Discovering the World of Non Fiction

I’ve never been one to browse the non fiction section at my local bookstore or library. I write fiction and therefore I read it. It is probable that my logic is very different from yours, but I’m young and I was naive. Even during my first non fiction writing course, I  steered clear of it outside of class. It wasn’t until three semesters later that I realized I really enjoyed non fic. Around that same time, I realized I liked writing  it, too. Coincidence?

Since I’ve avoided the genre for so long, I’m now trying to catch up. I’m currently reading Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman and Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream by Buzz (H.G.) Bissinger.

FRC FNL book covers

If you aren’t familiar with either, here’s a quick rundown.

Fargo Rock City is Klosterman’s memoir about growing up in a small North Dakota town, population 498, and loving the 80s rock and roll scene.

Friday Night Lights is something of an expose on Texas high school football. Bissinger follows a few players from a high school team and highlights the pressures they’re under as well as the celeb-like treatment they get for being starters and what kind of success these things set them up for. Hint, hint: it’s pretty much zero.
(I’ve always thought the rumors about the importance of Texas football were grosly embellished, but not according to this book. If the title sounds familiar, it a 2004 major motion picture of the same name, which then spawned an award-winning NBC series in 2006–you should check them both out.)

Both of these books are making me rethink some of my writing. I’ve felt a kinship with the creative elements of fiction, but the more nonfiction I read, the more I realize how much can be done. In my second nonfiction writing class, my professor wanted to expose us to the various formats writers are using in the genre. Two things that stood out were Nox by Anne Carson and Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. Both are rather unconventional, but I would argue that Nox is most unusual. While Fun Home is so because it’s a comic, most people are generally familiar with comic strips so it’s not quite as striking as Nox, which is printed on paper that is folded accordion-style and presented in a box, loosely. There is very little writing in it; much of the text is on letters and pictures. It looks as if it’s the love child of a puzzle and a scrapbook. 

Nox fun home

Seeing these types of formats have opened my eyes to new creative elements. In addition to the writing, there is the presentation. I’m thinking that this could be quite useful in terms of tailoring your work for your intended audience.

Another thing that is striking a chord with me is the content that is covered in non fiction. Both of the books I’m reading now are relevant to my interests. I certainly never thought I would get a chance to read a book about growing up loving hairbands. (What d’ya know, I’m not the only one!) This revelation is making me wonder what other books I’ve missed, where do I find them, and do I have the “writing chops” to fill an entire book? or am I strictly essay?

I’d like to compile a list of non fiction books I need to read. I would appreciate your comments with suggestions! (and let me know if you know of anymore alternatively formatted works)

11 thoughts on “Discovering the World of Non Fiction”

  1. I, like you, took a long time to come around to writing non-fiction, but I have come to really enjoy it too. I don’t think I’d want to write a whole non-fiction book– at least not at this point in life– but essays are fun. If you like essays and you haven’t read it yet, I’d recommend Elena Passarello’s Let Me Clear My Throat (Jackson reviewed it All I can say is that Elena writes my kind of essay. Also, any of David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction!

    1. I really liked Elena’s book, too. I’m sad to say I haven’t read much David Foster Wallace, but I’ll add some to my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Glad some of you fiction folks are seeing the light! There might be some folks over on Goodreads who have shelves of nonfiction you could browse. Like fiction, it’s a huge genre so it helps to focus in on your interests. I’ve always loved space (as in NASA and astronaut) stuff and biographies. My mom had read at least one biography on every president’s wife. So you might narrow in your focus and then find the plethora of material out there.

    I’m curious: What, stylistically, are you finding in nonfiction that you think will help you write fiction? What are those “creative new elements”?

    1. That’s a great idea that I should have thought of 🙂 *Heads to Goodreads*

      In terms of creativity, I was referring to the voice and personality as well as physical formatting. The non fiction I had read prior to college was very dry and statistical or simple biographies. I think reading memoirs really opened my eyes. Cathy mentioned The Glass Castle, which I loved. I should have mentioned it in this post. That was a book that really made me want to see what was out there.

  3. Nonfiction is such a big category. I think of memoir as “novels that are true,” and some of my favorites recently have been The Glass Castle, Boys of my Youth (not new), and I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Diana Joseph. I also read a lot of biographies for the novel I’m working on now. But I have a special fondness for nonfiction narrative that blends personal experience (immersion, memoir) with research and news coverage (journalism). Some of my favorites are Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball, Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and Friday Night Lights. I can see you turning your caregiving story into a book that blends personal experience with facts about dementia and the elderly as well as advice for people who find themselves in similar situations.

  4. Love reading another post about embracing the world of nonfiction! Rebecca Hobbs and you should trade notes. 🙂

    My favorite nonfiction writers lately are David Foster Wallace and Joan Didion, both master essayists.

    I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts on the subject of fiction versus nonfiction, and whether those can really be considered separate categories. Is there really such a thing as a 100% nonfiction book, or a 100% fictional book? Do you consider the two categories to be entirely separable?

    1. You raise a good point. Actually I don’t see them as being entirely separate, only different in concept I suppose. We always write something of ourselves into our fiction and many forms of non fiction only cover one perspective so others may call it fiction.

      I think I might write a post about this topic.

  5. Given some of your previous blog posts, you might like this book. It’s about the Midwest and conservatism. It really helped me understand some of my conflicted feelings about Indiana. Also this one about the meth epidemic in the Midwest.

  6. I read Friday Night Lights about 75 times in high school, I loved that book, along with the T.V. series. I think for people used to reading fiction there are some really cool options of experimental non–fiction, like Sebald’s “The Emigrants” or Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets,” both which do some cool things with form and prose construction.

  7. I’ve been heavily interested in reading nonfiction lately as well. I’m mainly interested in where the lines get blurred and where embellishing becomes a practice in nonfiction works. What focal points people use and the differences of how different people recall the same memories are what truly interest me about the nonfiction world.

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