The Beauty of Narrative Non-Fiction

signageStealing a word from GPL’s CEO, Kitty Pope, we in ‘libraryland’ use an awful lot of acronyms and jargon – serials, boolean, index, OPAC, microfiche – the list goes on. Well, I’m here to demystify one of those terms (thank goodness this blog came along, right?): narrative non-fiction (also known as creative non-fiction or literary non-fiction). So, what does this term mean? Essentially it is a factually true story that reads like fiction. Books in this category are memoirs, biographies, true crime, travelogues, etc.

All of the librarians here at GPL are responsible for some aspect of acquiring new books for your reading pleasure. When I was searching for books this month, it dawned on me what a vast amount of great narrative non-fiction that is published (and that we of course purchase for the GPL shelves!), but that many people don’t ever know about. If you consider yourself to be strictly a fiction reader, here are some new non-fiction books that you might have missed (and are worth picking up!):

into the abyssInto The Abyss: How A Deadly Plane Crash Changed The Lives Of A Pilot, A Politician, A Criminal And A Cop (Carol Shaben)
On an icy night in October 1984, a Piper Navajo commuter plane carrying 9 passengers crashed in the remote wilderness of northern Alberta, killing 6 people. Four survived: the rookie pilot, a prominent politician, a cop, and the criminal he was escorting to face charges. As they fought through the night to stay alive, the dividing lines of power, wealth and status were erased and each man was forced to confront the precious and limited
nature of his existence.

waveWave: A Memoir (Sonali Deraniyagala)
A memoir by a survivor of the tsunami that struck the Sri Lankan coast in 2004 and took her entire family. Sonali Deraniyagala has written an extraordinarily honest, utterly engrossing account of the surreal tragedy of a devastating event that all at once ended her life as she knew it and her journey since, in search of understanding and redemption.

sparkThe Spark: A Mother’s Story Of Nurturing Genius (Kristine Barnett)
The extraordinary memoir of a mother’s love, commitment, and nurturing, which allowed her son, originally diagnosed with autism, to flourish into a universally recognized genius-and how any parent can help their child find their spark.

brainBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness (Susannah Cahalan)
A gripping memoir and medical suspense story about a young New York Post reporter’s struggle with a rare and terrifying disease, opening a new window into the fascinating world of brain science.

immortalImmortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years.

end of your lifeThe End of Your Life Bookclub (Will Schwalbe)
A lifelong love of books plays out as a son accompanies his extraordinary mother during her two-year treatment for cancer. A very special book club with just two members: a mother and a son.

With-or-Without-YouWith or Without You (Domenica Ruta)
Domenica Ruta grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, in a ramshackle, rundown, trash-filled house with her mother, a drug dealer and user who raised Domenica on a steady diet of Oxycontin. As she grew older and as her mother’s behavior grew increasingly outrageous and her home life increasingly untenable, Domenica fled Danvers only to become ensnared by the demons of addiction.

behindBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Katherine Boo)
Tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities. A brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

PerfectMealThe Perfect Meal: In Search Of The Lost Tastes Of France (John Baxter)
An expat Paris resident for more than twenty years, John Baxter began noticing an alarming trend: he worried that the soul of the world’s most revered national cuisine is in danger of disappearing, as centuries-old ways of cooking, preparation, and farming wither away. Spurred to action, Baxter set off across the country on an unforgettable quest to taste the last great French dishes before they disappear forever.

soundtrackThe Soundtrack of My Life (Clive Davis)
In this star-studded autobiography, Clive Davis shares a personal, candid look into his remarkable life and the last fifty years of popular music as only a true insider can.

eightydaysEighty Days: Nellie Bly And Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around The World (Matthew Goodman)
On November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly, the crusading young female reporter, left New York City by steamship on a quest to break the record for the fastest trip around the world. Also departing from New York that day—and heading in the opposite direction by train—was a young journalist, Elizabeth Bisland. Each woman was determined to outdo Jules Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg and circle the globe in less than eighty days.

*Book descriptions adapted from

About gpltara

Hi blog readers! I am an information services librarian at the Guelph Public Library (which essentially means I order materials for the library, help customers, look after the book club services and plan adult programs!). Personally, I love practicing yoga, baking cupcakes late at night, reading (surprise, surprise!), and escaping to the mountains whenever possible. I believe GPL plays such an important role in the Guelph community not only helping to connect people to information and great books, but also to each other through programs and other services.
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