Recently, I have really gotten into reading non-fiction books. Whether it's a celebrity autobiography, a humourous self-help book, or a poignant memoir, I just eat them up. I only really got into reading non-fiction novels last year, when I read Sissy by Jacob Tobia, a memoir that I absolutely loved. However, I have found that when I write positive reviews of non-fiction books, more often than not, the main positive trait that I put onto these books is that "they read like a fiction book." And I've come to wonder why this is.
What do I mean when I say that a non-fiction book reads like fiction? To be honest, I had to ponder this myself. I think what I mean is, that the book uses poetic language, heavy with metaphor, making use of tone, to pull me into the story. There is not too much focus on statistics, or analytical writing. It doesn't feel like I'm reading a research paper, instead more like a creative writing piece. I guess these books have a stream of consciousness feel to them, so that I feel like I need to keep reading. However, I wonder why most of my non-fiction has to feel like fiction in order for me to receive it positively. Why can't it just be good non-fiction, without being compared to another genre?
I bring this conversation up because I just finished an excellent non-fiction book, Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall. This book is about the history of white feminism and its erasure of issues that affect marginalized people. I really enjoyed it. However, I would argue that it didn't read like a fiction novel. There were a lot of statistics and studies that were cited throughout the book. Kendall did share personal stories throughout the book, but overall it was less about her own life and more about a historical issue that she has meticulously researched and discusses at great length. This non-fiction book was great without being compared to fiction. And I think I need to break my reviewing habit of comparing non-fiction to fiction.
I do tend to read more fiction that I do non-fiction. It is mostly because of personal preference, and because the main genre that I read is YA. However, this doesn't mean that I have to compare every other genre to fiction. Non-fiction is unique from fiction because it displays fact. It gives the opportunity for the author to include research and evidence that fiction novels do not always concern themselves with. Non-fiction authors do establish a unique voice, but they do so by how they choose to display and write about their facts. Non-fiction writers, like fiction writers, are educating the masses on a wide variety of issues. And they should be highlighted without the need to be compared to fiction.
I think I need to change the way I review non-fiction. Yes, it is an important part of the reviewing process to highlight how the author writes. If they make use of great diction and metaphor that fiction writers commonly use, then that's awesome! But I don't think that the main positive point for non-fiction reviews (at least for me personally), should be that "it didn't feel like I was reading non-fiction." Because what's wrong with reading non-fiction? What's wrong with reading stats and facts? Certainly it's not everyone's personal taste, but that doesn't mean it's always a negative asset. I just think that when we compare non-fiction writers to fiction writers, we ignore the non-fiction writers who write very differently to fiction writers. And their work is still valid.
Overall, I want to make a conscious decision to change the way I review non-fiction. Instead of just saying that a non-fiction book "read like fiction," I want to say that it was an extremely well-written, well-researched non-fiction book. And that is valid enough.
Do you read non-fiction books? How do you review them? Do you agree/disagree with what I said?
Emily @ Paperback Princess