Updated Feb 2017.
- Is non-fiction the new fiction?, reviewing an event celebrating the shortlist of the Arts Foundation Creative Non-Fiction Award 2017
- The Paris Review on the art of non-fiction
- Walking, researching remembering: WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn as an essay – on fiction vs nonfiction and the essay as form
- Writing a deep map: non-fiction’s challenge to the contemporary novel
Subgenres include place writing (in Denmark; sub-subgenre: nature writing), life writing, memoir, biofiction, bibliomemoirs (JCO; the Gdn’s Top 10 books about reading also identifies the sub-subgenre of metabooks, or how books became).
Others are sui generis, such as Philippe Sands’ (@philippesands; Gdn) series of linked projects he calls the Lemberg Quartet: A song of good and evil ( ‘musical lecture’, 2014), My Nazi legacy (film, 2015) and East west street (book, 2016; how he wrote it).
Some bibliomemoirs and related:
- Arctic summer (again; EM Forster’s unfinished novel)
- The Brontë cabinet: three lives in nine objects | Befriending a Brontë sister (Anne, obv; a ‘selfie memoir’ by Samantha Ellis, author of How to be a heroine)
- The Zhivago affair: the Kremlin, the CIA, and the battle over a forbidden book (Gdn | LRB | Observer)
- Careless people: murder, mayhem and the invention of The Great Gatsby
- My Katherine Mansfield project (“amalgamates memory and fiction and research and journal so sensitively and in such an original way”)
- George Eliot: The road to Middlemarch | Sophie and the Sibyl | The transferred life of George Eliot (again)
- The novel of the century: Les Mis (Paris Review)
- An Odyssey: a father, a son and an epic
- Portrait of a novel: Henry James and the making of a modern masterpiece (LRB | Commentary Magazine | New Yorker), by Michael Gorra, who also wrote The bells in their silence, a meta travel book about Germany
- The possessed – Elif Batuman’s collection/memoir (New York Times | Gdn | Observer; Tolstoy section | Samarkand 2), and as novel in The idiot (Gdn); her thesis, The windmill and the giant: double-entry bookkeeping in the novel, was about “the process of social research and solitary construction undertaken by novelists” (more; plus quotes from Babel section of The possessed)
- Reading Dante
- The most dangerous book: the battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses
- Give War and Peace a chance: Tolstoyan wisdom for troubled times
- The violet hour: great writers at the end | Deaths of the poets (Gdn | Observer | Spectator)
- on paintings/artists – Monet’s lily pond (Spectator) | The art of rivalry
- see also Barthes, Austen and the internet
I’ve a fair few Russian literary biogs in this category, for example Janet Malcolm’s Reading Chekhov.
We also have writing about the characters in (or simply recreating/imagining) classic novels. Often peripheral characters are given a voice, eg Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda, The Mersault investigation (ie “The Arab” in L’Étranger), the real Lara in Dr Zhivago.
Biofiction can be tricky (Katy Derbyshire: “using real-life characters in fiction can feel disrespectful when a writer assumes too much about what’s going on inside their heads”). As well as lots of Tolstoy, recent examples include Miss Emily (Emily Dickinson and a maid), Julian Barnes on Shostakovich (again; although JB maintains “biographical novels are kind of cheesy”), The late Walter Benjamin, notable for being set on a council estate near Watford, Polly Clark’s Larchfield (WH Auden in Helensburgh), Mikhail and Margarita, which is so obvious it’s amazing it’s taken this long to appear (here’s another one: Agatha Christie’s disappearance), and An overcoat (Stendhal).
Here we find a subgenre of graphic novels cum biographies:
- Dotter of her father’s eyes (see also The Joyce girl) | Munch | Red Rosa | Agatha Christie | Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy | The trial of Roger Casement | Hieronymus Bosch | The death of Stalin (Politiken)
- for more see the Gdn’s Graphic novel of the month and 2016 roundup
- and på dansk: Copenhagen Comics | Atlas on graphic novels | Caroline Mathilde and Struensee (again) | Karen Blixen (trans. from the French, drawn by Terkel Risbjerg) | Daisy – en prinsesse i Danmark | Halfdan Pisket (interview | review | another) | Pingprisen (Wikipedia)