It’s a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction with a different prompt and a different host each week.
Week four’s theme is Reads Like Fiction and it’s hosted by Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction.
“Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?”
The non-fiction I most enjoy has a solid narrative drive. The literary elements which I most appreciate when I slip into a book of non-fiction are the “sound” and “sense” that were the stuff of my high-school English teachers’ lectures. Even though I am not much of a visualizer when I’m reading fiction, when I’m reading non-fiction, I want to know how things smell, how the light strikes, and how fast someone’s heart is beating. Creating a scene with sensory details draws me into the reality of a situation more quickly and completely: that’s the kind of non-fiction I am most likely to recommend.
Carol Off’s Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet (2006)
This was a casual pick from a display table in the public library, but there was nothing casual about my reading of it; the author has a real knack for pulling you hard and fast into the experiences of many individuals with connections to this industry so that I read the book like a page-turner rather than a work of investigative journalism.
You are conscious of reading about people rather than issues, which only makes the stories that much more powerful. In particular, the experiences of one young farm worker, a boy picking cacao, were fascinating.
But even beyond the individual stories, I really appreciate the balance between detail and summary, which allowed me to feel as though I had some kind of understanding of this business at the industrial level and not just in the twenty-first century but historically.
In such capable hands, it is entirely possible to make connections between past and present, even with such wide-sweeping subjects as colonial trade (in sugar and humans), social patterns of consumption, and deeply entrenched battles between profit and morality.
This book took our family’s day-to-day and celebratory routines to another level of consciousness, changing details like which café we visit for a slice of chocolate cake to what we offer on Hallowe’en. And this is not an exercise in deprivation; I eat far, far more chocolate now than ever.