It’s hard to believe that it is already Week 4 of Nonfiction November! If you haven’t read my previous Nonfiction Novemeber posts you can read Week 1 here, Week 2 here and Week 3 here.
This week we are talking about why our favorites are our favorites. The discussion is being hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey. 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.
That is a hard one for me, because I’m not really sure why one book clicks with me and another one doesn’t. Probably the best way for me to do this is to make a list of nonfiction that I really liked and nonfiction that I wasn’t so fond of and look at what they may have in common.
Here are some of my 5 star nonfiction reads over the past few years
- Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
- Irena’s Children by Tilar J Mazzeo
- Manhunt by James L Swanson
- The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
- Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
What do these have in common? All have an interesting story to tell, and all are narrative nonfiction that teach me something about history that I didn’t know much, if anything, about before I read the book. All are well researched with notes and references at the end. Many were challenging in length and subject matter and it was sometimes a struggle to stick with the book.
And here are some of my 1 and 2 star read.
- A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
- The Necklace by Cheryl Jarvis
- Angela’s Ashes by Frank J McCourt
- Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth
- Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods
What do these have in common? All are memoirs with the author as one of the main characters. With the exception of Angela’s Ashes, these books are written about a subject that I have no particular interest in. With Angela’s Ashes, I expected to like the book, but the writing just didn’t do it for me. These books were often a struggle to stick with, but not because the book was long or the subject matter intense. Instead, with these books I felt like I was wasting my time and there was nothing memorable here.
Looking at this, I have to conclude that subject matter is pretty important to me, but perhaps even more important is writing style. WIth well-written and well-researched narrative nonfiction, even if I didn’t think I was interested in a topic, the author can draw me in. I don’t like my nonfiction too dry, so a bit of lightness helps if it moves the story along. I do appreciate when the author gives me some insight into their thought process. How did they conclude the motivation of a character?; did they extrapolate a conversation based on their research or is there direct evidence?. And of course I love a well-researched book that includes notes, illustrations, and suggestions for further reading!