The readers' advisory world has seen a shift in the past several years from focusing exclusively on fiction reading to taking a broader view of recreational reading that includes nonfiction titles and audiobooks as well. This shift is a reflection in large part of the growing interest of readers in narrative nonfiction, as seen in the success of such works as Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm, Dava Sobel's Longitude, and Anna Pavord's The Tulip. Librarians are realizing that they can increase their readers' advisory services and expand their community of readers by applying the same techniques that they have used to find new titles and authors for fiction readers to working with readers of nonfiction.
In this essay, Abby Alpert examines the history of narrative nonfiction; discusses the current state of readers' advisory services for nonfiction readers, including looking at tools and techniques for working with readers; and makes some recommendations for future directions for this service.
Abby Alpert worked as a readers' advisor for the Evanston (Illinois) Public Library for nine years. She is a 2005 graduate of the Dominican University Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and is currently working part-time in Readers' Services and Children's Services for Evanston. She reviews audiovisual materials for Booklist, and is working on constructing an online readers' advisory thesaurus. She is also beginning a book on graphic novels.--Editor.
Now that the revitalization of traditional fiction readers' advisory is firmly established, publishing and reading trends require the readers' advisory community to turn its energy to expanding services to include new formats. These include graphic novels, audiovisual (AV) materials, and works of narrative nonfiction. Increasingly, nonfiction titles are being published, receiving positive critical attention, and becoming popular with the general reader. This has created both the need and the opportunity to develop readers' advisory services for nonfiction readers. This article will provide an overview of current practices in nonfiction readers' advisory, focusing primarily on narrative nonfiction, a style of nonfiction writing that adheres to the facts, but employs the literary techniques of fiction to tell a vibrant story about real events, phenomenon, people, and places. The intention is to look at the growth of narrative nonfiction, what is currently happening in nonfiction readers' advisory, and what needs to happen as narrative nonfiction is incorporated into the realm of readers' advisory services.
WHAT IS NARRATIVE NONFICTION?
To begin with, narrative nonfiction is not a genre itself; rather it is a style that encompasses any nonfiction genre or topic that emphasizes story, including biography, memoir, and essays. Hume proposes that "somewhere between the newspaper on your doorstep and the novel on your nightstand lies narrative nonfiction. (1) At a conference focused on narrative nonfiction hosted by Columbia University, Yare, senior editor at The Atlantic, defined it as "essentially a hybrid form, a marriage of the art of storytelling and the art of journalism--an attempt to make drama out of the observable world." He also said it "harnesses the power of facts to the techniques of fiction--constructing a central narrative, setting scenes, depicting multidimensional characters and, most important, telling the story in a compelling voice that the reader will want to hear." (2)
There are two elements to consider in looking at this type of writing: the Narrative and the Nonfiction. The narrative requires elements that go beyond merely reporting facts or technical or expository writing. How the story is told is as significant as what happened. The strategies of fiction writing are used to recount the development of an idea, to investigate a phenomenon, or to explore a piece of history The storytelling element necessitates scene-by-scene construction, drawing characters, finding a moving voice to communicate the drama, and conveying the facts in a way that will draw readers into the story. …