Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a voracious reader. I would get my hands on anything in the library and at home. Even when I was no longer in school, I’d still borrow books. While grappling with tertiary education, I made sure to spare some time for John Grisham and Matthew Reilly. When I was younger, I’d devour encyclopaedias and Harry Potter. As I got older, I found joy in novels, magazines, and the newspaper. I grew up with Time, National Geographic, and Tower magazine. Once, my email was adjudged as the letter of the month to Handle magazine. Michael Crichton was one of the first writers that I followed. I fell in love with Jurassic Park, his dense scientific prose not deterring me.
Over the years, I discovered Stephen King, Dan Brown, and later, Michael Connelly and Jodi Picoult. The news had evolved for me. Instead of reading the daily editorials and sports reports, I read the news online. I did not read a lot of nonfiction. I recall knocking back sports biographies, but they were rare forays. Unlike my school days, I seldom bought books.
In recent years, this has changed. Since 2017, I’ve catalogued my latest reads on this website. That year, A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley represented the only nonfiction work I crested. The Oscar-nominated film version intrigued me, so I had to peruse the source material. Two years later, in 2019, I had conquered many more such titles. Last year, about thirty percent of my total were in this category. This year, almost half were nonfiction. I have finally come to parity. Mirin Fader’s Giannis biography was an outstanding product, perhaps even the year’s best such work. I’ve also managed to discover Jon Krakauer. I found out about him through Into The Wild. Like the late David Halberstam, he is a nonfiction specialist. He takes on difficult topics, democratising them to the average reader. Though I’ve only perused one of his books, he’s definitely my kind of writer.
Not only has the art of the news evolved for me; so has the medium of reading. I’ve had iPads for years now but this year, I’ve bought and crested more ebooks. From Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings to Jack McCallum’s Golden Days, from Giannis to Steven Adams, I get my hoops fix from Apple Books. I usually do so since most of these texts are unavailable at libraries, if not all. You have to be proactive.
My chiropractor told me that he downs nonfiction since he ‘learns something new’ while so doing. He’s right. I knew about the Fab Five and college basketball but, in his book, Mitch Albom went beyond the bald heads and baggy shorts. He vivisected social and racial issues that pervaded 90s basketball. I had the pleasure of seeing Jackson compare two GOATs, a guy named Jordan and his successor, the late Kobe. I began to understand what made Adams so damn tough and the power of his dreams. Giannis proved that poverty and racism are no match to a hungry basketball mind. In Golden, was taken back to the 60s and 70s, when NBA teams would play for three straight nights and yet still be battle ready for the postseason. The NBA was nothing like today. They had a hard time competing for coverage against college football. I had fun reading about the greatest win streak in the history of pro sports, a 33-game run by the eventual champions, the Lakers.
I’ve finished exactly two books by Halberstam, the Pulitzer Prize winner. I read them fourteen years apart. Playing for Keeps was the first one I read, an in-depth account of Air Jordan. He touched on how ESPN’s smashing success could be attributed to Mike’s ascendancy. He also ties in Jordan’s image with Nike’s meteoric rise. Last year, I perused Breaks of the Game. People have singled out the book as the finest basketball title ever, perhaps the best sports book of all time. I could see why. His detailed analysis and storytelling were spot on. He tackles key issues that are out of bounds in normal hoops conversations: the salary cap, TV contracts, and injuries. He provides gripping accounts of NBAers and Madison Avenue. At the same time, this wasn’t a book that you’d conquer in three days; it’s an acquired taste.
There are other nonfiction books on my book shelf that I’ve yet to read. Last year, I purchased this David Wallace collection. This would mark his second such title for me but I’ve been unable to spare the time. I have works about Elon Musk, Bear Grylls, and comedian Nick Frost. I’ve had this Steven Jobs bio for a while but it seems redundant now that I’ve seen the film version. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall was the last book I got off my shelf.
While this post has focused on books, I’ve also had the same sea change with other media. Before, I binged on Parks and Rec, Cobra Kai, and Stranger Things, amongst many more. I was also watching Michael Moore DVDs. These past few months, I made it a point to discover more docos. In August alone, I devoured Athelete A, Bleeding Edge, The Most Hated Man. I’ve already started on Virunga and will go through the McAfee bio soon. These films are rawer than their fictitious counterparts. There is an element of added genuineness, an aura of truthfulness. Often, you won’t feel this while bingeing on Game of Thrones. While both shows make you think, the docos are definitely a more cerebral experience. Like my chiropractor said, you learn something new.
Born to Write
These days, I’m mainly a nonfiction writer. Almost all my posts on this site are based on true happenings. There is the occasional poem, but I haven’t written one in a year. To be honest, though I admire Krakauer’s work, I don’t want to be as one-sided as him. He’s written nine titles and they’re all nonfiction. The same with the late Halberstam. Recently, I watched The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I did some web-based research and found out that he’s written not only novels, story collections, and comic books. He’s also ventured into nonfiction. He utilises a fountain pen for all his first drafts. Bonus points for that. While Stephen King has dabbled in true stories, he’s mostly focused on fiction. I’ve been reading Murakami and he definitely intrigues me. He’s a prolific and celebrated Japanese writer and his texts rarely disappoint. He’s certainly on my short list.
The two pillars
Nonfiction presents at a different pace than its made-up counterpart. There is no magic and ‘silly wand waving’. There is no bezoar to save a wizard’s foaming mouth. No Harry Bosch or Hole to save the day and make the bastards pay. I’ve never heard of a seven or twelve-part true crime series. However, there are journalists uncovering lies in Hollywood. A magical orphanage in Haiti. Tips on how to become a better human. Interviews with key people in Kobe’s life. Victims telling their stories. Chuck Palahniuk offering wise words on authoring. Overall, nonfiction is more demanding. Yet when you’ve summitted the narrative, it can be that more rewarding. Most of the time, I conquer one nonfiction title for every two fiction reads. Like my chiropractor, I believe in growing my vineyard and this is something that nonfiction could offer.
As you can see, having balance is important not just as a reader but more so, as a content creator. Ten years ago, I would find it curious if someone told me that half my books would be true to life. Human progress is about adapting, about broadening our horizons. We should embrace the desire to go beyond our comfort zones.