Hello hello! This week’s host for Nonfiction November is Katie at Doing Dewey, who is encouraging us to talk about Nonfiction Favorites:
We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.
I decided to take the easy way out and respond to Katie’s questions one at a time, which hopefully will give a good sense of how I got about choosing my nonfiction reads.
Is the topic pretty much all that matters?
Absolutely not. I’m one of those weird nonfiction readers who will pick up a book on just about any topic – honestly, the stranger the better – provided the writing is good and the story is told in an interesting way. It does help if the topic is something in my wheelhouse, but some of my favorite books have been about things I didn’t really know I wanted to learn more about – lobsters, Star Wars, canoeing, or Olympic rowing, for example.
There are a few topics, however, that I tend to avoid. I generally don’t enjoy reading about World War II (or really, any major war), and I’m not often interested in biographies of dead white dudes. While there are always exceptions — The Boys in the Boat comes to mind, as does a book from my TBR, Destiny of the Republic — those are definitely areas that I tend to skip if I don’t have specific recommendations.
Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love?
As a former journalist, I love stories where you get a chance to see how the author put the book together. I like learning a little bit about the reporting/writing of the book as I’m reading it, and when the author find a way to become part of the narrative in a subtle, useful way. These aren’t memoirs (although I like them too), just well-researched nonfiction that includes a personal component in the writing.
Mary Roach is really excellent at this style — her science writing is infused with her personality in a way I really love. Sarah Vowell also does this well. A book I read recently, Nomadland by Jessica Bruder, benefited a lot from her immersion with the story she was trying to tell. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee is another tough topic that was made easier to read about thanks to the personal experience the author was able to include.
Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone?
One of the things I can be a little pushy about is the idea that nonfiction can be equally as fun and transporting as fiction. I read nonfiction for enjoyment as often or more than I choose to read fiction for pleasure, which means I generally look for a lighter touch. That doesn’t mean I don’t read nonfiction on serious topics, just that I tend to look for a more readable writing style — I’m much more of a popular, mainstream nonfiction reader than an academic nonfiction reader.
And that’s all for this week. Thanks again to those who are reading, commenting, and visiting the other bloggers participating this month. It was fun to host last week and finally make it around to all of the bloggers participating. Make sure to visit Doing Dewey to check out what other people are saying about their favorite nonfiction!
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