Last night I went on another mini-rant about the state of non-fiction on twitter. My complaint centers on a certain myopia I see in books of that genre. It seems non-fiction has become defined by one certain approach to it: the small thing that explains everything, or the quirky character who did some small yet significant thing. There are variations, but for the most part non-fiction writing that is transparently written and plot-driven reigns. I enjoy these books (I’m thinking of Michael Lewis, Susan Orlean, Mark Kurlansky, etc.) Another ilk is the “Big Think” book (Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Carr, etc.)
What these books are not, however, are particularly writerly. As a nonfiction writer myself, I do not want to spend the years it takes to write a good book on a project that does not also allow me to stretch my writing wings, be it on the level of the sentence, structure or theme. Can I be something other than explanatory? Can I deploy an organization other than beginning-middle-end? Can I play with language? These are the questions I want to answer yes to. But the market is not eager for projects like these.