It's easy to identify what is nonfiction in comparison to fiction, however, how to distinguish nonfiction titles from each other is much more tricky. The narrative context plays a large role. Is the book written like a novel or does it read more like interesting facts presented as research? Can an "Average Joe" (or Jane) read it easily, or does there need to be more of a specialized education to understand the material? I think the easiest way to start to narrow down what sort of nonfiction book a person is looking to read is the subject, followed by time period and/or setting. The type of nonfiction (biography, memoir, essays, letters, etc.) also plays a large role. Pacing, characterization, story line and setting are all additional determining factors for suggesting nonfiction to a reader, just as they are for fiction.
This week's assigned nonfiction title was The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, which I really enjoyed. It was rather scary though (much more of a "horror" pick for me than World War Z!) as it alluded to the likelihood of human beings causing the world's next major extinction. While I still really enjoyed the book, I found myself thinking that the pacing was a little slower than I would normally prefer, and the narrative context was a bit more scientific at times than I would have liked. However, these elements did not at all make me dislike the book.
For the nonfiction book of my choosing, I selected Erik Larson's The Devil in White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. Not only does the title sound intriguing, word on the street is that professional actor/dreamboat Leonardo DiCaprio and film genius Martin Scorsese will be reuniting for a film adaptation of the story, set to release in 2017. So naturally, I had to read the book before the movie comes out. Below is my review.
I give this book:
After recovering from a devastating fire a couple of decades prior, 1890s Chicago was a time of progress and excitement. With the dawn of the 20th century approaching, now was the perfect time for ambitious architect Daniel Burnham to make a name for himself, his city, and his country by championing Chicago as the site of the 1893 World’s Fair.
In the midst of all of the construction, increased tourism and general exhilaration the Fair brought to the city, another man known by H.H. Holmes (and many other aliases) found it was also the perfect time to pursue his passion – one that would eventually earn him the title of America’s first serial killer.
The Devil in White City is really a book of two true stories. The first is that of Burnham’s professional struggles and ultimate triumph to pull off one of the greatest patriotic events in American history. The second and more gruesome is that of Holmes and his habitual acts of fraud, manipulation, seduction and murder. The juxtaposition of these two narratives makes for a well-researched and captivating story sure to be enjoyed by lovers of true crime stories and history buffs alike!