Monday, November 18, 2019

Nonfiction November: The Kinds of Nonfiction I Like Best (Plus My Absolute Favorite Top Ten Nonfiction Books!)

Nonfiction November is hosted this year by Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Rennie (What’s Nonfiction) — is a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction. Each week, they’ll be a different prompt and a different host looking at different ideas about reading and loving nonfiction.

Week 4 (Nov. 18 to Nov. 22)
Nonfiction Favorites (Hosted by Leann at There, There, Read This)We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

What Kinds of Nonfiction Do I Like Best?

What makes a nonfiction book a favorite?
To answer this question, I first gathered data.
How many books, fiction and nonfiction, have I listed as favorites on Goodreads? 162
How many of my favorite reads are nonfiction? 50

What percentage of my favorite books are nonfiction? 31%
What are the common themes in my books?

To figure out the common themes in my nonfiction books, I noted the shelves I'd assigned each book. Then I looked for common themes. The top ten themes I found in my favorite nonfiction are:

Unusual formats/creativity/surprise 15.0%
Problems-ideas/healing/quest 14.3%
Best-of 11.6%
Happiness/small moments 11.6%
Memoir/biography/history 11.6%
Travel/around-the-world 10.2%
Art/photography/picture books 8.2%
Science/nature 7.5%
Philosophy/spirituality 6.1%
Books-about-books 4.1%

I was surprised to find that 15% of my favorite nonfiction books had an unusual format or a creative focus. I was also surprised to see that over 8% of my books were visual, illustrated with either extensive art or photographs. Over 14% of my favorite nonfiction books dealt with problems and solutions or quests and healing. Almost 12% of my books were some version of a Best-Of book, such as the best children's books to read or the best places to visit in the world. I expected to see that lots of my favorite books would be memoir/biography/history (almost 12%); travel books (10%); science/nature books (7.5%); books with themes of philosophy/spirituality (6%); and books-about books (4%).

Let's be specific here, shall we? You want to see a list of my all-time favorite nonfiction reads, I think. Here goes.

My Absolute Favorite Top Ten Nonfiction Books
(in alphabetical order)

And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman
Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason by Nancy Pearl
Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience by Shaun Usher
Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel
The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan by Alan Booth
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert Pirsig

What sorts of nonfiction do you find yourself drawn toward?
Do you and I have any common themes in our favorite nonfiction?


  1. Fascinating stuff! I'll have to have a good think about this one, I don't have a Goodreads shelf or mark things as favourites but I do do a top ten post every year so will poke around in those.

    1. I'm not sure what I'd do if Goodreads went away. I depend on it completely for a place to post my reviews and remind me what books I read and when I read them.

  2. I don't read many nonfiction books, but Quiet and Talking to Strangers were two of my favorites.

    1. I need to look for Talking to Strangers if you liked it that much.

    2. I loved Quiet. It changed my whole style of teaching so that I would be more inclusive of quiet students. I want to read Talking with Strangers, too, but am booked through the holidays.

  3. I've come to love narrative nonfiction and have only read 1 book on your list so I'm jotting down notes.

  4. Interesting! I don’t read as much nonfiction as you do, but I probably read more than the average book blogger. I find myself drawn to memoir, nature, history, politics, and medicine.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. I like all of those though I'm tending to stay away from politics these days.

  5. I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but when I do I am mostly drawn to books about books, memoirs or essays dealing with family, aging, death, illness, relationships, etc. I show that I have read 86 nonfiction titles on Goodreads (out of 614 books in total). Some of my recent favorites are Becoming (Michelle Obama), Tell Me More (Kelly Corrigan), 84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff), Kitchen Yarns (Ann Hood), Nanaville (Anna Quindlen), Dear Fahrenheit 451 (Annie Spence) and The Bright Hour (Nina Riggs).

    1. Books about books, non-fiction are simply great, The Library Book for one. I'm going to read more memoirs in 2020, require my students to read one; yes, a whole book! and have them write their memoir as well. Non-fiction will be bigger on my selection criteria in the coming year.

  6. wow, looks like you spent a lot of time on this post. i love true crime
    sherry @ fundinmental

  7. Many of the books on your list I have read within the past year, which is progress for me, for at one time I read novels almost exclusively.

  8. I love all of your data! That is awesome. Book Lust sounds amazing!

  9. wow, fantastic! I wish I had time to do something similar.

  10. Very interesting selections! The Roads to Sata and Letter of Note both sound like ones I'd enjoy--thank you!

  11. Oh my, I love the way you do these posts with lists and statistics and graphs! I haven't read any of your top favorites!

  12. So cool, Deb. I tend to not pick up nonfiction, but then when I do, I end up loving it. Narrative nonfiction is wonderful; give me a great memoir or essay collection and I'm very happy. I used to read a lot of travel writing,nature writing, and books about writing. Some Writer, Travelling Mercies, Writing Down the Bone, Zen and the Art of MM, and Material World are all books I loved, and I've loved several of Bryson's books too. I've signed up to judge nonfiction for CYBILS twice just because it forces me to read that genre, and I end up finding new favorites. The 57 Bus, Symphony for the City of the Dead, Boots on the Ground, Bubonic Panic, Just Mercy--all terrific YA nonfiction.

  13. Wow, what a variety of subjects! It is great to enter into so many different nonfiction worlds, I think. Myself, I enter mostly into historical nonfiction. I find myself, from time to time, with a few other subjects, but much more one-sided than your choices. Great way to highlight them, will try that out. Thank you for the inspiration.

  14. I love the pie chart. What all is encompassed with "Unusual format"? Just pop-up books or is it like choose-your-own-adventure stuff? So curious. Some of your all time favorites would be on my list too. Lamont and Bryson are always tops on my shelves.

    1. "Unusual format" just means that the book is put together in a way that surprises me. I know that's not much of a definition, but it's the best I can do.

  15. I love that you pulled together data to respond to this post. Thanks for sharing your favourites


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