The things that help me to engage with non-fiction apply to 2 sub-genres:
non-fiction on history e.g. World War 2 or the Cuban revolution
non-fiction on topics e.g. compassion or Darwinism
In this blog post, we’re going to look at each of these 2 sub-genres in turn, including some examples.
What helps me to engage with non-fiction on history (‘historical non-fiction’)
Personalisation of history. I think the key to history for me is being aware that personalising it makes it accessible for me. By ‘personalising’ I mean telling the story from the perspective of one or more individuals. Facts and figures are too dry and abstract for me. They don’t sink in, whereas pictures and stories about sentient beings do.
Biography / autobiography also enable me to access historical non-fiction.
Alternative formats, especially graphic novels and films, have opened up historical non-fiction for me. There are some original graphic novels that are excellent at making history accessible. I give some examples below. I also find children’s graphic novels useful because they explain the history so clearly and accessibly.
Examples of historical non-fiction that make history accessible for me
‘Palestine’ by Joe Sacco
‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman
‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi; ‘Cuba: my revolution’ by Inverna Lockpez
For more graphic novels of historical non-fiction see here.
The film adaptation of ‘The Invisible Woman’, a print biography by Claire Tomalin
‘Barefoot Gen’ and ‘Barefoot Gen 2’, animé film adaptations of manga by Keiji Nakazawa
‘Bridge Across my Sorrows’ and ‘Mama Tina’ by Christina Noble
What helps me to engage with non-fiction on topics (‘topical non-fiction’)1.Strategies
If I am using alternative formats but am still struggling to follow a work of non-fiction, I use strategies in addition. For example, using the following strategies helped me to follow ‘Twelve Steps to a compassionate life’ by Karen Armstrong:
I listened to it in audio before reading it in print to gain an overview
I used book group notes for comprehension
I wrote notes in the book and used highlighter pens. This helped me with navigation and comprehension
I read one chapter at a time, discussing it in detail in a book group every fortnight. This really helped me to take in and retain the content.
2. Contextualisation of topics
In my experience, the power of the graphic novel to make an abstract topic accessible is demonstrated brilliantly in ‘Logicomix’. ‘Logicomix’ is a graphic novel biography of Bertrand Russell. But it also explains his logic as an integral part of the book. Setting the topical content (logic) in the context of the life of the person (Russell) who thought it up makes it accessible for me. I found the same with a graphic novel biography of Charles Darwin that gives an excellent explanation of Darwinism¹.
3. Very Short Introductions
How about you?
· What helps you to engage with non-fiction?
· Are there any books that have made history or topics accessible for you?
· Have you tried ‘Very Short Introductions’? How do you find them?
If you have found this blog mini-series helpful…
You can find out here how narrative and dyslexia-features help me to engage with books.
¹ ‘On Charles Darwin: a graphic biography: the really exciting and dramatic story of a man who mostly stayed at home and wrote some books’ by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne
This series of three blogs was written by a member of Dyslexia Scotland