Friday, March 28, 2008

What is Narrative Nonfiction?

Technically, it's a nonfiction that reads like fiction: there are stories, or one overall story. There's tension and release, and a narrative arc.

We're thinking of trying to publish more of it at the Press. But how do you move from academic, professional, and practical nonfiction to this higher art form? Do you just hire a writer and have them work with your author and hope it comes out pretty? My guess is that it's not that easy.

What books should we use as models? Andrew Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon" and Jim Lovell/Jeffrey Kluger's "Lost Moon" are two of my favorites in this category. Chaikin's injects the human into the scientific, military rigor of the space program, but manages to actually maintain and honor that rigor all the while--a remarkable feat. "Lost Moon" is a little more pop and a little less scientific, but an even smoother read and, by the end, a page-turner. There aren't many other non-fiction books that I've picked up again and again.

What elements other than those listed above make up good narrative nonfiction? Have you read any nonfiction lately that you couldn't put down? Why not? What was so riveting?


Elizabeth said...

I have really loved...
-The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (this is technically a memoir)
-Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis
-Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
-A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
-pretty much any nonfiction by David Foster Wallace

...but that's just me. I guess these are more memoirs or reportage, but maybe those are just sub-genres of what you're talking about.

AGW said...

I hadn't thought of these kind of imaginative memoirs as "narrative nonfiction" but of course they are.