Sure, your favorite fiction writers probably have a book or two of nonfiction in them, be it a collection of essays (personal or critical) or a memoir about what it was like growing up to be them. But what about the outliers, the strange nonfiction journeys of our best writers? Did you know that E. Annie Proulx has an expert’s knowledge of cider, or that Willa Cather may have written a biography of a young woman who discovered her own religion? These nonfiction anomalies in a fiction writer’s life can tell us about the author’s passions — or, at the very least, what they wrote about for money. Here are our ten favorite nonfiction oddities and adventures by some formidable fiction writers. Some of these books are rare and out-of-print; some are still readily available (and worth your time).
The Florida Keys: A History & Guide, Joy Williams
In her Paris Review interview, novelist and short story writer Joy Williams, who earned a National Book Award nomination for her debut, State of Grace, calls her Florida Keys guidebook “the only book I’ve ever made money from.” It was an assignment from Random House in the ’80s, and the resulting combination of essays, legends, lore, and guide makes it an unforgettable look at one of the weirdest parts of weird Florida. Williams also mentions that for the latest edition, she was worn out and wrote an afterword that said the Keys had gotten shitty and she didn’t want to update the series anymore. Random House ran the piece as submitted.