If you're bored then you're boring...
July 28, 2016 4:30 PM   Subscribe

My brain is sick of the same old same old. I need some ideas for new topics I could easily delve into as a layperson.

My usual interests are not doing it for me right now. I need to find some new-to-me topic that I can get into.

Not really looking for a hobby. Not so much "something to do" or "something to make"... I'm looking for something to learn about.


Must not require an advanced knowledge of some related topic to begin (so not, say, calculus.)

Reasonably inexpensive to learn about (I'm willing to buy a few books but don't want to pay for a class.)

Here are some topics I am already interested in. I am looking for something different than and unrelated to these: Religion, Spiritual, New Age, folk magic, Tarot, Enneagram, art, crafts, needlework. Other topics of no interest: Cooking, Baking.

Bonus points if you can direct me to a good beginning resource for the topic you suggest. :)
posted by Serene Empress Dork to Education (20 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What about history? Either local-- it can be fun to explore the history of your own town or city, and many local resources like museums and local authors will be available-- or of a particular place or time you may be curious about, or know NOTHING about-- somewhere far away and with culture and customs very different to your own. If nothing in particular appeals, you might just try learning a bit of everything-- there's some great books out there that can be a good starting point, off the top of my head I can suggest Boorstin's "The Discoverers", and Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and even lighter, "The Cartoon History Of The Universe" by Gonick. All of these are entertaining on their own but may well send you scrabbling for more information on the topics they touch briefly on.
posted by The otter lady at 4:57 PM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Or, how about learning about plants or animals? It doesn't have to be gardening or actually keeping animals, you could just set out to learn how to identify different species of trees, or all about the life cycle of the local butterflies, or learn about different bird species and how and where they migrate. You could certainly branch out into gardening from this, or bird-watching-- but you don't have to. I find it's neat to be able to just go for a walk and identify all the bird calls around me-- and this is something not everyone can do, too, so it's kind of fun to share!
posted by The otter lady at 5:02 PM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

After Hamilton I have gotten really obsessed with reading about presidents. This has turned out to be surprisingly fun, go figure. So I'd suggest that, as someone who has pretty much all of your interests already (apparently). The American Presidents Series has short (less than 200 pages) but super comprehensive and surprisingly entertaining rundowns on almost every president, if you want to start there and can find them at a library. I've managed to find almost all of them at the town college one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:40 PM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Geology? Annals of the Former World is a five-book collection of the geology of the US, which won the Pulitzer, and is a great place to start. After you read it, if you inquire on facebook it will probably turn out you know some amateur rockhounds who will be delighted to invite you out to rock hunt with them. (I found some crinoids on my first time out!)

If you end up doing plants, Botany for Gardeners is great and I spent the whole book going, "Huh. HUH!" and like, "Wow, suddenly freshman biology is making sense."

Local history is also always fun and your library and local historical society will have many, many resources and many, many excited local nerds who are just delighted you're interested.

Another alternative could be, pick a classic author you particularly like, read their whole corpus, and read all kinds of studies and criticism of their work, you will come out with a little self-study program of $SomeFamousAuthor and lots of interesting things to say about them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:44 PM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just favorited an AskMefi post about clouds. The Cloud Appreciation Society will hook you up with cloud knowledge, and the Cloudspotter's Guide book comes highly recommended.

Also, I just read Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli and it's perfect for the curious layperson -- concepts are explained very simply and each chapter ends just at the right time when your brain is starting to fill up, but it makes you feel smart. (Or at least, smarter, since my physics knowledge ended at high school.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:49 PM on July 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not so much a topic as a list, but check out this Ask about recommendations for non-fiction. (There have been others; here and here, for starters.) Does anything on this list strike your fancy?

I enjoyed Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic, because it made me think differently about driving.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:11 PM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you ever watched Cosmos? Both the original and the recent new series are on Netflix. It's a great and compelling introduction to the history of scientific innovation.
posted by a strong female character at 7:25 PM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: All great answers! So far I'm especially liking the idea of delving into local history, clouds (and weather, come to think of it) and an author's body of work.

Still open to more suggestions!
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:59 AM on July 29, 2016

What about psychology / communication / interpersonal skills? These topics can be fascinating (IMO) and also practical. For example: body language, motivation, persuasion, work communication.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:49 AM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Along with local history, the Wikipedia nearby feature is always interesting to peruse.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:23 AM on July 29, 2016

Entomology, bryology, mycology. I.e get a hand lens and explore/collect the interesting little bugs and mosses and mushrooms all around you. Can be done in dense cities and rural nowhere, any time of day, any time of year.

PS calculus only requires a little arithmetic and algebra. If you graduated high school in the past 20 years or so and have the desire to learn calc, you can. That last part is the only real stumbling block for most people :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:28 AM on July 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I found the history -- from the HMS Bounty to the modern-day status quo -- of Pitcairn Island a terrific saga.

I've always wanted to learn phrenology -- not because I believe it might have some validity, but because it looks like a cool party trick to have in one's repertoire. Rub down people's heads, tell them they have criminal tendencies and unsatisfied bizarre sexual desires; what's not to love?

The history of the Canadian North is also pretty riveting if you enjoy tales of derring-do with politics and death thrown in. Ships of Wood and Men of Iron is not a general overview, but a really engrossing read and so as good a place to start as any. (I also really liked James Houston, particularly 'Confessions of an Igloo Dweller.') As with Pitcairn, it remains interesting right up to the contemporary stuff -- of particular interest is the issue of food scarcity in the north; there have been some grassroots movements to try to address the issue but it remains a huge problem -- feedingnunavut.com has an overview. (The Hans Island issue is modestly amusing, given: "Peter Takso Jensen, head of international law department of the Danish Foreign Ministry, noted that “when Danish military go there, they leave a bottle of schnapps. And when Canadian military forces come there, they leave a bottle of Canadian Club and a sign saying 'Welcome to Canada'”.")

The Irish potato famine makes for a pretty engrossing history. At one point I came across Darina Allen discussing that boxty might have originated as a way to use rotting potatoes -- half the potatoes for it have the liquid squeezed out, so in theory you could take a rotten one, squeeze the putrid liquid out, and try to rescue the starch. I dragged my homeschooled daughter down the potato famine rabbit hole a bit, and then one night when we had a dinner guest, and boxty on the table, she enthusiastically told -- prior to anybody digging in -- the story about the rotten potatoes, concluding with "They're not authentic, though. My mum used fresh potatoes."
posted by kmennie at 8:56 AM on July 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Read about old motorcycles
Requisition old motorcycle
Repair old motorcycle
Ride old motorcycle!
posted by lstanley at 10:37 AM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

A version of local history: local infrastructure, which ties into political history and climate necessity and engineering. Local vernacular architecture. Local hydrology.
posted by clew at 11:12 AM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Related to the post above about local politics - policy and state government? The Eightfold Path comes to mind.
posted by onecircleaday at 11:33 AM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Biology is fascinating. I'm someone who has always loved history, but biology has become my new drug of choice. Some possible starting points:

Journey to the Ants, and/or lots of documentaries to learn about the fascinating world of ants: Ants: Nature's Secret Power, Wild City of Ants, Empire of the Desert Ants, etc.

The Cartoon Guide to Genetics, followed by Endless Forms Most Beautiful and related NOVA documentary What Darwin Never Knew.

Every David Attenborough documentary series you can find, especially Life on Earth, The Trials of Life, and Life in the Undergrowth.

If you want to mix history and biology/medicine, I'd recommend:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Emperor of All Maladies

Rats, Lice and History
posted by clawsoon at 12:30 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot meerkats.
posted by clawsoon at 12:43 PM on July 29, 2016

Best answer: My husband is a fan of the Great Courses by the Teaching Company. He started with some of the music ones, but has expanded to history & science. They are audio or video courses on a wide range of topics taught by a wide range of experts. They are expensive, but many libraries have them. Search Worldcat to see what libraries in your area have them or request them on interlibrary loan.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 9:05 AM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by clew at 5:48 PM on July 31, 2016

Response by poster: The Great Courses are also available on Audible. I've always got more credits on there than I know what to do with. I will have to give them a look.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:31 PM on July 31, 2016

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