This week’s topic for Nonfiction November, hosted by Katie of Doing Dewey, is 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.
This may seem ultra-obvious, but when I read nonfiction I want to learn interesting things. I’m not obligated by my job or studies to do this, so any topic will do as long as the author brings out something relevant, unusual, surprising, beautiful, or mind-blowing about it. My favorite books leave me with a life-enhancing sense of wonder and amazement.
I’m admittedly mainly a fiction reader, so in order to hold my attention and help me retain information, it’s helpful to tell me a story. Not every subject is suited to this method, but the ones that do lend themselves to storytelling are the most likely to become my favorites.
On the other hand, there’s a danger that when the facts are thin on the ground the author will fill them in by speculating about what might have been. It annoys me to read lengthy passages discussing the possible color of somebody’s hair, or postulating about piss freezing in the chamber pots on a particular morning. Even worse is inventing incidents or characters without identifying them as such to the reader. If you don’t know something, say so…and if you want to indulge your imagination, write a novel!
My favorite nonfiction is firmly based in reality, even if that means the book has to be very short.
Many nonfiction writers are journalists or academics, whose writing style may be serviceable at best. This is fine for conveying information, but my favorite nonfiction books will have phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that resound with a distinctive voice. The danger is that some writers seem to be trying too hard and end up writing terribly purple prose, which is also irritating. Writing can be simple and clear, but still artistically formed, and that’s what I really gravitate towards in nonfiction.
An uplifting spirit
Some books are important to read, but depressing. I’m grateful that they exist, but unlikely to count them as my favorites. I will take more to my heart the books that leave me with some hope, comfort, or inspiration to carry me into the future, even when (or especially when) they grapple with tough subjects like injustice, war, and death.
Here are some of my favorite nonfiction titles that I’ve read since I started blogging:
- In the Kingdom of Ice
- The Age of Wonder
- Just Mercy
- Being Mortal
- My Life in Middlemarch
- The Book of Joy
What are your favorites, and what criteria help you to select them?