This week’s prompt is hosted by Doing Dewey and is all about what it takes to get a place on the non-fiction favourites shelf.
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.
It’s something that’s so hard to pinpoint for me, I think it needs to be a magical combination of things.
Topic is super important, although there is a wide variety that interests me. I also like the book to stay on topic, tangents are fine if related but sometimes I just want to get back to the matter in hand. For example, I loved the nature writing in The Outrun and picked it up to read about life in Orkney, but a huge part of the book was about her alcohol addiction, which is a hard sell for me, so whilst I liked it, it wouldn’t be a favourite.
I read non-fiction to be both entertained and informed, so I love an emotional connection combined with a topic that piques my interest. The Radium Girls was incredibly moving, but I was also interested in the history and effects of radium and how the law has been changed since. It ticks all my boxes. You Will Not Have My Hate touches on a topic often on our minds and displays raw grief whilst being beautifully written.
Writing style matters but it should also fit the topic. I don’t like dry textbooks but I’m not a fan of too flippant a tone either. I don’t get on with American humour so much; everyone recommends Mary Roach’s books every November but I found her jokes in Stiff a bit irritating. However, if humour is on my wavelength, it is perfect. I love Yes Man and The Tent, the Bucket and Me, probably because they seem a bit more humble and relatable.
I love books that approach a topic in a different manner. Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep looks at neuroscience through the lens of the zombie subgenre and Rabid explores the disease of rabies via its cultural impact. The Knowledge is a book I recommend often because it is both practical but also illuminating on what life might be like after the apocalypse.
Basically, if it’s a topic I love, told with emotion and skill, looked at from a different angle, whilst teaching me something new without straying too far from the point, it’s likely to get five stars!
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