November used to be one of those months that draaaaaaaaaaagged for me. But in the three years that I’ve been participating in Nonfiction November, it just flies by!
This week Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction? is asking readers to think about nonfiction books that read like fiction!
I’ve been reading nonfiction for a long time – I have clear memories of biography reading as young as 11 – and I’m not super fussed if my nonfiction reads like fiction. Sometimes it makes the reading easier, sometimes it’s more engaging, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker for me if nonfiction doesn’t have a narrative spin to it.
I think if you’re only reading fiction-like nonfiction, you’re closing yourself off to incredible possibilities. That said, it can be a great way for folks to get interested in nonfiction when they thought it was stuffy, boring and lame.
So if you’re looking for some nonfiction that reads like your favourite novel, here are some of my favourites:
If you’re talking about narrative nonfiction, Erik Larson is part of the conversation. The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts are probably his most well-known books (and they are both excellent) but Isaac’s Storm, and Dead Wake (read that one in a day) are also fantastic. I was less interested in Thunderstruck if I’m being totally honest but I’ll still read anything Larson writes.
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
This infamous tale of the hunt for Ted Bundy from the woman who worked right beside him at a call centre is insanely horrific and strangely personal. Everything I’ve read from Ann Rule feels personal – she has a knack for inserting herself in her books that doesn’t feel intrusive (no small feat given what she writes about). Because of this, her books have a fiction-like feel to them. Unfortunately, they are all too true.
How To Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
This memoir of a troubled youth and stumbling into a dream job in magazine publishing felt like watching a glittery but ultimately doomed romcom. Marnell puts it all out there but the way she writes makes it all seem like bubblegum and sunshine. A portrait of a deeply troubled human just trying to make it in the world.
A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead
If you’re looking to have your heart ripped out for your next read, may I suggest A Train in Winter? Caroline Moorehead expertly tells the tale of 230 women who were a part of the French Resistance and the price they paid for their involvement. It is devastating, emotional, horrific and more people really should have read it by now!
Honestly, the more I think about it, the more titles I could add to the list. There are lots of nonfiction books that fall into the storytelling bucket for me. In fact, here’s some more (bullet form for all our sanity)
- The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport
- Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams
- Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler by Bruce Henderson
- Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
- The Hiltons: A Family Dynasty by J. Randy Taraborrelli (worth it for Zsa Zsa alone)
There you have it, some of my favourite narrative nonfiction. Make sure to check in with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction? for links to other blogs participating this week!
18 thoughts on “Nonfiction November: Reads Like Fiction”
“If you’re looking to have your heart ripped out for your next read, may I suggest A Train in Winter?” exactly!!! This was such an amazing but emotionally intense, heart-ripped-out kinda book. It’s funny you mentioned that more people should have read it by now because I also didn’t think it got as popular as it deserved to be, from my perception at least. It’s hard to really say something new about WWII history at this point but there was something special about that book.
And Stranger Beside Me was just so good too. I really need to try something else by her. I think I’m intimidated because her books are so long…
You made such a great point – people are definitely missing out on other wonderful example of nonfiction if they only read narrative nonfiction but it’s a great way to encourage or introduce more reading in the genre in general. Loved your take on this one!
I think maybe because there is so much out there about WWII, this one can be dismissed as “just another book about WWII” but it could not be more different. I keep trying to get people to read it, eventually it will catch on.
Even though Ann Rule’s books are so long they are so easy to read. It never takes long to get through them. I just finished the one about the Green River Killer, that one was grim. The Diane Downs one is really good. And I just listened to an MFM where they talked about one of hers…If You Loved Me I think? It sounded really good – well, you know, totally messed up but good.
That’s a good point, Train in Winter gets lumped in with everything in the WWII genre but it’s such a standout! I’ve been recommending it to anyone who’ll listen too.
Very true about Ann Rule’s books, I remember Stranger Beside Me flew by even though it was 600 or so pages. If You Loved Me is the Cinnamon Brown one, isn’t it?! That was such a crazy story!! It does sound messed up but worth the read. I think the Ann Rule book I have is about a story they covered at one point too, the shoe fetish guy. I have some memory of them talking about the book for that one. I’m curious about the Green River one because I don’t know anything about him but it does seem particularly grim. His picture creeps me out.
It IS the Cinnamon Brown one! That was a bonkers story on MFM, I can only imagine what it’s like to read all the details.
The Green River Killer is exactly that: grim.
I tend to like autobiography because I know the arc: birth to whenever the person wrote the book. Memoir and creative nonfiction tend to be another favorite of mine because the author focuses on a certain theme or problem in their life. C.N. is just a “prettier”way of doing it. I tend to dislike biography.
I LOVE the early years of biographies so much. I’ve never thought about biographies vs autobiographies too much. I will say that the biographies where the author is fawning all over their subject are not my favourite – I like a little distance and honesty.
I adore Eric Larson.
I hope he is writing away right now. Are you, Eric Larson? We are waiting.
I think he is working on something. I recall seeing him mention on Twitter that he’d found his next subject. No hints on what though!
The Ann Rule one sounds fascinating! I’m adding this one to this weeks prompt – thanks!
Fascinating and horrifying. A great read though.
Oh, yes, great idea: A Train in Winter. That was so good! (And it made you want to make a hundred little mini-projects to find out more about each of them.) I’ve not yet read or watched Call the Midwife, but I can see the appeal…
Right after I read A Train in Winter, I heard about Ravensbruck, the book. I meant to read it right away but didn’t think my heart could take it. I still haven’t read it, three years later…
The first Call the Midwife book is like reading the show, they really took the first book and recreated it. The other two aren’t like the show much but still interesting.
That’s good to know: I finally finished Downton Abbey years late (actually a few months ago now) and I keep thinking that Midwife might fill that slot nicely. I’ll make sure to finish watching at least the first season before peeking into the book (which is weird, because usually I am a committed BookFirst reader when it comes to fiction)!
How did I not know about the Hiltons?! Just as I think I’m going to do a TBR purge now I’m loading it up more. Sigh. Now I want to read A Train in Winter but don’t think I’m emotionally ready. I also didn’t know about the Stranger Beside me and now I need that too!
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I added the Ted Bundy one and linked back to you! Thanks!
I used to be addicted to Ann Rule!! Holy cow, she fits the bill because I chewed through her books like novels. I read this one. Is she still writing true crime? I may need to take a look for her again.
I read very little non-fiction but one that I could not put down was The Boys in the Boat. I knew nothing about rowing and didn’t care about the Olympics but I could not put this down.
Bad news, Catherine: Ann Rule died.
That’s kind of what Susie said too! Feels like one that my husband and father-in-law would like as well…