What percentage of your book-reading is nonfiction?

It occurred to me recently that I almost never read long-form nonfiction.

I read online nonfiction all the time—blogs, news, articles. But it's very rare that I sit down and read a nonfiction book start to finish.

It's not quite as rare as I was thinking it was. I did a rough count of my “books I've read” bookcases, and it looks like about 5% of them are nonfiction. I'm looking only at prose books; I'm not counting poetry and plays and graphic novels and collections of quotations and such. And my counts of both fiction and nonfiction were very rough. But I think 5% is about right.

A lot of the nonfiction is collections of essays or columns or other brief works. There are a few memoirs and biographies, a couple books about writing, and a couple of full-length Books On A Topic, like Plagues & Peoples. But I pretty much never read Travel Books or Books About Business or Popularized Science Books or History Of Something Books or Books About Society or Books About Math or Books About Computer Topics or Books About Gender or even Books About Words And/Or Language, even though those are all topics I'm at least somewhat interested in. And even when I start reading such books, I rarely finish them; after a few chapters, my attention tends to drift, and I go read some fiction instead. When I was in school, I certainly read my textbooks (at least on occasion), but I can't think of any that I read all the way through, rather than just whatever the specific assigned chapters were.

So I'm curious: what about y'all? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? In what proportions? Are there particular topics or approaches you gravitate toward in nonfiction? Have your answers to such questions changed over time, or did you establish your reading patterns early?

One Response to “What percentage of your book-reading is nonfiction?”

  1. debbie.notkin

    I came to long-form nonfiction reading sometime in middle adulthood; before that, I read almost all fiction. These days, I try to alternate, with (of course) some exceptions.

    I read a lot of kinds of nonfiction: history, biography, popular science, whatever that category is that examines a current social phenomenon (I’m thinking of a book on my to-be-read stack called Garbology that claims to examine the sociology of garbage in the 21st century), feminism (of course), anti-racist writing.

    I love reading nonfiction and am glad I finally figured that out.


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