What do you look for in nonfiction?

Welcome to the second week of Nonfiction November! This week’s topic is:

What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book? Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to? Do you have a particular writing style that works best? When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you? If so, share a title or cover which you find striking.

I try very hard to get a variety of non-fiction in my reading. Some years I succeed and some years I don’t. Last year I think I did a pretty good job. Until last week, I thought the topics that interested me the most are science and medicine – with an emphasis on empirical rather than personal. However, while I was answering last week’s question I realized something – those preferences have changed. Two of my top three favorite books are memoirs! And all three of them were about social awareness.Of course I already knew that social awareness was an important topic to me, but I hadn’t realized how much it had affected my reading choices. 

In the past, I have preferred books that are researched so well they almost read like a textbook. And I still have a leaning towards the empirical rather than the personal, though memoirs on certain subjects (mental illness, for instance) are more and more appealing to me. I read so many empirical books about mental illness that I’m afraid I’m losing the people that are affected by the illnesses. Same for social justice issues. I can read textbook information all I want, but if I don’t read memoirs, then I’ll never know how people feel about these things – only what they think about them. 

And YES, the cover and title are a huge influence over me. Ever hear the phrase “don’t judge a book by it’s cover?” Of course you have. And I do. I think the cover and title should be chosen carefully to indicate what sort of book is inside. It is the publisher’s first line of attack in getting someone to pick up the book and read the blurb in the first place. One book that I picked up mainly because of the cover and title was Severed, by Frances Larson: 

What about you? What are you looking for in your nonfiction? Comment below or include a link to your post in the linky:


24 thoughts on “What do you look for in nonfiction?

  1. How we decide what books to read is such an interesting and often talked topic.

    You raise a good point about reading memoirs. I read so few of them. I should read more. I already have my eye on a few for the upcoming months.


  2. Like you, I like books that are researched well, but I am nowhere near that point where I want them to read like a textbook. I prefer an author who pens facts, but is crafty enough to make me think I am reading a novel. I love this topic. It fascinates me to see how readers choose their books.


  3. Ha ha! That severed cover would have had me running in the opposite direction! I think I am drawn to books that are about things that interest me, and I definitely like them non-text-bookish!…but a good friend of mine loves reading text books. Fascinating.


  4. A book just about severed heads?! Adding it to my list, hahaha
    I don't love books that read like textbooks – I like my learning framed around people. It's one of the reasons that Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon worked SO WELL for me. His discussion about medical issues and the choices that parents have been forced to make are fleshed out by the people he talks to that have been personally affected by these issues.
    Interesting how over time the things we think are true, have shifted.


  5. That's funny — I'm also a big fan of science nonfic, but realized recently that the bulk of my NF reading is made up of memoirs/bios! Like you, I think I find the “humanizing” aspect of a person's experiences of a particular time/event just as (more?) important than a just-the-facts approach.


  6. I definitely like my nonfiction well-researched – ideally, I'd like in-text citations for everything – but I still want it to read more like fiction than like a textbook. I also agree that the human story can be the most important part 🙂


  7. Well, I think I overstated my case. I didn't really mean I like them to be like a textbook, only that what I think sounds like a textbook is possibly not what other people think sounds like a textbook. That I enjoy a book even though I've heard others say it sounds like a textbook. 🙂


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