Nonfiction November & Novellas in November

Today, I beg your indulgence.

I am going to combine two sign up/week one reading challenge posts into one. There has been quite a bit of overlap in my non-fiction and novella choices this past year, so it seemed an obvious solution to my current time-poor situation.

Week 1: (November 1-5) – Your Year in Nonfiction with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?  

Here we are again – Non-Fiction November! Thank you to our wonderful hosts for their continuing enthusiasm and dedication to all things factual and informative.

Favourites:

I had a clear favourite this year – Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade.

It is also the non-fiction book that I have recommended most to others.

Not only was it a fabulous read in its own right, but it has since led me off in other directions – reading the poetry of some of the five women involved as well as reading further biographies, essays and stories about and by the women concerned, especially Virginia Woolf.

A close second goes to Delphine de Vigan and her incredibly moving and heart-felt biography/memoir about her mother and herself in Nothing Holds Back the Night. A HUGE thank you to N@ncy for first alerting me to this wonderful story.

Honourable mentions to Vesper Flights, The Salt Path and Midnight Chicken for being utterly engaging, illuminating and ultimately uplifting reads.

Toxic was the most worthy, yet horrifying read of the year and not to be undertaken if you ever want to eat salmon with a clear conscious again.

Topics:

Biographies and memoirs continue to lead the way (and I have three more Australian biographies I hope to review during November). Literary biographies about authors was the common theme.

The general essay section was a surprise inclusion at the top this year, but given that half of them also have biographical/memoir elements to them, maybe not as surprising as first thought.

However literary companions is a brand new inclusion in this year’s non-fiction topics list. And I have another one half-read, hopefully to be reviewed this month.

Essays: a healthy mix of politics, memoir, self-help, observation and Covid-19.

Biography/Memoirs: Four of the six this year are biographies about women writers.

Literary Companions: a new sub-genre for me this year.

Cookbooks: I love cookbooks, but rarely reviewed them. The discussion that followed after I wrote about Med was enlightening and helpful for anyone considering cookbook reviews on a book blog.

Nature Writing: Normally this would be one of my most-read sub-genres, however the three I did read were very worthwhile and highly recommended books.

Health: As per usual, this sub-genre reflects my own current health concerns.

Travel: Pretty obvious why I haven’t been inspired to read much in this area lately!

Science:

Self-Help:

Hopes & Plans:

This year I am combining multiple challenges.

I have several Australian non-fiction titles to be reviewed throughout the month for my very own AusReading Month, plus one Canadian one that will help me with Margaret Atwood Reading Month.

You may have also noticed the page numbers next to some of the titles above. These books also count (thanks to their page count) as NON-FICTION NOVELLAS. This is where the discussion gets interesting.

How do we define NON-FICTION NOVELLAS?

  • Is it simply about word count and page numbers?
  • Should the non-fiction lean towards the narrative style to reflect the ‘novel’ in novella?
  • A novella usually contains one central conflict – should non-fiction novellas also only deal with ONE main idea? (i.e. not a collection of essays on various topics?)
  • What do you think?

As well as the 12 non-fiction titles above, I have read a further TWELVE fiction novellas in the past year.

Putting this post together has made me realise, that going forward, I will include page count information in my book bio’s at the bottom of each post. It was only thanks to Goodreads that I realised how many of my books were actually novellas (by page count).

One more discussion point.

Four of my novellas are probably more like a collection of interconnected short stories. Women, Whereabouts, People in My Neighbourhood and Christmas at High Rising all contain short stories, that are set within the same world, with the same set of characters that move between the stories, usually with a connecting theme or idea (i.e. Christmas).

Are these still novellas or are they a short story collection?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin.

38 thoughts on “Nonfiction November & Novellas in November

  1. Ha – good overlapping, and after all, I managed to combine my State of the TBR post with my sign-ups to AusReading Month, Novellas in November and Nonfiction November! I’m strictly going by page count, although I don’t have any short short story collections so don’t have to worrit about that aspect. it’s got 15 volumes (16 novellas!) off my TBR shelf and the only pity is I don’t have any Aus novellas! Have fun with this month’s reading!

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  2. So it has been a busy morning….(household chores, pluck kittens out of the curtains, gather my non-fiction thoughts only to be stumped b/c scheduled time on WordPress in not in sync with laptop time, ugh)
    Now I’ve been waiting for the non-fiction year list…as if the were the Oscar nominations!
    So glad Delphine de Vigan was #runner-up this year. I want to investigate more recent French published books to find another gem like Delphine’s. Square Haunting sounds like 5 mini bio’s I could digest in one book. Still have Brenda Niall’s “Rivals” on my TBR, didn’t get around to it in 2021.
    I saw Toxic and was going to read it…but oh, I was not in the mood for Flanagan’s revelations…maybe in 2022. Health, travel, science and self-help are very low on my non-fiction reading list. I should make an effort to branch out into these areas in 2022. Memoirs are in my cross-hairs for 2022…many BIPOC authors have inspirational stories to tell for my #ReadingDiversely goal. Novellas..I had no idea how many books are < 200 pg! I haven't even started on my novella list!
    PS thanks for the shoutout… 🙂

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  3. I agree that Square Hauntings was excellent. I am currently reading Midnight Chicken thanks to your recommendation. Looks like you have had a good year of NF reading so far.

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    1. I hope you enjoy Midnight chicken too. It was more mental health manifesto wrapped up in some handy cooking tips & fun recipes. I really liked her voice – very engaging, honest & funny at times too.

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  4. Loved your post and some really interesting books there, but, I don’t really think you can have non-fiction novella. You can have short nonfiction, but really, isn’t a novella a short novel, pure and simple?

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    1. Oops, as for your other novella question – I tend to go with what the publishers and authors market it as, particularly, really, what the author intended. To me, a novella is a short novel, so that is the defining thing. If you can argue that a collection of short stories has what I think are the defining characteristics of a novel – recurring characters, themes that develop, and some sort of narrative arc (or what Tegan Bennett Daylight calls a metaphor or something standing behind it) – then I think you could argue it’s a novel or novella (depending on size)?

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      1. My oops now, I’ve just realised I responded to your first point but not the second.

        On reflection I can happily leave Whereabouts as a novella as there is a character journey that evolves and accumulates with each chapter/story. It reads like a short novel, despite the short vignette-like chapters.

        The other three were clearly written as short stories and included in a collection with a theme – Women has interconnected short stories, another has a Christmas theme and the other has all the stories set in the same neighbourhood, but written at different times and not meant to connect as such.

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  5. Toxic sounds disheartening (I read your excellent review and the comments) but it’s better to know what’s really happening. I try to go for wild caught fish but just because a label says “wild caught” I’m sure doesn’t mean there aren’t issues there too- sustainability and so on.

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    1. Trying to eat sustainably is fraught with such issues Greg. Even plant-based diets run into issues with mono-cultures, pesticides, over-cropping, genetic modifications etc. As you say, all we can really do is educate ourselves and try to make informed decisions.

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  6. I’ve had Square Haunting sat on my shelf for a few months now, and I’m hoping to get to it next month – for some reason it feels like a very December-y sort of book to me. I’m really looking forward to it, and seeing how many people have named it as their nonfiction book of the year is very encouraging!

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    1. I’m very keen to read more bird books in particular after reading Vespers Flights. I wouldn’t call myself a twitcher as I can barely name confidently more than a dozen species, but I am fascinated about how they live and what they can tell us about the world we share.

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  7. Sigh. Every year for NFN I pop around and see bloggers with goals and direction and meanwhile my reading lists look like I randomly selected titles from a hat. I aspire to be more organized but I get…distracted.

    I have a sincere fascination with all indigenous populations so I am going to save this post for when I finally get the chance to read my way through Australia.

    Enjoy your month of reading!

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    1. A lot of my reading is very MOOD based and random, but I do get mini-obsessions like what happened after I read Square Haunting (which was a random, mood based read) but it led me to research the poems of some of the five and then led me to read bio’s, short stories and essays by Virginia Woolf. I’m not done with her either – I find her quite fascinating. I’ve always felt she was an author I had to wait to read until I was older to appreciate her properly.

      At 53, I think I might be there now 🙂

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  8. Quite a variety of books here. I am also very fond of biographies, especially about authors. What I also like is when a book is so inspiring that you go from there to discover other books, poems, authors etc, as you did with Square Haunting.
    I tried to vary myself a little bit more this year to adding a few books outside history; travel, mindfulness and evolution.

    How to define a nonfiction novella?
    I have never really thought about nonfiction as novellas, but I suppose they do exist. They don’t necessarily have to deal with only one idea. The question is how much you can squeeze into a novella. I think there could be defined, specific ideas where the author that can use this form.
    I read Jung’s Jaget och det omedvetna (The I and the subconscious (can’t find an English title so my translation) and it is rather short, around 100 pages I think. It is a collection of papers/lectures on his thoughts. I think for such nonfiction it is perfectly all right.

    As regards the novellas and short story collection, I think that if there are several short stories it will always be a collection. However, if the collection are with limited number of pages, I suppose you can still call it a novella.

    In English the two words novel and novella are interconnected. In Swedish, for example, we call a novel a ‘roman’ and a short story we call ‘novell’. The latter is more connected to the English word for novel.

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    1. Thank you for your considered response. I’ve certainly been thinking a lot (probably more than I need to) about non-fiction and novellas. I guess it’s because I’ve struggled with the idea. However, my latest CC Spin book was an autobiography by Henry Handel Richardson. It’s only 163 pages and reads very much like a story – the story of her childhood and early adult life. And I wondered if perhaps autobiography and memoir might be the one exception to the nonfiction novella dilemma.

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      1. Sorry Brona, but nope, you haven’t convinced me! Autobiography and memoir are still nonfiction … every definition I read of “novella” uses the word “fiction” so, by definition, you cannot have NONFICTION as a novella. Even self-confessed wishy-washy me has to draw the line somewhere – haha!

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    1. I finished Gillian Mear’s bio on Monday night – review to come, but it was really, really good Sue. I think you would love it you. A real whose who of Australian lit in 1980’s, 1999’s & the 2000’s.

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