Novellas in November 2016: Are Nonfiction Novellas a thing?

So, uh, anyone reading novellas this November?

The past three years of this event took place during less eventful Novembers than this one. I assume that’s why I don’t see anyone novella-ing yet. Unless you were just waiting for me.

With Nonfiction November taking the (Booktube) world by storm, I thought I’d open with some nonfiction novellas.

Oh, you thought novellas can only be fiction?

Well, that’s probably true, but there is a little subgenre of nonfiction that’s more than an essay but less than a book. There’s a whole blog about it, Brevity, which I just discovered. In this post from 2009, Brevity considers calling these pieces “nonfiction novellas,” but settles on “monograph essays.” That sounds too stuffy for me. #NonFictionNovellasInNovember it is.

Here are a couple I’ve read recently.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson (95 pages)
Help me out, guys. Everyone I know loved this book. It’s the kind of book people push on you. Nelson is fawned over in all her interviews, the various podcasters not sure they’re qualified to be in her prescence, let alone speak to her. But Bluets did nothing for me. The numbered fragments amount to a long essay about a breakup, with major tangents about light, colour, collecting, compulsion, sex, and blue stuff. I read it over a weekend and put it aside, unmoved.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (48 pages)
Time to be a contrarian again: I do not get the hype. To be clear: I do think we should all be feminists. There is nothing in this book I disagree with. But I expected it to show me something new, or challenge my beliefs in some way. It was very “feminism 101.” So, good for someone just starting out, I guess. You can watch the original half-hour Ted Talk here.

Who Needs Books? by Lynn Coady (44 pages)
Technically I didn’t read this, but I was at the lecture in 2015. And I had so much fun writing about it. I do own the book now (thanks Jason!) and in rereading the introduction, was reminded that one of her Giller-winning short stories featured Jean Rhys – stay tuned for more on Rhys when we get to the traditional novellas. I thought this lecture was brilliant, bringing together Franzen and Grover to teach us all a lesson about reading and hedonism. You can  listen to her read it in just under 54 minutes right here.

Even This Page is White by Vivek Shraya (107 pages)
Okay, this is a book of poetry, so it maybe it doesn’t belong here. Or maybe it does. These poems are so grounded in place; there’s no mistaking that these are Canadian poems, Edmonton poems, Amiskwaciwâskahikan poems. Then there’s the form: some of the poems are interviews with people about race. One is made of fragments from the comments on a petition to ban Kanye West from playing the Pan Am games. Other poems are autobiographical. Sounds pretty nonfictiony to me. This was also my first experience at a poetry reading and it was life changing.

What about you? And what do you call these in-betweeny, nonfictiony books?



  1. Rebecca Foster

    I didn’t know “Novellas in November” was a thing! I’d pencilled it in as a blog title for later in the month as I’d been eyeing up some of the shorter titles on my shelves. Gotta love the alliteration 😉 So are you the host, as it were?

    I’d never considered whether novellas could be nonfiction. I reckon we need a more inclusive and descriptive term than just “short books”. Like you did the first year, I’ve tried to get a firmer definition of a novella and everything I come up with is about the word count, whereas a page count is much more useful. I’ll stick with your advice and look for 150 pages or fewer.

    I’ve heard a lot about Maggie Nelson but never tried her. I fear my reaction may the same as yours. I have the Adichie on my Kindle and like the sound of the Coady. I tried Shraya’s collection but didn’t get past the first few pages — I imagine it worked much better in person / aloud.

    • lauratfrey

      You can call me the host, though I’m not a very good host, posting sporadically and all… I’ve done it four years running now. The alliteration is so good, many bloggers come up with it independently. So there’s not a real, official, one and only. Last year a bunch of British bloggers did it of their own accord, for example. It’s all good though!

      I’ve kind of expanded to up to 200 pages through the years. I’m strict on that, though it pains me when I read a great book of like 208 pages 🙂

      Shraya didn’t so much read it as perform it – there was lighting, visuals, music, it was magnificent! She is a musician so it makes sense.

      • Rebecca Foster

        I could actually only find 5 books of under 150 pages on my shelves. Lots of books must have thin paper because although they looked short they were more like 170-190 pages. However, I think 5 novellas is more than enough to be getting on with considering everything else I have to read 🙂 I’ll link up to your post whenever I manage to publish mine.

  2. Naomi

    I was wondering if I was going to be the only one this year… which would have been fine. I read my first novella yesterday, and have another on the go today. I think I’ll stick with fiction, although Lynn Coady’s book sounds good!

  3. Melanie Kerr

    Maybe this should be conflated with NaNoWriMo, which could come to stand for National Novella Writing Month. Seriously, that would be a lot more achievable. People could actually finish something.

  4. ebookclassics

    What a brilliant idea! A very fun twist to the theme. I just listened to Lynn Coady talking about her book (nonfiction novella) on The Next Chapter and it sounds like she explores some interesting concepts about reading.

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  6. theresakishkan

    I love novellas. Have recently begun a small imprint to focus on them ( There’s also a small imprint in Vancouver called Nonvella, publishing long form non-fiction — I think they top out at 20,000 words. Worth look at! (They recently published Duncan McCue’s memoir, The Shoe Boy.)

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