The Real Story

A Guide to Nonfiction Reading Interests

by Sarah Statz Cords, Robert Burgin


More than 500 popular nonfiction titles—from true adventure, true crime, and travel narratives to investigative nonfiction, environmental writing, and life stories—are classified, described, and linked to fiction and nonfiction read-alikes.

Print Flyer
Cover image for The Real Story

March 2006

Libraries Unlimited

Pages 496
Volumes 1
Size 7x10
Topics Reference and Information Services and Tools/Readers' Advisory and Leisure Reading
  Reference and Information Services and Tools/Arts and Humanities Literature Reference Tools

Nine of the best-selling books of all time are nonfiction, and countless readers turn to nonfiction when reading for pleasure today. Yet little has been done to classify nonfiction titles according to reading tastes. This is especially true in the library, where subject arrangements geared to information-seeking and scholarly research ignore the important characteristics and appeal features that readers seek out when reading for pleasure. It's no surprise, then, that in recent years, nonfiction readers' advisory has become one of the hottest topics with readers' advisors. This groundbreaking guide offers readers and professionals who work with them a much-needed road map to the vast and previously uncharted (in terms of RA) terrain of recreational nonfiction. After defining the genre (often also referred to as creative nonfiction, verite, or true stories), and discussing its unique characteristics and appeals, the author classifies and describes more than 500 titles popular with nonfiction readers—everything from true adventure, true crime, and travel narratives to investigative nonfiction, environmental writing, and life stories. Focus is on the best titles published within the last decade, with key classics and benchmark titles also cited. Chapters are subdivided into subgenres and popular themes. For each title you'll find a short list of nonfiction read-alikes.


  • Fiction read-alikes are listed for each genre, as well. Appendixes list top political and spiritual writers. Tips and guidelines for nonfiction RA, and information about awards and NF publishers are included. This is an essential resource for all professionals who work with adult readers. It can be used as a reference and readers' advisory guide, collection development tool, or even as a source for book lists and displays. Readers who enjoy nonfiction will also enjoy perusing this book, and browsing through the lively annotations.
Table of Contents

Foreword by Robert BurginIntroductionNonfiction GenresTrue AdventureDefinition, Appeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESSurvival and Disaster StoriesSports AdventuresCons and Card GamesWar StoriesIntrigue and EspionageHistorical and Exploration AdventureConsider Starting With...Fiction Read-alikes; Further Reading; References ListTravelDefinition, Appeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESArmchair TravelForeign Places and Exotic LocalesAdventuresJourney NarrativesThe Expatriate LifeTravel HumorLiterary TravelConsider Starting With...Fiction Read-alikes; Further Reading; References ListTrue CrimeDefinition, Appeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESCommitting CrimesTrue Horror: Violent Crimes and CriminalsMurder Where You Live: Family and Lover CrimesWise Guys: Mafia CrimeMurder's Not the Only CrimeHorrific Historical CrimesStreet and Prison LifeInvestigating CrimesPolice ProceduralsUnsolved MysteriesCourtroom DramasConsider Starting With...Fiction Read-alikes; Further Reading; References ListEnvironmental WritingDefinition Appeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESNatural PlacesReflective Environmental StoriesBack to the LandPotiticalAnimal StoriesConsider Starting With...Fiction Read-alikes; Further Readings: References ListNonfiction Subject InterestsScience and MathDefinition, Apeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESDeep Science (Story and Subject Matter)Investigative ScienceAdventures in ScienceMicro-scienceHistory of ScienceHistory of MedicineScintists and Science EnthusiastsLiterary ScienceConsider Starting With...Fiction Read-alikes; Further Readings; References ListHistoryDefinition, Appeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESDefining TimesHistory's Darkest HoursHuman CrueltiesNatural Disasters and Disease EpidemicsThe Settings of HistoryMicro-historiesIdeal of HistoryNew PerspectivesSecret HistoriesImmersion HistoryEpic HistoryHistorical Biography: Caught in History's WebIndividual StoriesGroup StoriesConsider Starting With...Fiction Read-alikes; Further Readings; References ListBiographyDefinition, Appeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESAmerican Presidents and Other Political LeadersProblem Solvers and Experimenters: Science BiographyThe Creative Life; Artists, Entertainers, and WritersSports BiographiesOutstanding In Their Fields: Professional BiographiesChange-makers and ActivistsHistorical BiographyBetter Together;"Buddy" and Group BiosGuilty Pleasures: Celebrities and SuperstarsConsider Starting with...Fiction Read-alikes: Further Readings References ListMemoirs and AutobiographyDefinition,s Appeal, OganizationMemoirsTHE SUBGENRESComing of AgeSelf Discovery:Explrations in IdentityOvercoming AdversityThe Immigrant ExperienceMulticultural ExperiencesWorking Life MemoirsFoodie MemoirHumorous MemoirAutobiographyFiction Read-alikes; Further Readings; References ListRelationshipsDefinition, Appeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESAll in the FamilyChallenging Family StoriesGentle Family ReadsAll You Need is LoveWith a Little Help from my FriendsCommunity LifeConsider Starting With...Fiction Read-alikes; Further ReadingInvestigative WritingDefinition, Appeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESin-depth ReportingImmersion JournalismExposesCharacter Profiles: The People Are the StoryPolitical ReportingBusiness ReportingConsider Starting With...Fiction Read-alikes; Further Readings; References ListMaking SenseDefinition, Appeal, OrganizationTHE SUBGENRESof Ourselves and Each OtherOf Our Culture and SocietyOf Our SurroundingsOf Our HistoriesConsider Starting With...Fiction Read-alikes; References ListAppendixesNonfiction Book AwardsInternet ResourcesPolitical Pundits OverviewSpirituality Writers Overview



"Despite the current popularity of nonfiction with patrons and reading groups, it's all too easy to draw a blank when a borrower asks, What do I read next? Cords, a Madison PL librarian who teaches Reading Interests of Adults at the SLIS, University of Wisconsin, Madison, provides a lifeline to those looking to go beyond fiction in providing readers' advisory services. By dividing her book into a broad spectrum of nonfiction classifications, from travel, crime, and history to life stories, investigative writing, and science and math, Cords effectively breaks down the whole genre into manageable chunks. Her elaboration of each niche goes a long way to explaining nonfiction's appeal and how it differs as well as parallels fiction appeal `actors....Cords's tone is friendly and engaging, offering exactly the kind of help you would hope for from a colleague. Her excellent introduction to nonfiction reader interests will be valued for answering reader queries as well as professional development. Recommended for all public libraries."Library Journal

"The real story about the book, The Real Story, is that there is not another guide like it available. At a time when there is so much competition for customers, libraries must provide value-added services, like readers' advisory, to remain relevant in their communities....It is a must have guide for all library collections."Collection Management

"The Real Story is a unique handbook that helps readers' advisors recommend nonfiction titles to library patrons based on their preferred genre, subject, or writing style....While nonfiction's increased popularity is part of a larger media trend toward films based on true stories, documentaries, and reality shows, Cords encourages mixing fiction and nonfiction advisory because readers may enjoy both nonfiction and fiction on the same topic....The Real Story distinguishes itself by being the only non-fiction readers' advisory (RA) book that includes annotated recommended titles, explains each genre's development and appeal, and suggests related fiction titles....Reading The Real Story is an enjoyable learning experience. Knowing the appeal of nonfiction genres, subjects, and styles will help reference librarians immensely and will help their readers discover how exciting well-written nonfiction can be."Reference & User Services Quarterly

"[T]his is an outstanding work that has taken on the monumental task of bringing some order and understanding to the area of popular nonfiction titles. It has raised the bar to an extremely high level for any other author planning on writing about nonfiction readers' advisory. A must read for any librarian who recommends popular reading titles, it belongs at the reference and readers' advisory desks of most libraries."Booklist, Starred Review

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