Best Books By Genre: 24 Fiction and Nonfiction Sub-Genres To Level-Up Your Writing

Posted on Jul 6, 2023

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Written by Sarah Rexford

Home > Blog > Best Books, Fiction, Memoir, Non-Fiction > Best Books By Genre: 24 Fiction and Nonfiction Sub-Genres To Level-Up Your Writing

If good writers read good books and great writers read great books, it’s time to look at the best books by genre so you can become the best writer possible. In this article, I break fiction and nonfiction down into twelve sub-categories. 

Within each sub-category, I list the top ten books belonging to each. Note that you will come across both modern bestsellers and classics in order to equip you with the most well-rounded array of examples. 

Whether you need to put together your seasonal reading list or simply want to quickly find a great read for your upcoming vacation, this extensive list of best books by genre can help you out. 

 As a writer, it’s crucial to maintain a habitual reading schedule. Learning from classic writing, today’s bestselling authors (and even books that could have been written better), all act as training for your writing. We’ll start with nonfiction and then turn to fiction. Let’s get into it! 

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Best Books By Genre: Nonfiction 

In the first half of this post list 120 books over ten sub-genres. If you plan to write a memoir, I’ve got you covered. If you love cooking and want to learn to write a cookbook, simply scroll down to sub-genre number two. 

Remember, writing rules traverse outside of genre conventions. The importance of “show don’t tell” applies to autobiographical nonfiction as well as to historical fiction. 

No matter what genre you write, you may want to consider reading titles that don’t necessarily belong to your genre. A well-rounded reading experience will help you craft compelling narratives that impact readers.

#1 – Memoir, Autobiography, & Biography

  1. Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela
  2. Born A Crime, Trevor Noah
  3. The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom
  4. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls
  5. Educated, Tara Westover
  6. Narrative of the Life of a Slave, Frederick Douglass 
  7. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
  8. Spare, Prince Harry
  9. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
  10. Truman, by David McCullough

We pulled together the best memoirs this year and the best memoirs of all time. We have another article on more of the best biographies.

#2 – Cooking

  1. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, by Samin Nosrat
  2. Gordon Ramsey’s Home Cooking
  3. Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer
  4. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child
  5. The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters
  6. The Mediterranean Dish, Suzy Karadsheh 
  7. Go-To Dinners, Ina Garten
  8. Magnolia Table, Joanna Gaines
  9. Food as Medicine Everyday, Julie Briley and Courtney Jackson 
  10. Momofuku, David Chang

Check out this article for more of the best cookbooks.

#3 – Self-Help / Personal Development

  1. Atomic Habits, James Clear
  2. Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
  3. Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before, Dr. Julie Smith
  4. Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
  5. Good Morning Monster, Catherine Gildiner
  6. Speak, Tunde Oyeneyin 
  7. The Mountain Is You, Brianna Wiest
  8. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey
  9. How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
  10. Get Out of Your Head, Jennie Allen

Reading more self help this year? We’ve expanded the list of the best self help books.

#4 – Motivational / Inspirational

  1. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth
  2. Make Your Bed, Admiral William H. McRaven
  3. Dream Big, Bob Goff
  4. Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins
  5. The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath
  6. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz
  7. Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
  8. Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon
  9. Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert T. Kiyosaki
  10. The 1% Rule, Tommy Baker

You can find more inspirational and motivational books in this article.

#5 – Health & Fitness

  1. The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding: The Bible of Bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger 
  2. What To Expect When You’re Expecting, Heidi Murkhoff
  3. Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body, Michael Matthews
  4. If Our Bodies Could Talk, James Hamblin, M.D.
  5. The Mind Gut Connection, Emeran Mayer 
  6. Genius Foods, Max Lugavere
  7. The Gene, Siddhartha Mukherjee
  8. The Whole30 Cookbook, Melissa Hartwig
  9. The Ripple Effect, Greg Wells, M.D.
  10. The Body Keeps the Score, Sean Pratt

For more information on the best books in health or fitness, check out this article.

#6 – History

  1. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford 
  2. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
  3. The Silk Roads, Peter Frankopan
  4. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles C. Mann
  5. A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn
  6. The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder, David Grann
  7. And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle, Jon Meacham
  8. Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky
  9. Midnight in Chernoby, Adam Higginbotham
  10. The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown

Read this article for more of the best books in historical nonfiction.

#7 – Crafts, Hobbies, Homes

  1. The Magic Mesh, Sigalit Eshet
  2. Wise Craft: Turning Thrift Store Finds, Fabric Scraps, And Natural Objects Into Stuff You Love, Blair Stocker
  3. The Act Of Sewing: How To Make And Modify Clothes To Wear Every Day, Sonya Philip
  4. How To Get Dressed, Alison Freer
  5. On Writing, Stephen King
  6. Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
  7. Apollo’s Angels: A History Of Ballet, Jennifer Homans
  8. Elements Of Style Designing A Home & A Life, Erin Gates
  9. Down To Earth: Laid-Back Interiors For Modern Living, Lauren Liess
  10. Learn To Timber Frame: Craftsmanship, Simplicity, Timeless Beauty, By Will Beemer Jack A. Sobon

Into decorative books? We have a guide on how to make decorative books too.

#8 – Business & Money

  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
  2. Dare To Lead, Brené Brown
  3. The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss
  4. Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss
  5. Good To Great, James C. Collins
  6. The Art of War, Tzu Sun
  7. The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel
  8. Hustle Harder Hustle Smarter, Curtis Jackson
  9. The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger
  10. I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Ramit Sethi

#9 – Religion & Spirituality

  1. Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
  2. Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty
  3. As a Man Thinketh, James Allen
  4. Counting the Cost, Jill Duggar
  5. Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, Lysa TerKeurst
  6. The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
  7. New Morning Mercies, Paul David Tripp
  8. The Law of Attraction, Esther Hicks, Jerry Hicks
  9. The Surrender Experiment, Michael A. Singer
  10. Prayer, Timothy Keller

Check out this article for different types of spiritual books.

#10 – Education & Teaching

  1. The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, Salman Khan
  2. The Knowledge Gap, Natalie Wexler 
  3. Battle for the American Mind, Pete Hegseth
  4. How We Learn, Benedict Carey 
  5. Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, Zaretta L. Hammond 
  6. Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath
  7. Nudge, Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
  8. How Humans Learn, Joshua Eyler
  9. Make It Stick, by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel
  10. Why Don’t Students Like School, Daniel Willingham

#11 – Travel

  1. My Paris Dream, Kate Betts
  2. Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck
  3. Japan Travel Guide, Yuki Fukuyama and Ken Fukuyama
  4. Vietnam: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide, Alexa West
  5. Martin Luther’s Travel Guide: On the Trail of the Reformation in Germany, Cornelia Dömer, Robert Kolb Ph.D
  6. Horizon, Barry Lopez
  7. Destinations of a Lifetime, National Geographic
  8. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan
  9. Provence: 1970, Luke Barr
  10. Wild, Cheryl Strayed

#12 – True Crime

  1. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  2. Inside the Criminal Mind, Stanton Samenow 
  3. Scoundrel, Sarah Weinman
  4. The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule
  5. Just Mercy, Byran Stevenson
  6. The Girl in the Leaves,  Robert Scott, Sarah Maynard, and Larry Maynard 
  7. Vintage Furious Hours, Casey Cep
  8. The Girls Are Gone, Michael Brodkorb and Allison Mann
  9. Harper I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara
  10. If You Tell, Greg Olsen

Best Books By Genre: Fiction 

Now that you have a broad overview of the top books in nonfiction sub-genres, it’s time to move over to fiction. For this section of the best books by genre, I cover names you likely studied in school, such as Charles Dickens and C.S. Lewis. 

However, you’ll also find names that are familiar from your latest Netflix binge, a recent podcast, or last night’s trip to your local bookstore.

Fiction sub-genres cover a plethora of topics, from the make-believe of fantasy to the bone-chilling stories that create horror. No matter what genre you write, notice the similarities in the titles you are familiar with. 

While every author uses a different protagonist, plot, and orbital characters, notice the tropes and story structures each author uses. How does Stephen King’s protagonist in The Shining hold similarities or differences to the characters in the westerns I mention later? 

The more you pick up on patterns in classic stories, the easier it will be to write your own. Of course, these best books by genre are so well known because of their original qualities, but every story has some form of similarity to its competition. 

As you read through the following 120 titles, take note of plots that can inspire your next story and protagonists who may trigger an idea for your next hero. That said, let’s move on to the best books by genre for fiction, and start with horror. 

#1 – Horror

  1. The Hunger, Alma Katsu
  2. The Shining, Stephen King 
  3. Flowers in the Attic, V.C. Andrews
  4. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  5. The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty
  6. Dracula, Bram Stoker
  7. Interview With a Vampire, Anne Rice
  8. The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
  9. The Grace Year, Kim Liggett
  10. The Birds, Daphne du Maurier

#2 – Thriller

  1. The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris
  2. The Sun Down Motel, Simone St. James 
  3. The Six, Anni Taylor
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
  5. The Guest List, Lucy Foley
  6. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  7. Simply Lies, David Baldacci
  8. Out, Natsuo Karin
  9. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  10. Unspeakable Things, Jess Lourey 

Into thrillers? Find more of the best thrillers of the year.

#3 – Mystery

  1. Nancy Drew (series), Carolyn Keene
  2. The Hardy Boys (series), Franklin W. Dixon and David L. Robbins
  3. Clouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers
  4. A Time to Kill, John Grisham
  5. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
  6. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  7. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  8. Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  9. If She Knew, Blake Pierce
  10. The Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy

Check out the list dedicated to the best cozy mystery books.

#4 – Historical

  1. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak  
  2. Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  4. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy  
  5. Beloved, Toni Morrison  
  6. A Tale of Two Citie, Charles Dickens  
  7. The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah 
  8. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead 
  9. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr  
  10. The Gentleman In Moscow, Amor Towles

#5 – Westerns

  1. Hondo, Louis L’Amour 
  2. True Grit, Charles Portis 
  3. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
  4. Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers
  5. The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah
  6. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
  7. The Gunslinger, Stephen King
  8. News of the World, Paulette Jiles 
  9. One for the Blackbird One for the Crow, Olivia Hawke
  10. The Big Sky, A. B. Guthrie Jr. 

Check out this article for more of the best western writers.

#6 – Coming of Age

  1. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
  3. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  5. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
  6. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
  8. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  9. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  10. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

#7 – Fantasy

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
  3. The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
  4. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
  5. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  6. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  7. Through The Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll
  8. A Hero Born, Jin Yong
  9. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  10. The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin

You can find the best fantasy books of this year and more must-read fantasy books.

#8 – Sci-Fi / Space Opera

  1. Dune, Frank Herbert
  2. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
  3. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
  4. Hyperion, Dan Simmons
  5. A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’engle
  6. Escaping Exodus, Nicky Drayden
  7. Sisters Of The Vast Black, Lina Rather
  8. Dawn, Octavia E. Butler
  9. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
  10. An Unkindness Of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

#9 – Military / War

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria
  2. Hinterland, Arno Geiger
  3. Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  4. The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara
  5. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  6. For Whom the Bells Toll, Ernest Hemingway
  7. The World and All That It Holds, Aleksandar Hemon
  8. The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
  9. The Story of a Brief Marriage, Anuk Arudpragasam

#10 – Novellas

  1. Death of Ivan Illyich, Leo Tolstoy
  2. Animal Farm, George Orwell
  3. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  4. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  5. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
  6. Billy Budd, Herman Melville
  7. Death in Venice, Thomas Mann
  8. The Mist, Stephen King
  9. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  10. The Pearl, John Steinbeck

#11 – Romance, Steamy, Erotica

  1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han
  2. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  3. Romeo And Juliet, William Shakespeare
  4. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon 
  5. Safe Haven, Nicholas Sparks
  6. Virgin River, Robyn Carr
  7. Bridgerton, Julia Quinn
  8. Bring on the Blessings, Beverly Jenkins
  9. The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks
  10. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

Check out this article for more of the best romance novels.

#12 – Christian

  1. Knowing God, J. I. Packer
  2. The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel
  3. Fault Lines, Voddie T. Baucham Jr.
  4. The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan
  5. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Timothy Keller
  6. Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas
  7. Gay Girl Good God, Jackie Hill Perry
  8. The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Peter Scazzero
  9. Kingdom Marriage, Tony Evans
  10. Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer

Up Your Chances Of Landing In The Best Books By Genre List

You just made it through 240 of the best books by genre, so congratulations if you’re still reading! We also have articles on the best litRPG books, best adventure books, and the best classic books of all time. It takes dedication to wade through sub-genres you may not naturally find interesting. Now that you have versed yourself in a myriad of genres, here are three, final steps to take:

#1 – Choose Your Top Best Books By Genre

It’s easy to read an extensive list and walk away without referencing it again. Instead, to make the most of the titles you just worked through, choose the top five books that most caught your attention and commit to reading them over the next several weeks or months. This will help immerse you in great storytelling

#2 – Work Through Your List With A Pen 

As you work through your best books by genre, grab your favorite pen (or choose your favorite digital highlighter if you read on a Kindle or eBook) and note the storytelling techniques that stand out. Don’t copy these authors, but rather, use their storytelling genius to inspire you to new levels of creativity. 

#3 – Choose A Few Notes To Implement 

Lastly, choose one or two techniques to work at implementing into your manuscript. Practice is the best way to grow as a creative!

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