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The Second Stacks:
Talking about Nonfiction in a Fiction World

Brain Snack
South Central Library System
CE Program, January 12, 2007
Sarah Statz Cords, or

The Second Stacks: Talking about Nonfiction in a Fiction World

Why Talk about Nonfiction?

Since 2000, sales for adult nonfiction have increased 32 percent.

From 1993 to 2004, the number of biographies being published more than doubled (3,554 to 7,241).


"It has come to my attention that there is a burgeoning generation of Americans who are suddenly and deeply engrossed with the consumption of nonfiction. I like to refer to these people as the Suddenly and Deeply Engrossed with Nonfiction Generation." -Chuck Klosterman, in "The Rise of the Real,"

Source: Esquire, November 2004

The Genres: True Adventure

Into Thin Air
  1. Thrilling, "edge of your seat" reads
  2. Fast-paced
  3. Heroic characters

Example: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

The Genres: Travel

  1. Exotic or just plain "other" settings
  2. Getting there is half the fun: journey stories
  3. Personable characters in unfamiliar territory

Example: A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson.

The Genres: True Crime

In Cold Blood
  1. Scary stories that "aren't happening to me"
  2. Psychologically fascinating characters
  3. Fast-paced

Example: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

The Genres: Environmental Writing

  1. Location, location, location
  2. Philosophical musings
  3. Individualistic characters

Example: Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

The Genres: Life Stories (Biography, Memoir, Relationships)

  1. The people ARE the story
  2. Biography is the whole story; Memoir is often part of the story
  3. Character development through interactions with each other

The Genres: Life Stories (Biography, Memoir, Relationships)

Population: 485


  1. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar.
  2. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.
  3. Population: 485 by Michael Perry.

Nonfiction Subjects and Styles: Science and Math

  1. I just want to know
  2. New discoveries
  3. Unique writing

Example: The Double Helix by James Watson.

Nonfiction Subjects and Styles: History

Team of Rivals
  1. HiSTORY
  2. Characters that stand the test of time
  3. Distinctive research and writing styles

Example: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Nonfiction Subjects and Styles: Investigative Writing

  1. The who, what, why, where, and when of a story
  2. Character profiles
  3. Journalistic voice and style

Example: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

Nonfiction Subjects and Styles: Making Sense...

Tipping Point
  1. Deeper thought
  2. Languid pacing
  3. Distinctive prose and synthesis of subjects

Example: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Appeal Factors

  1. Story
  2. Character
  3. Setting
  4. Language
  5. A fifth, for nonfiction: Subject

Connections to Make

  1. Authors who write fiction and nonfiction
  2. Related subjects/character types/settings ("reading jags")
  3. Related appeals, particularly in fiction and nonfiction "genres"
  4. Mood suggestions: Humorous, dark, quick, serious, light

Nonfiction Tips

Nonfiction Tips

Further Reading

Nonfiction Readers' Advisory, edited by Robert Burgin. Libraries Unlimited, 2005.

Book Lust, by Nancy Pearl. Sasquatch Books, 2003.

The Real Story: A Guide to Nonfiction Reading Interests, by Sarah Statz Cords. Libraries Unlimited, 2006.

Further Reading, continued

The ALA's "Incorporating Nonfiction into Readers' Advisory services"

Blog of a Bookslut

Thank you!

Questions? Please email me anytime at

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