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By Jessica Scalph

As librarians, we are asked all the time, “What should I read next?” Recently, I facilitated a book talk at the Gainesville Haymarket Rotary Club, and the main topic was reading nonfiction versus fiction. Why is it a great idea to read both and why is there so much controversy over which is “best” to read? I did a bit of research in our digital library and came up with an article, “The Case for Reading Fiction” by Christine Seifert. Its main point is that if you are a business owner and would prefer excellent managers, there is a case to be made for encouraging them to read fiction in addition to nonfiction.

“Research suggests that reading literary fiction is an effective way to enhance the brain’s ability to keep an open mind while processing information,” says Seifert, “which is a necessary skill for effective decision making.”

With this in mind, I thought I’d suggest some pairings of the two genres.

Pairing #1: Read a nonfiction and fiction book by the same author.

 A View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (nonfiction)

More than sixty pieces of Gaiman’s outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including, but not limited to; authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; libraries; ghosts…

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (fiction)

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, her mother and grandmother.

Pairing #2: Read a history nonfiction book and historical fiction from the same historical period.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (nonfiction). Subject: World War II

A fresh and compelling portrait of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz. On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium… and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. It was up to Churchill to hold the country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally.

The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli (fiction). Subject: World War II 

Munich, WWII: After a conservator unwittingly places a priceless Italian Renaissance portrait into the hands of a high-ranking Nazi leader, she risks her life to recover it, working with an American soldier to get it back.

Pairing #3: Read a nonfiction and fiction book related to a similar subject or theme.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction). Subject: Racial Migration

Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the south for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. This exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America.

Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (fiction). Subject: Racial Migration

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd, swept up by the tides of the Great Migration, flees Georgia and heads north. Full of hope, she settles in Philadelphia to build a better life.

Pairing #4: Read a true crime book (nonfiction) and a murder mystery (fiction).

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan (nonfiction)

A deep dive into the twisted life of Israel Keyes. Serial killers often commit their crimes close to home, inside a comfort zone, but as the author documents in this compelling narrative, little about Keyes fit the conventional serial-killer mold.

The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid (fiction) 

The bodies of four men have been discovered. Enlisted to investigate is criminal psychologist Tony Hill. Even for a seasoned professional, the series of mutilation sex murders is unlike anything he’s encountered before.

All of these titles are available at Prince William Public Libraries. For assistance or additional pairing ideas, please call, visit, or email us your request. 

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