#NonficNov: Nonfiction Favorites

November 18, 2019 Uncategorized 17

Wow, it’s week four of Nonfiction November already and this week, we’re talking Nonfiction Favorites with host Leann at There There, Read This. I’m interested to hear what you all have to say about this one, because I don’t feel like I can define what makes a favorite for me as well as I’d like! Here’s the prompt:

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.

Is the topic pretty much all that matters?

I’ve decided to tackle this question by question, in hopes it will help me figure out for myself what makes a favorite. I’m quite certain topic isn’t the most important thing for me I’ll read a book on pretty much anything if it’s written about in an engaging way. Lately I have had a preference for books where I feel like I’m learning about a topic that matters.

Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love?

My favorites aren’t all narrative nonfiction and I don’t love all narrative nonfiction, but there’s probably a pretty strong correlation there. Even when learning about a dense or difficult topic, I like for an author to tell me a story. That story can be focused on the people involved in the topic they’re discussing – scientists in science nonfiction; historical figures; patients or doctors in medical nonfiction; etc – or on the author themselves. An author making themselves part of the story can be hit or miss, but sometimes makes a story feel more immediate to me. It can really draw me in.

Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone?

Either a serious or humorous tone can work for me, although I think humorous nonfiction is a little more hit or miss. I have found myself drawn to more serious topics lately, but I still appreciate it when an author can be funny about serious topics.

Pulling from the above answers, here are some qualities shared by many of my favorites

  • vivid, descriptive writing
  • a focus on personal stories
  • well cited, well researched, transparent about sources
  • about a topic that’s important to me (social justice related, history or geopolitics I think I really should know, etc)

Be sure to share what makes a nonfiction favorite for you with Leann over at There There, Read This

17 Responses to “#NonficNov: Nonfiction Favorites”

  1. Liz Dexter

    “well cited, well researched, transparent about sources” – yes! I left this out of mine. I get FURIOUS when a non-fiction book is referenced unclearly! I struggled with this theme a bit and it’s so interesting how people have all approached it so differently.

    • DoingDewey

      I’d say it’s actually pretty unusual for nonfiction to be as well cited as I’d like (in my dream world, authors and publishers can afford to provide citations for pretty much every fact they include), but there are definitely some books that more clearly fall short in infuriating ways! I’ve really enjoyed seeing how everyone has approached this topic too 🙂
      DoingDewey recently posted…#NBAwards Longlist Review: Race For ProfitMy Profile

  2. Liz

    I really agree with your statement about being drawn to NF about “learning about topics that matter” – exactly. That is where I am this year as well… (Wonder why? ;-] )

    And yes – about the humorous writing style can be a bit hit-or-miss. It’s such a personal thing though, right?

    • DoingDewey

      Haha, yes, I do think the current situation has had an impact on my reading habits! It’s interesting, because I think some people have turned to more escapist fare for the same reason 🙂

      It’s true! I think humor is more subjective than a lot of my other criteria.

  3. Angela

    I like my nonfiction to have personal stories, too – I just feel that much more of a connection, plus it’s amazing to learn about the things that other people have experienced that are so different from my own life.

    • DoingDewey

      Agreed! Even I’m reading about science history or something technical, I’d like to know about the people who did the work or the author’s experience doing research for the book. Something to give it that human connection 🙂

  4. Eva @ The Paperback Princess

    I have been all over the place with my nonfiction reading this year! I also had a hard time nailing down what I like about nonfiction favourites – it’s much easier for me to say what doesn’t work.

    I agree that ultimately, I want to be told a story.

    • DoingDewey

      You make a good point about it being easier to identify what doesn’t work. I think if a book did everything I mentioned liking, I’d be pretty certain to like it, but being a favorite is higher bar and I think there’s some intangible additional element that pushes a book into that category 🙂
      DoingDewey recently posted…#NBAwards Longlist Review: Race For ProfitMy Profile

  5. Lisbeth @ The Content Reader

    I agree with your criteria. The writing has to be inspiring. Personal stories are fine, but it depends on the subject. If you write about a historical event, it might be difficult to add any personal story, if the event is in the past.
    I don’t always read all the notes or sources, but it is important to have them. They give you a reassurance that the author is well researched.
    I also like to learn something from what I read. I do enjoy a light tone of the writing, even if it is a serious subject. I think a lot of nonfiction writers these days adapt to this. A dry, academic nonfiction book, does not go down very well. Even academic knowledge can be transfered in a light way.

    • DoingDewey

      With history, I really love when authors use primary sources to add a personal element. One that comes to mind is The Black Count, a history of the real-life inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo, where the author uses letters so they can make claims about how people felt or thought at the time. It felt personal, but well supported 🙂

      I feel better if a book has a nice, long bibliography even if I don’t read it too! I’ll typically only look at all the citations if the author has also added interesting notes there; otherwise I just spot check.
      DoingDewey recently posted…#NBAwards Longlist Review: Race For ProfitMy Profile

  6. Rennie

    I found humorous nonfiction really hit or miss too. It seems like such a fine line between what you find funny and something that’s grating. And I totally agree that an author able to tell a story regardless of topic makes such a big difference in how you feel about a book. I love how you broke this down and analyzed it!

      • Rennie

        I read a couple of Sarah Vowell’s books years and years ago and don’t remember them so well but also felt like I didn’t enjoy them as much as everyone else did. I think it was only Assassination Vacation that I liked, mainly because there’s a line about how she always thought John Waters movies were on the outlandish side until she actually went to Maryland. I’m originally from Maryland and it is such an oddball place so that always cracked me up! Actually I can’t think of anything else specific about her books besides that line.
        Rennie recently posted…“Human Stories” Illustrate Our Connection to the OceanMy Profile

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