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Has There Been a Breakout Nonfiction Title in 2011?

Has There Been a Breakout Nonfiction Title in 2011? post image

Has there been a breakout nonfiction book this year? You know, one of those titles that everyone is buzzing about, a nonfiction book that even literature lovers feel compelled to try because the word-of-mouth is just so good?

Last year we had The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. That book had a great story — 10 years of research to tell an almost entirely unknown tale of medical ethics and scientific research. And on top of that, it was a great read that everyone seemed to be talking about. There were quite a few other pretty buzz-worthy titles (The Warmth of Other Suns, Unbroken, and The Emperor of All Maladies all come to mind), but The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was probably the biggest nonfiction book of 2010.

But this year… I just can’t think of a title that has the same kind of buzz across different circles of readers.

There have been a few nonfiction titles I saw get a fair amount of buzz across various sites on the Interwebs. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein comes to mind, as does Sugar in my Bowl by Erica Jong. Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich was also a big deal earlier this year. I also think The Grand Pursuit by Sylvia Nasar, a story about the birth of modern economics coming out this month, is going to be big, but I can’t be sure.

Indie Lit AwardsI’ve got popular nonfiction on my mind because today is the first day you can nominate titles for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards, book awards given by literary bloggers. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the Director of the Nonfiction award, which means I deeply want to see some amazing books on the list. It’s a little selfish, actually — I have to read all the books when judging rolls around in January, so I want them to be awesome.

(If you want to start nominating already, the nonfiction form is available online here.)

Last year I had a pretty good idea of a few books that would end up on the nonfiction list, but this year I’m drawing a total blank. In a change from last year, each participant can nominate five books in every genre, which should expand the pool we draw from to develop the short list for each category. Also, anyone can nominate books, not just bloggers. Good changes, right?

Do you have any favorite nonfiction reads from this year? Have you heard buzz about any big nonfiction titles that totally fell under my radar? Any predictions about nonfiction titles that will make the “best of” lists at the end of the year?

Photo Credit: atomicity via Flickr

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  • Shannon @ Reading Has Purpose September 1, 2011, 6:25 am

    In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir” by Dick Cheney is getting all kinds of buzz right now. But its brand spankin new. It will be a great follow to Decision Points by George W Bush which I’m currently reading. I’ll probably grab it some time next year.

    • Kim September 2, 2011, 12:46 pm

      I never even thought of that book. I tend to ignore political memoirs/current affairs books like that one, so it wasn’t on my radar at all. I will have to go look at some reviews.

  • Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog September 1, 2011, 6:26 am

    I would love for Karl Marlantes’s WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR to be the breakout nonfic title this year….fingers crossed!

    • Kim September 2, 2011, 12:47 pm

      I have that one on my pile to read this month; I’m really excited about it. Your review was excellent!

  • Kathleen September 1, 2011, 8:21 am

    My favorite non-fiction of the year so far has been In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City. It’s a fascinating book about pre-WWII Nazi Germany.

    • Kim September 2, 2011, 12:48 pm

      Duh! Of course In the Garden of Beasts was a big title this year. I read it and completely forgot about it. It hasn’t seemed to have the sort of prolonged but HeLa had last year though… I wonder why?

  • Stephanie September 1, 2011, 8:38 am

    I am on the same page as you are–there really has been no break out title. The Erik Larson book is the only one that comes close, and that hasn’t even received the amount of attention I would have expected.

    • Kim September 2, 2011, 12:49 pm

      Yes, exactly. I know there was some excitement around the time of the release, but I haven’t really seen any sustained enthusiasm about it.

  • Gwen September 1, 2011, 11:14 am

    I really can’t think of a “breakout” nonfiction title this year; In the Garden of Beasts comes close, but I don’t think that it would appeal to everyone like other have in the past.

    Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life certainly deserves a nod, but it would be too intense for many readers.

    • Kim September 2, 2011, 12:50 pm

      In the Garden of Beasts has a pretty broad appeal — WWII seems like a topic most people will read something about, especially from a new perspective. But it hasn’t really had so much buzz it seems like a “breakout” title.

      That’s another one that never really made my radar but is a good guess. I must just avoid the really current affairs memoirs or something.

  • Maphead September 1, 2011, 5:51 pm

    Wow, that’s an incredibly good question. Right now I’m leaning towards The Social Animal by David Brooks but so far, I’m struggling to come up with a major breakout book.

    • Kim September 2, 2011, 12:51 pm

      That one crossed my mind as well. I’ve seen a bit of sustained buzz about it, I assume because Brooks is such a well-known columnist, but it doesn’t seem to have the popular, widespread appeal we saw with HeLa last year. It seems like a small group sustaining the interest, perhaps?

  • Lynne September 2, 2011, 10:52 pm

    Unbroken – Me, my husband, mom, dad, sister, brother, and stepson all read it and loved it.

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:41 pm

      That’s a lot of endorsements! I’m surprised it didn’t make out Indie Lit Awards list last year.

  • christa @ mental foodie September 3, 2011, 1:36 am

    I won’t mention memoir since it is a separate category. So for non-fiction I’d say Lost in Shangri La is the best read for me this year so far. But it doesn’t compare to HeLa. I had already submitted 🙂 Hadn’t read Garden of Beasts. I should read more non-memoir non-fiction… seems like most NF I read is memoir!

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:42 pm

      I keep thinking of some good memoirs that I want to nominate too. I forgot about Lost in Shangri-La too!

  • Unruly Reader September 4, 2011, 10:07 am

    My vote is for “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. That thing has some serious word-of-mouth stuff going on.

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:42 pm

      I think that one was published in 2010? But late, so it’s getting most of the buzz this year, I think.

  • Pam September 11, 2011, 6:08 pm

    What about Moonwalking with Einstein? Seems for a while like I was hearing about that one everywhere.

    • Kim September 14, 2011, 8:04 pm

      Oh yes, definitely! I forgot about that one, but it was quite good.