Nonfiction November Week 2: Choosing Nonfiction

Nonfiction NovemberI really enjoyed last week’s Nonfiction November kick-off. I’ll get to my answers to this week’s questions in a moment, but first here are some of the fascinating titles from other participants that caught my attention (titles are affiliate links to Amazon):

For a highlight of last week’s posts, see Katie’s wrap-up at Doing Dewey.

This week’s discussion is being hosted by Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, and here are the questions:

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.

What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book?

Most of the nonfiction books I read are practical. I pick them with some aim or goal in mind. For instance, I read a lot of books on how to write, how to manage a classroom, or how to craft a homily. I choose other nonfiction books because I need the knowledge as background for something. This would include things like commentaries on Scripture, works of theology, or works of literary criticism.

Occasionally, though, I will read a nonfiction book simply because I have an interest in the topic. The last time I enjoyed a book like that was about a year and a half ago: Dean King’s Patrick O’Brian: A Life Revealed.

Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to?

I’m always reading books about spirituality and prayer, and I’ve also had a lifelong interest in books about books. I love books that discuss classic literature, books that describe how to read literature, and books that give the history of books and reading. For instance:

Do you have a particular writing style that works best?

I like a conversational, informal approach more than an academic voice. While I don’t consciously think of a writer’s style while I am choosing a nonfiction book, I’m sure it’s important on an intuitive level.

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.

The Professor and the Madman by Simon WInchesterOddly, I am heavily influenced by the covers of fiction books, as I’ve written briefly about before, but it doesn’t seem to matter as much for nonfiction books. Many covers for the nonfiction books I read are simply big letters on a bright background.

However, the opposite is true for titles. Titles are more influential to me for nonfiction books than for fiction books. Sometimes a title strikes me because it is exactly what I’m looking for, and other times it hits me because it’s so unusual or creative. One of my favorite nonfiction titles is The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. It’s that last phrase about the OED that really grabs my attention, especially when juxtaposed with murder and insanity.

Your Turn

I look forward to reading about your nonfiction selection habits in the comments section. What are your favorite nonfiction topics? What titles or book covers have grabbed your attention?

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

11 Responses

  1. I hardly ever say “everyone should read this book,” because reading is so individual, but I do say that about Just Mercy. It’s a beautiful book as well as an important one for our times.

  2. B.B. Toady says:

    I can relate to book covers being more important for fiction. It is interesting that our expectations are often different for covers in regards to different genres. When I am shopping for a gift for a young person, I am attracted to flashier, more dramatic covers, but I am not at all attracted to that sort of thing in women’s fiction. I am not a fan of text based covers, but accepting them happily for nonfiction.

    • Deacon Nick says:

      Isn’t it interesting how books are both artifacts and conveyors of meaning? Like you, I am particular about the physical qualities of the books I buy as gifts, sometimes even more so than the content of the book itself. How wonderful it is when a book is beautiful on both the inside and outside!

  3. YES! to books about books.

    I agree that covers are not so important as they are in fiction, and that titles, especially subtitles, are often the hook.

  4. I’ve been attracted to books about books my entire life, too. Several of these belong on my wish list, especially The Professor and the Madman. Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. looloolooweez says:

    Wow, ‘The Professor and the Madman’ looks amazing. Creative, surprising titles really do grab my attention too.

  6. I often find non-fiction books have amazing sub-titles that make me want to read them.

  7. readerbuzz says:

    I’m terribly interested in books about books and in books about spirituality. Thanks for sharing several of your favorites.

    http://readerbuzz.blogspot.com/2016/11/my-week-in-books-nonfiction-november.html

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