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Nonfiction Read-alikes for Fiction Bestsellers

by Audrey Barbakoff

*This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of RA News.*


You are number 347 on your library's holds list for the latest bestseller.  You know you'll love it when it arrives -- but what can you read in the meantime?

Consider this a fantastic opportunity to stretch your reading and try some nonfiction! Too often, we identify ourselves as "nonfiction" or "fiction" readers only. But for every fantastic piece of fiction, you can find a nonfiction work with many of the same appeal factors.

Try these nonfiction read-alikes for your favorite new fiction bestsellers. You just might discover an unexpected new favorite.

If you like… Finders Keepers by Stephen King
Try… Give me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked by James Lasdun                                         

In the sequel to King's Mr. Mercedes, the deranged, murderous fan of an author is once again free to pursue his bloody fixation.  The theme of obsession, and the horror-novel devices of danger and suspense that accompany it, are equally present in a real-life case of stalking. When writing professor Lasdun rejected the romantic advances of a student, she set out to destroy him. Like King, Lasdun also turns to reading and literature to illuminate the nature of stalking.

If you like… The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Try… Paris Views by Gail Albert Halaban

What is so compelling about The Girl on the Train -- even more than the murder plot or the quick pacing -- is the protagonist's universal experience of imagining lives for the strangers she sees through the window. Halaban's book of photography gives viewers a captivating literal look into the windows of strangers in their homes.  Through Halaban's photos the viewer becomes like Hawkins' unreliable narrator, questioning the meaning and reality of what we do and do not see through the window.

If you like… The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Try… The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

At the heart of The Goldfinch, with the lives and stories of many people swirling around it, is a painting.  In The Hare with Amber Eyes, generations of a family's fraught history are traced through a single collection of tiny Japanese ivory carvings called netsuke.  Both books are complex, moving, and detailed explorations of the lives of humans and the power of art.

Download the printable PDF of this handy reading map, made in LibraryAware.

If you like… The Martian by Andy Weir
Try… Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

What would it really be like to be an astronaut on Mars? Both books answer this question with a witty forthrightness that somehow makes such an alien experience relatable.  Weir's "Martian" is an astronaut accidentally left behind on the red planet, trying to survive without any obvious sources of food, water, shelter, or communication. Roach's astronauts are real people, and while they may never set foot on Mars in their lifetimes, the author delights in sharing the many strange ways they prepare for the potential journey.

If you like… All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Try… Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind by Sarah Wildman

In Doerr's tender yet gripping story, World War II forever alters the lives of a blind girl in occupied France and a well-meaning German boy with a talent for math.  In Paper Love, Wildman discovers a long-hidden set of letters from her grandfather's first love, who was trapped in Europe during the Holocaust.  Both stories are suspenseful, yet fundamentally about complex characters and relationships struggling to endure in a time of war.

If you like… In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Try… Replacement Child by Judy L. Mandel

Between December 1951 and February 1952, three apparently unrelated airplane crashes over Elizabeth, New Jersey killed 119 people, Blume and Mandel's families both lived there during the tragedies. Blume explores her experience through the fictional lens of teenage Miri, who is trying to figure out love, friendship, and life against this backdrop of fear and suspicion. Mandel recounts the much darker true story of her sister's death in a crash, and her family's long road to healing.

If you like… Grey by E.L. James
Try… The Secret Life of a Submissive: A True Story by Sarah K.

The newest installment in James' erotic BDSM 50 Shades of Grey series isn't the only steamy read on the shelves. This memoir's anonymous author was a newly divorced, middle aged empty-nester when she discovered her hidden passion for bondage.  Her relationship with her first "dom" contains both ample explicit sex scenes and an interesting peek into one real-life dominant/submissive relationship.

Download the printable PDF of this handy reading map, made in LibraryAware.

If you like… God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Try… Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

Very few authors of any genre can stand next to the lyrical brilliance of Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. Audre Lorde is one of them. Her prose and poetry are explosive, vivid, and transformational. Both works examine themes of race, gender, and the lifelong effects of alienation and otherness.   

If you like… The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand
Try… Uganda be Kidding Me by Chelsea Handler

In Hilderbrand's light read, Madeline and her (possibly former) best friend Grace fill their beachy Nantucket summer with drama and gossip, affairs and backstabbing, Sarcastic, self-deprecating, and frequently drunk and missing her pants, Chelsea Handler is a real-life loveable mess. Her delightfully catastrophic travels make a beach read even more full of snark than Madeline and Grace's cattiest neighbors. 

If you like… A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Try… The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

Madness. Betrayal. Murder. Families locked in bitter struggles for power.  Is this describing Martin's fictional Westeros or Jones' historical England? It's impossible to say.  The complex relationships and constantly shifting politics of the two worlds make for surprisingly similar reading. (Direwolves notwithstanding.)

Like fiction, you can find nonfiction full of suspenseful plots, great characters, gorgeous writing, interesting settings and themes, or just a plain old good time. Whatever you love, and whatever bestsellers you're waiting to read, don't forget to check the nonfiction shelves.

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Audrey Barbakoff is the Adult Services Manager at Kitsap Regional Library, and a 2013 LJ Mover & Shaker.