Another speaker on that panel was Jennifer Brannen, the Teen and Adult Services Librarian at the Durham County (NC) Public Library. She spoke about how readers’ advisors can bridge the divide between nonfiction and fiction.
Jennifer began with a question and an answer:
So what is the bridge between nonfiction and fiction? Narrative nonfiction. In its various incarnations it’s also referred to as literary nonfiction and creative nonfiction (or journalism). … As in fiction, it’s about telling a good story, about getting inside people’s heads and figuring out their motivations. The story is rooted in reality and the people are real rather than characters but the result can be much the same – a gripping story populated by fascinating people.
- Subject matter is a powerful appeal factor that is equally applicable to fiction and nonfiction. For the fiction reader, an intriguing factual narrative can be every bit as compelling or entertaining as fiction. (Truth being stranger . . . as the saying goes.) An attraction to a particularly exciting subject area—war, shipwrecks, crime, exotic travel, etc.—can engender curiosity about the real-life events and ideas that inspired the fictional stories that fascinate. Narrative nonfiction continues to be a popular trend in nonfiction and that makes bridging the two halves of the library (and their loyal readers) easier. From micro-histories and dramatic biographies to true (mis)adventures and gritty true crime, nonfiction is full of compelling, horrifying, amusing stories.
Next, Jennifer outlined some crossover genres:
- Biography and memoir, including epistolary fiction, such as The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, or first-person nonfiction narratives “with a nod to a specific subject or historical period,” like Jenni Rivera’s autobiography Unbreakable: My Story, My Way or Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life.
- History, both fiction (ranging “from the humorous, romantic Napoleonic spies of Lauren Willig to the introspective WWI mysteries of Jacqueline Winspear”) and nonfiction (like Salt: A World History by Mark Kulansky or The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara Tuchman).
- Humor, which ranges in fiction from “the dry wit of David Sedaris” to “the criminal slapstick of a Carl Hiaasen novel” and, in nonfiction, might include writers like Steve Almond and Sarah Vowell.
- Science, where “the high appeal science writing of Mary Roach and Sam Keen” can be paired with “thrillers where science goes awry (or gets into the wrong hands).” As Jennifer noted, “The detailed world-building of Iain M. Banks may appeal to those interested in space and astrophysics, while fans of Richard Preston's fearsome nonfiction about viruses may enjoy Jonathan Mayberry's Patient Zero.”
- Sports, where Moneyball or Friday Night Lights provide nonfiction cross-over titles, while on the fiction side, “the sports novels of Mike Lupica and the horse racing mysteries of Dick Francis are good starts.”
- Adventure, where fiction thrillers may appeal “because they can include some of the extreme conditions and exotic geography that are common to True Adventure.” Nonfiction authors include Sebastian Junger and Jon Krakauer, while “classic authors such as Jack London and H. Rider Hagard or more contemporary reads such as Michael Crichton or Clive Cussler” represent fiction options.
- Mysteries and thrillers, of course, have potential appeal for true crime fans. Jennifer noted that “For nonfiction readers the crime and its solution may be more interesting that the fictional detective who solves it” and suggested checking “about these appeal factors for your true crime aficionados.” For true crime readers who like forensics, she recommended novelists Kathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell; for fiction readers who like more gruesome mysteries, she listed David King’s Death in the City of Light (about a serial killer in Paris in World War II) and Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook (“a fascinating look into the development of forensic science in turn of the century New York City”).
- Travel includes novels with a strong sense of place, like those by Pete Dexter and Cormac McCarthy whose “places may vary from book to book” as well as those that “focus on one specific place over several novels,” like Carl Hiaasen’s Florida or Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachia. For nonfiction travel, writers like Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux “mix humor and thoughtfulness in their compelling travel tales.”
These genre to genre suggestions and titles barely scratch the surface. With such a wide variety of titles and genres to choose from on both sides of the fiction-nonfiction divide the matches can vary widely depending on the appeal factors attractive to any given reader. But the most important thing to remember is simple: Most often the lines we draw between fiction and nonfiction are unnecessary. Keep your mind open: Good stories can come from a writer’s rich imagination or they can explore the intricacies of human mind itself.
Follow Travel with a Book on Twitter.
Pinterest board for books I've read lately
Buy my book, Going Places: A Reader's Guide to Travel Narrative.