Much to my chagrin, this happens all the time: Upper-echelon novelists take a break from their fiction to publish nonfiction. These books range from works about the writing process to memoirs to book-length essays on just about any topic. Examples include Philip Roth (Reading Myself and Others), Robert Stone (Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties), and Jonathan Franzen (The Discomfort Zone).
Even though such "cross-over" is common, it still bums me out a bit. My first reaction upon seeing these books is usually along the lines of "Dammit! Why did this novelist waste all the time it must've taken to write this nonfiction book I'll probably never read? Why couldn't they have just produced another brilliant and engrossing novel?" Selfish and stupid? Probably, but I can't help it.
I bring this up because in the last month, two of my favorite novelists — Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Chabon — have published nonfiction books. Chabon, whose novels The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, I greatly enjoyed, published a book in October titled Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son.
JS Foer, securely installed by critics and readers alike as the "hottest young American novelist," has published two novels Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, both of which are absolutely fantastic. His recent foray into nonfiction is titled Eating Animals, a memoir about his vegetarianism.
(Side note on Foer: I went to a Foer reading/signing a few years ago and was simply stunned by the atmosphere. It was like the literary equivalent of an 'NSYNC concert. More than half of the attendees were mid-20s women, who were openly fawning over Foer. [Isn't he dreamy?] Anyway, that made me laugh — and more than a little jealous. Also, Foer mentioned that Roth is one of his favorite novelists, so when he was signing my book, I asked him if he'd ever met Roth. He smiled and guffawed, and said, "No, thankfully." He paused a beat, and then said, "That'd be like Hamlet meeting his father." I have no idea what that means. Okay, back to the blog...)
Even though I'm not exactly enthralled by the subjects of Chabon and Foer's books, I'm thinking I may have to reconsider my long-standing resistance to favorite novelists' nonfiction books. After all, if I enjoyed their fiction, why wouldn't I enjoy their non, right? Right?
In my entire reading career, I think the only nonfiction by a fiction writer I've ever read is Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose, which was boring, and A Tale of Love and Darkness, a memoir by Israeli novelist Amos Oz, which was actually awesome! (I've always had a strange fascination with Israel and Palestine.)
What's your take? Do you read your favorite novelists' nonfiction? Is there good nonfiction by fiction writers out there I'm missing?