nonfiction november: fiction/nonfiction book pairings

For this week of Nonfiction November I’ll be pairing nonfiction titles with books nominated for National Book Awards, from Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers to Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental.


The prompt for Nonfiction November Week 2 (Nov. 5 to Nov. 9) is Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairings, and can be found at Sarah’s Book Shelves:

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

As I discussed last week, my reading tastes have been varied this year, so I’ve had the chance to enjoy work spanning many genres and styles; the pairings included below are just a few of the books I’ve recently enjoyed, which seem to go well with each other. All the fiction has been either shortlisted or longlisted for this year’s National Book Award, while the nonfiction is more varied in scope.

(1)  Black Interiority and Resistance: Jamel Brinkley’s A Lucky Man, a collection of stories about Black masculinity, explores many of the topics addressed in The Fire This Time, an anthology of anti-racist essays edited by Jesmyn Ward. Walking while Black, the question of how to tell family history, and the politics of public space are but a few of the books’ shared subjects. While I read these far apart from each other, comparing how the anthology’s contributors and Brinkley examine the same set of interests through nonfiction and fiction would make for a highly stimulating reading experience.

(2) New Wave of Native Literature: I recently enjoyed Tommy Orange’s There There, a collection of stories about Native life in Oakland, California, and Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries, a memoir of the author’s coming of age as well as her experience of motherhood. Many have viewed the two books as launching a new wave of Native Literature, one interested in challenging stereotypes and diversifying the kinds of stories told about Native life.

(3) Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities: While this pairing is the least intuitive on the list, both Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark and Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental both take on the unexpected and unpredictable results of political activism, as well as the nourishing power of hope in the face of tyranny. Djavadi tells the history of an Iranian family resisting hegemonic rulers before and after the Islamic Revolution, while Solnit focuses on the victories of recent leftist activists across the globe, from the Zapatista Army of National Liberation to those who participated in the 1999 Seattle WTO protests.

(4) The AIDS Epidemic in America: Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers and David France’s How to Survive a Plague capture the terror and panic surrounding the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in America during the 1980s. The Great Believers follows a group of friends living in Boystown who struggle to contend with the devastating loss wrought by the epidemic; How to Survive a Plague, by contrast, focuses on the founding of activist groups such as ACT UP and TAG to combat the government’s indifference to the spread of the HIV virus. For those off put by the length of How to Survive a Plague, well over 600 pages, a documentary version also exists and can be found on sites such as Hulu.

19 thoughts on “nonfiction november: fiction/nonfiction book pairings

  1. How to Survive a Plague looks interesting – I was talking to my teenagers a while ago about how, as a teen in the eighties, AIDS scared us and I think ultimately, made us a lot more ‘conservative’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely can see why. The government’s response to the epidemic, as well as the media’s rampant spread of misinformation, all made for a confusing and terrifying climate, one that strengthened the conservative backlash to the ’60s and ’70s.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful pairings! I think this is such a hard prompt to do but you really found some great ones. I’ve been wanting to read The Fire This Time and hadn’t heard of How to Survive a Plague, that sounds really good. “The government’s indifference” in this was just unbelievable and something I’d like to learn more about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! You might enjoy How to Survive a Plague. The documentary does a better job of weaving what happened into a brief but compelling narrative about citizen activism, whereas the book goes into detail about the different activist groups and the science behind the treatments.


    1. Thanks! So glad you also enjoyed Heart Berries. It’s one of those books that leaves a strong and lasting impression in spite of how short it is.


  3. I adored The Great Believers and am old enough to remember the fear and cruelty that went on when AIDS first his the news. My mom had to explain to me that a second cousin had died of it. I think I’d really enjoy How to Survive a Plague.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your second cousin. It’s painful reading about how much suffering went on, but the book does a good job of breaking down what happened in a way that’s still accessible.


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