I read a fair number of books every year. Based on the stuff I’ve read last couple of years, I have observed a winning method of structuring concepts in non-fiction books. The easiest to consume non-fiction books appear to use this familiar structure to present the chapters/concepts:
- Start with an anecdote, or a story. The story displays, or better, ends with the concept the chapter intends to impress.
- Follow up with an explanation of the concept—its definition, origins, benefits, why-it-works, side-effects, etc.
- Reinforce with references to research, or interviews with researchers who have studied the characteristic in depth.
- Finish with a few more short anecdotes. Even better if these are follow-up stories to the ones in the first section, and/or lead to the concept in the following chapter.
Continue reading A good structure for non-fiction writing
It’s a brilliant book. It’s amongst the best written books I’ve ever read. It’s got the magic that made me smile, nod my head in agreement, screech inside, and be sad. Be very sad.
It’s probably the best book I’ll read this year.
That’s not good. Because it’s over. I didn’t want it to be over. I finished it in three sittings, but I want it to go on for ever.
It also means that anything I read for the next while will feel like it’s taking something precious away. Like eating a dessert after having a steak at Le relais de venise. When I want to savour the taste of that steak in my mouth, anything I eat next will spoil it. And yet, I can’t go without eating forever. Or without reading. Like she says: “nowhere to go but down”.
For another, I’m already in a rump. I’m not happy. I’m not working. I’m not working out. I’m still injured. I’m gaining weight at pound-a-day. And all my relationships are already on that slope that has nowhere to go but down. I didn’t need another source of sadness. And such a beautifully written source, at it.
“We can destroy what we have written, but we cannot unwrite it.”
— Anthony Burgess (from today’s Economist Espresso newsletter)
It’s not about speaking/writing less.
It’s about thinking through more.
A conversation about writing books, from the book ‘Summertime’ by J.M. Coetzee:
‘Do you really believe that? That books give meaning to our lives?’
‘Yes. A book should be an axe to chop open the frozen sea inside us. What else should it be?’
‘A gesture of refusal in the face of time. A bid for immortality.’
There’s more: though it drags a little, I like the way it ends (after the break)
Continue reading Why write?