Non-fiction (the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?)

This month we’re taking a break from literary fiction to look at non-fiction, a category of reading that dominates bookshops and libraries, and gives many people hours of pleasure. I’m thinking of absorbing and demanding books, such as well-researched history and biography, as well as entertaining topics like food and travel. Two Reading Women have promised me posts on scientific writing, a genre that demands exceptional clarity and skill in the explication of complex subjects and specialized terminology.

I read and review quite a lot of creative non-fiction, an increasingly popular type of non-fiction that tells true stories using traditional literary techniques (evocative settings, characterization, plot). Paul French’s Midnight in Peking is an example of this, as is John Berendt’s award-winning Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Anna Funder’s remarkable book Stasiland is one that we’ll look at soon on Reading Women.

Hoax non-fiction is another area that, rightly or wrongly, is fascinating in its own bizarre way. Why any author  would pretend to be writing non-fiction when they had plenty of good material for a novel (Norma Khouri) or deliberately manufacture an identity for themselves (Helen Demidenko) is a mystery to most of us. In fact, it’s the subject of many non-fiction books in its own right.

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