Nonfiction November: Reads Like Fiction

This week’s Nonfiction November topic — Reads Like Fiction — is hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?

Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?


I love nearly all the nonfiction — even handbooks and manuals, if they have a sprightly tone. (Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes is one of my all-time favorite books, and I have a serious love of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.)

And most of the self-improvement books I read (and there are lots of ’em) don’t follow a storyline, but I love them all the same. If there’s an engaging tone, I’m there.

So I don’t need a narrative drive to delight my nonfiction-loving heart.

That having been said… When you offer me something along the lines of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff or anything by Robert Kurson (I’m currently still in the afterglow of Rocket Men), I’m about as happy as I can be as a reader. Narrative nonfiction might well be the highest peak on my readerly mountain range.

In the past year, here are the narrative nonfiction books that most delighted me:

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine F. Weiss

The Library Book by Susan Orlean


I can’t wait to see everyone else’s lists.

What’re the best narrative nonfiction books you’ve read this year?

10 thoughts on “Nonfiction November: Reads Like Fiction

  1. I agree, I don’t need non-fiction to be narrative in style, but some of my favourite ones do happen to be narrative non-fiction. I will read the driest history book if it’s a topic or era that captures my imagination!

  2. Eclectic list of recommendations! I’m listening to Born a Crime on audio right now. Trevor Noah really has a way of grabbing your attention and running with it.

  3. Ha ha, handbooks and manuals are an overlooked category of nonfiction! I do love them as well – and stories can sneak in there too. (I think of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s knitting books, for example, that give a glimpse into her biography and family life.)

    • Lory — I think it’s a sign of our high level of book geekery that we love the handbooks and manuals! I haven’t read Zimmerman’s books, but now I feel I must. Adding to the TBR…

  4. Creative nonfiction or narrative nonfiction is one of my favorite genres.
    Don’t get me wrong, plenty of the nonfiction books I read are business or self help so there isn’t a lot of narrative, however a good creatine nonfiction is always a great read.

    • Narrative nonfiction — such good stuff. I also read a fair amount of business and self improvement books, and I’m always most delighted when there’s a narrative aspect.

Comments are closed.