Where Are All the Histories?

I think I know why many book bloggers and vloggers don’t review histories: They’re just too darn long.

Like many bloggers, I am participating in Nonfiction November this month. I made a TBR of all the books I planned on reading in November. The major reason why I filmed the TBR was to gush about my favorite histories. I wanted to encourage more readers to try that genre of nonfiction.

It has occurred to me in the past week that many readers are probably put off by the length and density of most histories. Any history worth its chops is at least 500 pages, and who has the time to read 500 pages of dense nonfiction in a few sittings? I love history, but I am usually reading multiple histories at once. It takes me months to finish a single book because I am reading so many other works at the same time.

As a result of my reading habits, I don’t often mark “Read” on Goodreads for nonfiction. Biographies and 800-page studies are just too long to read in even a couple weeks. Goodreads, book blogs, and booktube are perfect for shorter books (fiction or nonfiction) and maybe long, fast-paced thrillers, but readers using those platforms may be deterred from tackling longer nonfiction because they take so long to read.

There is nothing wrong with reading multiple pieces of nonfiction at the same time, but viewers and followers may get the impression that the content creator isn’t serious about reading nonfiction. Goodreads, blogs, and the like reveal a lot about a person’s reading tastes, but these platforms also have their limitations. A reader’s desire to show how many books she has read in a month may deter her from reading a biography or a large history. On the flip side, a reader could read nothing but nonfiction the entire year and fail to reach her reading goal.

I have more than surpassed my Goodreads reading goal of 50 books this year, and I generally am indifferent to the number of books I read in a month. However, I am currently dipping in and out of quite a few massive histories. I want people to know that I enjoy histories, but I don’t finish many in a year.

Lovers of essays and short stories face a similar issue on book reviewing platforms. Essay and short story collections are the most common books readers dip in and out of. Even if a reader has read nine out of the ten essays in a collection, he can’t mark the collection as “Read” until he has read the tenth essay. I enjoy reading short stories, but I often lack the motivation to read a short story collection in a few sittings.

Maybe, we need to rethink the way we discuss certain kinds of fiction and nonfiction. Instead of waiting until we have completed a study of the Middle Ages, for example, we could write blog posts or make videos about the topics that we have already encountered in the book. This could be a great way to introduce followers to a work, because, unlike fiction, nonfiction is hard to spoil. Besides, it is nearly impossible to review an 800-page history in a 500-word blog post.

6 thoughts on “Where Are All the Histories?”

  1. I have a couple on my list, but it almost seems like wishful thinking: Gibbon’s Decline and Fall and Boswell’s Life of Johnson. I’m currently reading Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, and I think your suggestion of doing occasional posts on the subject matter would be far more adequate than attempting a summary at the end. I may have to do some of those…

  2. I am for sure guilty of looking at how many books I’ve read in a month and making reading decisions based on what will help those numbers! But I LOVE to read biographies. I just finished one for NFN, about Marguerite de Valois and her mother, Catherine de’ Medici. It was really good!
    I completely agree with you about all the rest of this though! I don’t tend to dip in and out of more serious non-fiction because I have a hard time remembering where I left off, what was happening. Makes for kind of a disjointed reading experience (for me).

    1. I need to read more biographies. It definitely is hard to get facts straight when you’re reading multiple works of nonfiction at the same time.

  3. Beautiful post, Fariba! You are very right about histories – they are long and so take a longer time to read. On my dream list are four history books, all thick – The Penguin History of the World by J.M.Roberts, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Europe by Norman Davies and Civilization and Capitalism by Fernand Braudel. I hope to read them some day. Which are your favourite histories? Which are the histories on your dream TBR list?

    1. I have recently enjoyed Montaillou by Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie about the Albigensians in 13th century France and Reformations by Carlos Eire. I want to begin reading Jonathan Sumption’s multi-volume narrative history of the Hundred Years War. I read his book on the Albigensian crusade, and I really liked it.

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