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Nonfiction November: Back to Basics with the Essay

Nonfiction November 2015I have to admit, dear readers, that I struggled with this week’s prompt for Nonfiction November. Our host this week is Rebecca (I’m Lost In Books), and our topic is nontraditional nonfiction:

Nontraditional Nonfiction: This week we will be focusing on the nontraditional side of reading nonfiction. Nonfiction comes in many forms. There are the traditional hardcover or paperback print books, of course, but then you also have e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, and enhanced books complete with artifacts. So many choices! Do you find yourself drawn to or away from nontraditional nonfiction? Do you enjoy some nontraditional formats, but not others? Perhaps you have recommendations for readers who want to dive into nontraditional formats. We want to hear all about it this week!  

I originally wanted to write about nonfiction comic books, but quickly realized I haven’t read nearly enough of them to write anything interesting. So instead I’m going to turn to a form of nonfiction I’m pretty familiar with, essays.

The essay is one of the earliest and most familiar forms of nonfiction, but the advances of online journalism have pushed the noble essay in some interesting new directions. I wrote about this once back in 2012, which means it’s certainly time for an update. Here are a few others that I recommend:

  • Navigating Love and Autism by Amy Harmon (New York Times) — I read this piece back in journalism school and was just stunned by it. By today’s standards, the multimedia elements are pretty simple, but they’re still extremely effective.
  • Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek by John Branch (New York Times) — This piece is about a 2012 avalanche at Tunnel Creek. If I remember correctly, it was one early example of how how to incorporate other interactive elements besides video into the essay format online. You can read it online, or purchase the Kindle edition.
  • The Black Family in the Age of Incarceration by Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic) — This really excellent piece is about the impact mandatory minimums and the war on drugs have had on, specifically, black families. I love the way the essay uses footnotes and annotations to add to the piece.
  • Valal Morghulis (All Men Must Die) by Shelly Tan and Alberto Cuadra (Washington Post) — This is the most non-traditional piece of the bunch, an interactive infographic explaining all 456 deaths in the first four seasons of Game of Thrones on HBO. It’s super easy to get lost in this one. And, duh, spoilers abound.

Programming Notes

  • This week’s host is Rebecca (I’m Lost In Books), so make sure to visit her blog to link up your post for the week.
  • If you’re talking about Nonfiction November on Twitter, please use the hashtag #nonficnov for your posts so we can find them. The hashtag seems a little crowded this year, but we’ll just make it work.
  • Our topic next week is our readalong of I Am Malala hosted by Katie (Doing Dewey). Katie will have some questions posted, as well as a place to link up other posts on the book.
{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Sarah's Book Shelves November 17, 2015, 6:38 am

    I struggled with this week’s topic as well! I ended up adapting this week’s Top 10 Tuesday topic (quotes) for NN. But, I haven’t read many essay collections, but Ann from BONS podcast was saying she wanted to focus on them in 2016.

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:00 pm

      A year or two ago I had a big idea to read an essay a day — didn’t pan out, but I did love that getting to some more than usual that year.

  • BermudaOnion (Kathy) November 17, 2015, 12:50 pm

    I can only think of two essay collections I’ve read. I enjoyed both of those so I guess I should look for more.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End November 17, 2015, 8:15 pm

    What! Four hundred and fifty-SIX? How can there be so many individual deaths? Some of those are groups of people, right? They can’t all be named characters?

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:04 pm

      No, not all named characters. They try to get in all of the random people in battles and stuff to get that high. But there are a surprisingly high number of named characters who are murdered too.

  • Holly @ Gun In Act One November 17, 2015, 8:38 pm

    Essays are a great topic. I was trying to think about really excellent online essays. Every now and again my husband will send me a really thought provoking essay from ESPN, actually. Like this one: http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/9714247/breaking-good

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:04 pm

      There have been a lot of great sports essays in the lat couple of years. RIP Grantland.

  • Valorie Grace Hallinan November 18, 2015, 7:46 am

    I haven’t been participating in this but I’m so glad to have discovered it. What fascinating information this all is. Excellent post, I enjoyed it. Especially hope to read the Coates essay. Thank you for these suggestions.

  • Michelle November 18, 2015, 9:38 am

    I don’t think I have really looked at essays as a nontraditional form of nonfiction. It definitely works, so now I am going to have to take a closer look at the essays I have read!

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:05 pm

      They’re probably the most traditional of nonfiction forms, but I love what being online has done to add to the form… it’s really cool.

  • Anne @HeadFullofBooks November 18, 2015, 11:06 pm

    I had fun thinking about all different types on nonfiction in nontraditional sources, but I confess I do like listening to audiobooks.

  • Becca November 19, 2015, 10:10 am

    I would love to read Navigating Love & Autism. I worked with a child with autism and it is challenging, but misunderstood as well.

  • Brona November 21, 2015, 1:28 am

    I also struggled with this week’s topic – the best I can do is offer up TED talks and podcasts. I listen to all sorts of stuff from book chats to author interviews, science and environmental concerns, health and self-help topics, music and comedians.

    Each year, a book of Best Australian Essays is published, but I confess that I have never read them (although I do dip into the Best Aust Science Writing one each year).

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:06 pm

      I think TED talks is a great approach!

  • Kerry M November 22, 2015, 7:26 am

    I haven’t read many essay collections, but those I have read, I’ve very much enjoyed–adding all of yours to my lists, such as they are. Thanks for sharing!

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey November 25, 2015, 7:09 pm

    I had a hard time with this prompt too! I don’t read essays very much, so I enjoyed hearing about them from you 🙂

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