to learn. Whether you want to overcome a personal challenge or begin to understand a global one, then nonfiction is your best bet for making headway.

Nonfiction sales aside, the appetite people have for learning, growing, and bettering their lives is reflected in the internet itself. Countless web pages are filled with podcasts, how-tos, Q&As, reviews, and ways for you to make better decisions and learn faster. And cat videos.

The sheer vastness of information online makes good curation essential. Even today, with a wealth of technology at our fingertips, word-of-mouth is our most trusted source which is why there are few things better than a good recommendation. After all, if there’s something specific you want to learn, endless googling will only get you so far.

Why Curation is Essential For Reading the Best Nonfiction Books

Nonfiction books may be the portal to learning more about yourself and your place in the wider world, but with such a wealth of titles out there, how are you supposed to narrow down which books are really worth your time? That’s where a great librarian comes into play, but, sadly, not many of us are frequenting libraries anymore, and some subjects are too personal to share with a real-life human.

Bestseller lists are great for seeing what’s popular in the now, but if you have a specific question or topic you want to explore, you’ll need to look past what’s currently charting. The Blinkist app is a fantastic tool for finding the next great era-defining nonfiction titles for your reading list. The app allows you to read or listen to the key ideas of a nonfiction book in just about 15 minutes. There’s a library of over 3,500 titles across 27 categories, from leadership and entrepreneurship, to mindfulness and meditation, to parenting, to sex and relationships. Whatever questions you have, there’s a title that can help answer them on Blinkist. And, if you like what you read or hear, you know that the book in question is one that you’ll get something from. Spend your book budget in the most optimal way possible.

The app also features curated book lists to help you find the best titles in a specific category, suggests new titles based on your reading history, shows you what books are new and trending, and makes it easy to explore and discover new titles. Beyond the app, Blinkist has a magazine, podcasts, and active social media channels all designed to curate a great reading list for you.

Don’t Miss Out on Era- and Life-Defining Nonfiction

All it takes to change a life is one great idea. The best nonfiction books offer hosts of them, and finding your way to the ones that will matter most to you can be no easy task. Time-poverty coupled with poor access means that means that many people simply don’t have, or take the time to read.

Statistics show that differences in reading habits aren’t just divided along gender lines, but across education levels and income brackets, too. People who finished third level education are far more likely to read than those who graduated high school alone. Wealthier people are also far more likely to read than those on lower incomes. This underlines the deep necessity for free services like libraries, and online resources where information is free, and available to those with little time.

The Blinkist app is one service trying to make those ideas accessible, so even if you don’t have much time to spare, you can still get a dose of inspiration within a few minutes every day. Why not give it a try, now?

Don’t Miss Out on Era- and Life-Defining Nonfiction