The rise of non-fiction reflects our changing world

If the Harry Potter series made reading fashionable again after a lull brought about by the Internet, books on grand ideas, politics and motivation have become even more popular in the last few years. Fiction may always be a popular genre, but interest in non-fiction has been seeing a rapid rise in readership.

The global non-fiction books market grew from $13.27 billion in 2021 to $14.02 billion in 2022, almost 6 per cent over the year when most people across the world were looking for new books to read in the global lockdown.

While there are international prizes for works on fiction and translation, increasing number of awards are also coming up for books on history, politics, economics and even philosophy.

The rise of the non-fiction form can be seen to be reflection of our time. Globalisation has of course made us all aware of ideas and conflicts around the world and their impact in real time.

Ongoing conflicts like the financial crisis, regional political conflicts and climate change are not just limited to one place – they have a domino effect and their impact is likely to reach us sooner than later. There is thus a curiosity to know more and if complex ideas are put across in accessible ways, they are likely to be popular.

Some of the most popular non-fiction books exploring the origins of humanity include Yuval Hariri’s ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ and Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’. Both answer the eternal question of where we come from, but in ways that challenge our established perceptions and existing knowledge.

‘Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism’ by Yanis Varoufakis and ‘Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything’ by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner became popular as they explored the challenges of capitalism and the way in which economics impacts our everyday life in unpredictable ways.

Around the world, non-fiction has come of age, whether through the historical works in India which explore current debates on who and how history should be written, to stories of the trauma of leaving one’s country in a time of war. ‘The Pianist from Syria: A Memoir by Aeham Ahmad and ‘No Friends but the Mountains’ by Behrouz Boochani explore the theme of escape and living as refugees at a time when these stories are losing headline space.

Ever since Edward Said wrote his famous book ‘Orientalism’, non-fiction by Arab writers in English has been increasingly popular.

‘Our Women on the Ground’ by Zahra Hankir is a collection of essays by Arab women reporting from the Middle East and ‘I was their American dream’ by Malaka Gharib challenges what it means to be an immigrant Muslim woman in America.

Be it biographies, history, travel, spirituality or any other area of interest, the world of non-fiction has widened immeasurably. If you have a story to tell, there is a platform available for it.

Sandhya Rao Mehta

The writer is Assoc Prof, Dept of English Language and Literature, SQU

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