There’s no better way to learn about the lives of others than through books. Though novels can put us in the heads and hearts of interesting and unforgettable characters, it’s through immersive narrative nonfiction that we can break out of our daily routines and embrace a world that is more memorable than fiction. To get you started, here is a list of nine of my favorite nonfiction journeys.
For five years, Alex Mar traveled deep into the world of the American occult, as both a journalist and someone searching for her own feelings about faith. The book is a mix of immersive experience and cultural history—Mar explores the roots of Paganism, travels to the woods of Illinois for a massive gathering of witches, and finds her way into one of world’s most influential magical societies.
Tom Wolfe set the standard for modern immersive journalism (called “New Journalism”) with his astonishing, technicolor portrait of Ken Kesey (author of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST) and his Merry Pranksters. As they take psychedelic drugs, encounter infamous figures of the 1960s, and travel across the country in a painted school bus, Wolfe captures not only a moment in time but an entire generation’s feelings of uncertainty, angst, and hope.
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s riveting deep-dive into the life of a family living in the Bronx in the 1990s began when she read a newspaper clipping about the trial of a heroin dealer named Boy George. Soon she found herself meeting members of his inner circle. Despite her proximity to the story, LeBlanc never allows herself to become part of the family or puts it upon herself to become a moral compass or a tour guide; she’s a simple observer, shining a light on people who are more often than not categorized by the statistics they’ve contributed to.