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Non-Fiction Blogger Interview #2 – What’s Nonfiction? – Rennie Sweeney #NonFictionNovember

Welcome to another Non-Fiction blogger interview! Today I have Rennie Sweeney from the fantastic NF book blog What’s Nonfiction?. I can’t get enough of Rennie’s blog, it is my go to place for a decent read. What’s Nonfiction? is one of the main reasons I am attempting to do a full #NonFictionNovember. Rennie holds a torch to NF and appreciates every book that she has a chance to read. What’s Nonfiction is an inspiration to me as both a blogger and a reader! A few more details about the blog and then on to the questions 😀

About Rennie and What’s Nonfiction?

A true story: One of my first jobs was working in one of the biggest book stores in America… okay maybe just one of the biggest in New York. It’s big though. Countless times people came in and asked for the nonfiction section. In this big, humongous, massively enormous bookstore. Like it’s so simple and straightforward: “Excuse me, where’s nonfiction?”

You’re going to have to be more specific. Anything that isn’t fiction is by definition…non-fiction, right?

Back then, I read almost exclusively fiction (an easier section to pinpoint). But in recent years, I found the opposite was becoming true, and I preferred nonfiction, in its many very different categories, to anything fictional. But when I tell people I only like to read nonfiction, they sometimes look disgusted, nose wrinkle and all, like I have no imagination or can’t appreciate fine literary art.

But there are so many fascinating experiences and beautiful writing to be found in all-true stories. There’s so much to find out about (I sound like a PBS special, I know) and often, in the best examples, there’s the bonus of writing that’s well-crafted and as eloquent and page-turning as a favorite novel.

This blog collects my reviews of nonfiction titles I read, to share ideas, opinions and recommendations with others similarly interested. I love and focus on narrative nonfiction, memoir, history, Americana, true crime (trying to avoid the sensational, trashy kind), women’s issues, social topics, tales from the Second World War, and my biggest love: Russian history of all eras (but especially Soviet and contemporary). Currently very interested in titles on current political and socioeconomic topics and on memoirs or current affairs from the Middle East.

I do try to mix up what I read, but I have favorite genres and topics that definitely get much heavier coverage than others. It’s worth pointing out that these are all my personal choices and interests and I’m not paid for this.

Feel free to contact me about all things book-related! I’m open to accepting ARCs, but I’m currently not accepting any self-published works; thanks in advance for your understanding.

Please have a quick look through the front page of reviews to get an idea of the type of content I review before contacting me with a review request. It saves us both some time, I promise!

I’ll always communicate with you about whether I will or won’t review.

Happy true story reading!

Media Links: Blog Site / Goodreads / Instagram

Q&A Section!

Hey Rennie and welcome to Non-Fiction November here on Always Trust In Books. Thanks for participating and taking the time to answer a few questions about what you appreciate about Non-Fiction!

First off, could you tell us a few details about your blog?

Thank you so much for having me! I love discussing nonfiction and showing what the nonfiction genre includes, that it’s not all dry or boring, as it tends to sometimes get labeled. That’s my goal for the blog, to show more great examples of nonfiction. I started it because I read a lot but I’m currently based in a German-speaking country, so I wanted a way to connect with English-speaking readers, to stay in the loop of what’s new, and to share recommendations for interesting titles, old and new.

What type of non-fiction do you usually reach for?

The last few years I’ve been on a memoir kick, I love well-written stories of life experiences and extraordinary events. Recently I’ve been obsessed with memoirs of people escaping cults, like Scientology, religious extremism, or defecting from North Korea. Living away from my native US has made me want to read more about current events in America, especially the political environment, so I always reach for the latest book of political or election commentary or cultural essays. I’m addicted to well-written, literary true crime stories. More than anything I love narrative nonfiction, books written in a novelistic style that explore specific topics or stories in detail. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family is a powerful example.

What is the most recent NF book you have read and what did you think of it?

Sam Quinones’ Dreamland. It’s an eye-opening, detailed account of how the heroin market in the US was changed by a pizza-delivery style business model out of a small Mexican town. It explains a lot about the troubling background of the current opioid epidemic and it’s written in a deeply compelling narrative style.

Have you got a favourite read that you come back to now and then?

John Vaillant’s The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. It’s history, nature, biology, a look at Siberian culture and economics and how the region was affected by the fall of the Soviet Union, plus a tense, thrilling adventure – almost a crime story. It’s as page-turning as a great novel and beautifully written. Every time I read it I find something new. I recommend it endlessly as an example of excellent narrative nonfiction. Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is my favorite true crime, a haunting case that lingers in your thoughts and humanizes those involved beyond news headlines. On the lighter side, I’ve reread Tina Fey’s
hilarious, inspiring memoir Bossypants countless times.

What is it about NF that interests you about the genre?

I like learning about the world, what’s going on around us and what came before. I love perspectives from others’ lives, how people deal with challenges and unusual situations. And I think good reportage on interesting topics, or ones I hadn’t considered in depth before, is unbeatable.

Why should people read Non-Fiction as much as/more than Fiction, in your opinion?

Fiction is often an excellent tool for telling stories and sharing messages or insights in an artistic, compelling way, but I think good nonfiction does very much the same, with the additional impact of knowing you’re reading facts instead of a novelist’s interpretation or embellishment of a story. And of course the old adage – truth is stranger than fiction.

If you could write a NF book, which subject would you likely choose?

Russia. I’m fascinated by the country, the history, the culture, the troubling politics – everything. I’d love to research and write something similar to Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia. It’s a page-turning look into the oddities and darkness of the modern “reality show dictatorship.”

Is there a NF book you have had you eye on but haven’t had the chance to read yet?

Too many! American Wolf, No One Cares About Crazy People, Thanks, Obama, and Daring to Drive are my next to-reads.

Who is your go to NF author?

I reread Primo Levi’s biographical books often – I’m moved by his beautiful, poignant writing and philosophies on life, survival, and the human condition. Reading him feels like talking to a wise old friend. And David Sedaris is an all-time favorite. I attended a reading of his recently and someone asked how much in his stories is truth and how much is embellished for humor, or to make them more interesting. He responded that stories he’d told that evening had been fact-checked extensively by the New Yorker or the Paris Review, down to calling a dishwasher repairman in North Carolina to verify a quote – in other words, it’s all true. That to me is an incredible nonfiction storyteller. He can take ordinary, everyday moments or events that are easily overlooked and craft a story that’s brilliantly smart and makes you laugh, empathize, and feel things so deeply – whether funny, melancholy, or every emotion on the spectrum in between. He’s one of a kind, in my opinion.

Which Non-Fiction title did you enjoy reviewing the most?

Recently, Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy, an equal parts poetic and hilarious memoir about moving back in, as a married adult, with her family, including her Catholic priest father. I loved writing about it because it was such a joyful, fun, quirky but thoughtful book.

Which upcoming NF release are you most looking forward to?

The second half of David Sedaris’ Theft By Finding diaries, Lorrie Moore’s essay collection See What Can Be Done, and the late, great Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.

Thank you for stopping by for another great #NonFictionNovember interview! What’s Nonfiction? is a pioneering blog that everyone should definitely check out. I cannot thank Rennie enough for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions in the spirit of Non Fiction November. You have all shown tremendous support this month and if you could share the love for Rennie in the comments, that would be hugely appreciated.

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