I subscribe to several book club email lists through the Brooklyn Public Library. (Your library probably has these too-click on "join book clubs" to find out.)
The emails from Suzanne at DearReader.com are a treasure trove of books I don't hear about in other places: not front-list books that are getting a big push from publishers near pub date.
Today's email was not only about an interesting book, it provides an excellent example of voice in non-fiction. It's by Amy Stewart.
Fighting over Food Scraps: Worms vs. Chickens
Before we got chickens, the worms had a very easy life. They lived in a nice comfortable bin on the porch outside my kitchen door, and tasty food rained down upon them a couple times a day.
In the morning, they'd get spent coffee grounds and maybe an eggshell or the crusts of a piece of toast. Later in the afternoon, they might get a banana peel or an apple core. And at night, there were usually some vegetable trimmings or a little leftover pasta or rice.
It's no wonder worms follow humans wherever we go: we are their personal chefs.
I know a woman who started eating more mangoes and melons just because I told her that worms were partial to the rinds. I made her promise that she was actually eating the fruit and only giving them the scraps. "They eat trash," I said. "You understand that,right? You don't have to actually buy food for them!"
But this is the kind of affection that earthworms inspire. They are clean, quiet, hardworking pets, eager to please and happy to produce something of value--rich earthworm castings, the ultimate plant food--in exchange for a good meal. And I was happy to provide for them--until I got chickens. Suddenly, the worms had competition.
Backyard hens do take a little more care than worms--I can't leave them unattended when I go away on vacation, and their shelter is a little more complicated than the worms'--but I must admit that they are infinitely more rewarding.
My Buff Orpington, Ladybird, is as pleasant and affectionate as a cat, happy to settle down in my lap when I sit outside. And, like the worms, they produce something useful: eggs. The manure is a welcome addition to the compost pile, too.
But now I have this dilemma. Who gets the kitchen scraps? The chickens go crazy for crusts of bread, bits of strawberry, and apple cores. Their delight is so much more obvious than that of the worms, too. They rush up to me, hopping around and squawking in hopes of getting the first bite. The worms might be happy to have a treat, but they certainly don't know how to show it.
So the compromise--if it could be called that--is to give the chickens whatever they want and to let the worms have the rest. The birds don't care about coffee grounds and they are strangely uninterested in lettuce. They don't know what to do with a banana peel. So the worms continue to enjoy those treats, while the chickens get the rest. And they each continue to return the favor by turning those scraps into food for the soil, and food for me. If only my cat would do the same!
This is a stellar example of voice: it's distinctive, and fun. It makes you want to read more. It makes you think of the author as a friend. It's got energy and zest.
This is fun without being flippant, informative without being pedantic, humorous without being silly. It makes me want to read all Amy Stewart's books (and it's no surprise they're published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; their catalog will have you clicking "order order order" till your finger -- or your bank -- breaks.)
Compelling voice is tricky in a novel; it's VERY tricky in non-fiction where you must color within the lines of creativity.
What non-fiction books would you use as examples of voice?