Share These 9 Stories of Immersive Journalism Will Broaden Your Perspective

These 9 Stories of Immersive Journalism Will Broaden Your Perspective

Julianna Haubner joined the editorial team at Simon & Schuster in September 2014. A lifelong reader, she is most drawn to literary fiction, biography, cultural history, and narrative non-fiction; it’s her firm belief that every human should own a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, and Empire Falls is the book that changed her life. When Julianna’s not reading and reviewing, she’s downloading podcast episodes as if there are more than 24 hours in a day, watching Bravo, baking, and running the Off the Shelf Instagram. You can follow her on Twitter @jhaubner2.

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.

Witches of America
by Alex Mar

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.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
by Tom Wolfe

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.

Nickel and Dimed
by Barbara Ehrenreich
One of the most shocking “undercover” accounts of our time, Barbara Ehrenreich’s journey into the dark side of American prosperity is one not to be missed. In 1998, inspired by the welfare reform movement, the social critic crisscrossed the United States, accepting whatever jobs she could find as a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, and a Walmart sales clerk. She stayed in motels and trailer parks and saw what it really takes to achieve the American Dream when the odds are often stacked against you.

Random Family
by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

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.

The Year of Living Biblically
by A. J. Jacobs
Told with equal wit and wisdom, this book finds A.J. Jacobs, a frequent experimentalist, trying to live according to the specific tenets of the Bible for one year. He vows to be fruitful and multiply, and to love his neighbor. But he also pledges to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers. What results is an entertaining and enlightening look at how an ancient faith fits into a modern world, for secular and religious readers alike.

Saturday Night
by Susan Orlean
It’s our favorite night of the week, but what do we really do on any Saturday night? In this fascinating collection, journalist Susan Orlean takes us across the country to see how different people in different places spend their one night of true freedom. We meet hipsters in Los Angeles and coeds in Boston, small-town kids in Indiana and revelers in Phoenix. SATURDAY NIGHT is an irresistible portrait of America and the moments we share.

The Oregon Trail
by Rinker Buck
For those who long for “the good old days,” Rinker Buck’s real-life journey down the legendary Oregon Trail is a must-read. Accompanied by his brother Nick and their dog Olive Oyl, Buck gets a true-to-history covered wagon made, and makes the 2,000-mile trip across the Great Plains, Purple Mountains, and roaring rivers that American legends are made of. As he travels, he discovers a lost way of life and the people who truly make our country great.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
by Katherine Boo
Katherine Boo examines the human side of inequality through the families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a settlement near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to modernize, they are filled with hope for the future, but soon realize that established systems of poverty, caste, terror, and power that have defined the past are still very much present. Aside from its gorgeous writing and stunning reporting, Boo’s book is an important reminder of the struggles of those in different parts of the world, and how distance should not define what we pay attention to.

Friday Night Lights
by H.G. Bissinger
Widely considered to be the best sports book of all time, H. G. Bissinger’s account of a Texas town and its high school football team is both deeply moving and deeply disturbing. In order to accurately and comprehensively report the story, Bissinger moved his family and life to Odessa and soon found himself enmeshed in the obsessive relationship between citizens and sport—and in the process created a story that’s much more about the core values of our society than the tendencies of one small town.

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