Non-fiction often poses a dilemma for readers' advisors. If the RA librarian is separate from the Reference Desk, isn't non-fiction the reference librarians' job? However, quite often anymore, someone isn't saying, "I'm looking for a book on social economics," they are saying, "I just read Freakonomics and I found it fascinating, but I was an English major and don't know math. Any other books that are like Freakonimics but that I can understand?" That type of question takes a readers' advisor. What about Freakonomics interested the reader? The sociology of it, or the study of numbers that made it possible? And why?
The difference here is between task-based and non-task-based books. If the reader is looking for a book to show them how to fix the sink, a guide to the best hikes in the area, or a biology textbook, then appeal is not as relevant. However non-fiction is very readable, and many people, myself included, read it for pleasure. These readers are the ones who need our help.
Neal Wyatt has written the book on RA for Nonfiction. In it, she discusses how we can do what we do with fiction for non-fiction. Here is what we need to look for in the non-fiction we read and suggest:
- Narrative Continuum - How much does this book read like a novel? How many narrative devices does the author use to make it a page-turning work?
- Subject – Many people are looking for a subject, just as in fiction they are looking for genre. However, a person who says they want to read about the restaurant business because they loved Kitchen Confidential are going to enjoy the equally raunchy and irreverent behind-the-scenes take on the hotel industry Heads in Beds more than A Thousand Hill to Heaven, the inspirational story of a couple who opened a restaurant in war-torn Rwanda.
- Type - memoir, biography, letters, essays, history, social sciences, reporting, travel narratives - these are all types of non-fiction that readers will ask for. Often they won't know the word for it.
- Appeal - We can use a lot of the same appeal factors that we use for fiction:
- Pacing- influenced by fact and theories, needed to be digested by the reader; also how much knowledge of a subject a reader brings to it the faster the pace will go. The more narrative a story is the more quickly it will unfold. For readers who want more details and facts about the subject this isn't always a good thing - however for readers looking for an enjoyable take on the subject it can be.
- Characterization- reader interaction with characters vary: often the author intends for the reader to either identify with them or to observe them as separate.
- Storyline –
- Affects narrative nature, focus of story, subject treatment. Books with a great story that are highly narrative are the best to “transcend the Dewey Divide”, as Wyatt puts it.
- Intent of author – to educate or to entertain?
- Easy to read or crammed with facts
- Subject focused – history, science, biography; whereas travel cooking memoir – more about story than subject
- Detail – descriptions, maps, illustrations etc
- Learning / Experiencing: teachable moments (Freakonomics) versus sharing an experience (David Sedaris)
- Language –does writing style matter – lyrical or sharp edged
- Setting – location, does it need to be brought to life? Most NF takes place somewhere
- Tone- light or dark
Please do the readings located in the Canvas files this week and in the syllabus. Wyatt also writes articles for Library Journal that I highly suggest reading - she is an approachable and incredibly knowledgeable part of the RA community and getting to know her work is a great way to keep up with the scholarship on Readers' Advisory.
Due by the End of this week:
Non-fiction and literary Annotations
Week 12 Prompt Responses
Week 12 Prompt
For your prompt this week, please complete the Readers' Advisory Matrix, found on the last page of the reading title RA Guide to Nonfiction in the Canvas files, about a non-fiction book you have read. If you have not read a non-fiction book recently, feel free to use some of the techniques on how to "read" a book in five minutes such as Mary Chelton's handouts or any others we have covered to get a feel for a non-fiction book. I look forward to reading these!