Posted in Readathons-Challenges-Memes

Nonfiction November 2017 – What makes a favorite?

Nonfiction November 2017 Info

Week 4: (Nov. 20 to 24) – Katie @ Doing Dewey: Nonfiction Favorites: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

Ooo, good question. I decided to take a look at my Goodreads “Favorites” shelf (what would be my 5⭐ picks if I rated that way) to see what nonfiction books had made the cut and what they had in common.


Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America's Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist

Obviously, the first thing that jumped out at me like an assistant in a spangly outfit is that many of my favorites are about magic history. It’s the obsession that I didn’t know I had for 35 years. But in the past five or so years, I’ve read a lot of nonfiction books about magic (and related subjects) and not all of them are on my Favorites shelf. And I don’t *just* read about magic… (Reviews: Hiding the Elephant, The Magician and the Cardsharp)

Depth of Information

Thunderstruck The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day

I like the deep delve. On a meta level, I suppose depth of information signals to me that the author knows their stuff and that they have a certain amount of passion for the subject. The thing of it is, I don’t even have to understand everything! Lots of crunchy bits in my nonfiction gives my mind something to chew on. Stretching your understanding of a topic can also reinforce lower level concepts. (Reviews: ThunderstruckThe Improbability Principle)

Wider Context

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous 19th Century Chess-Playing Machine

One of the great sadnesses of my life is that I spend a long time thinking that history was boring. I don’t feel I’m entirely to blame; history is often taught in a dry events-and-dates kind of way. But I could have reached out sooner! To me, history (and almost any other topic) is better when placed in a wider context. Nothing exists in a void and most of my favorites always provide a good amount of context for their subjects. (Reviews: Tesla, The Turk)


Writer, publisher. Hobbies include reading, studying magic & illusions from a historical/theoretical perspective, and playing ultimate frisbee.

10 thoughts on “Nonfiction November 2017 – What makes a favorite?

  1. Speaking of magic…I just picked up a book about Houdini! It’s interesting to look back and see what has grabbed us over the years! I’ll have to add some of these to my list.

  2. When I saw the movie trailer for The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman I checked to see if it was a book. I couldn’t find that it was based on a book, but I wonder if it has any parallels to any of the magic books you mentioned. Historically I know many circuses had a magic act that helped set them apart! (Or I could be way off base..ha!)

    1. Houdini did some big shows at the Hippodrome in NYC in 1918-ish and the disappearing elephant was the (semi-successful) headline trick. Turns out that an elephant trick was too small for the venue! But there’s lots of connection between magic and the circus arts, so the guess isn’t far off base!

  3. “Lots of crunchy bits in my nonfiction gives my mind something to chew on.”

    I love this line! I’ve been sitting here debating if I feel the same way. I think I do, to a point – I don’t like when an author is abstruse but processing information just outside my understanding is deeply rewarding. Great list of considerations!

  4. I considered writing about depth of knowledge in my post, but I was thinking about books that veer too academic and how that can be problematic. You’re absolutely right that a book can be too light too and I share your preference for books that go into enough depth that I feel like I’m really stretching my brain and learning something.

  5. I really don’t think I’ve ever read anything that has magic as a topic though I find Houdini’s life fascinating.

    Gosh, I feel like I need to unload a bunch of books on you that makes history fun and not dry. 😀 I agree that there are definitely writers who make things sooo boring. But there are also so many books that make it fascinating and relevant to today.

    1. Oh, I’m totally reformed, history-wise! I’m just sad that I didn’t realize it sooner. Honestly, it was school that did me wrong. Once I started reading away from classes, history totally opened up.

  6. Those magic books sound interesting … I’ve always loved magic shows but just never gravitated towards books about magic. I’m sure they’d be really fun and interesting!

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