Not All Books Are Novels

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People have taken to using the terms “book” and “novel” interchangeably, but non-fiction books are not novels, Ben Yagoda explains over at Slate. The shift might be attributed to the post-modern zeitgeist that blends fact and fiction into a fuzzy truth, or it might come down to language:

I tend to view it more pragmatically. English has no word to denote “nonfiction book” or “writer of nonfiction books(s).” Considering the clunkiness of expressions in quotation marks, it’s not surprising that college students—who are frequently called on to refer to such books and writers, and who are famously not semantic sticklers—would have turned to “novel” and “novelist,” which come trippingly on the tongue.


Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at IanMacAllen.com. More from this author →