Fear of Non-fiction

I’m not writing this simply to piggyback on Nick’s recent post. I legitamately woke up this morning thinking, “I know, I’ll write about non-fiction.” I have been feeling as though I have been mainly writing book reviews rather than exploring substantive book group issues for this blog, and awoke to find that Nick had scooped me.

But Nick brings up some really good points. Is non-fiction really discussable?

Some of my least successful discussions have been with works of non-fiction. I admit that I have a fear of selecting non-fiction for my group. Most of the time I am not able to read the books before I must choose them, and non-fiction makes me shake in my boots much more than a fiction title I haven’t read.

I have wondered if my trepidation and some of my less than stellar discussions came from some personal lack as a book group facilitator. What skills could I develop to be better able to steer non-fiction discussions away from “Isn’t that interesting” or “Let me tell you about my experiences in Vietnam” or “That reminds me of my Aunt Clara”? In other words, steering the discussion back to the book.

Don’t get me wrong, in my five plus years as a book group facilitator I have had some wonderful discussions with non-fiction. I recall a discussion of Mary Pipher’s The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community being a rich, surprising one. And I remember the klunker of an hour spent pondering and meandering on the points brought up in David Callahan’s The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead.

What was the difference between those two books? Was one of them simply more discussable? Did I or the group members bring something different to their reading? What, when it comes to non-fiction, separates the wheat from the chaff? How can you tell ahead of time? I welcome your thoughts.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

1 Comment on "Fear of Non-fiction"

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  1. austeniteshero@yahoo.com' Hero says:

    I facilitated a nonfiction book group for a year, and most of the time the conversation went very well. We discussed a lot of the same topics as you would with fiction: Did you find the people sympathetic? Why did the author pick this title? Epigram? I did several travel books, which can then lead to questions such as: Do you want to visit this place? What did you think about the other travel book referenced? (Can you write a travel book without copious amounts of previous travelogues included?) However, the best debates frequently came up when reading true adventures, because you can really get a discussion rolling by asking if you think the people in the book were doing something stupid, which is a debatable point in most adventure stories. The only drawback is the group was eventually canceled because of low attendence, although the regulars I had loved it.

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