I tweeted a recent magazine article by Joel Stein, Time Magazine’s humor columnist, who had an interesting take on some High Schools pushing nonfiction over fiction literature (How I Replaced Shakespeare ti.me/QOonQ4 via @TIME). It had me revisiting a blog I wrote last year at the muse, http://blameitonthemuse.com/non-fiction-and-other-necessary-evils/, which in my own unique brand of humor, agreed.
Non-Fiction to me is like…eating liver. It’s supposed to be good for you, but I can’t get past the texture. It is a rare occasion when I read a non-fiction cover to cover. I start with good intention, then my fiction mind kicks my reading into hyper scan. Just give me the cliff notes.
I’m sure there is a special chair in purgatory with my name on it for dissing a hallowed genre. Don’t get me wrong. I have decades of non-fiction reading and writing in its many forms to my credit. Every day, I engage words meant to inform, describe, and enlighten, words minus the element of fictional people, places, and things. I’m doing it right now. That’s the problem. When I finally get to that tiny space of time where the necessity of the world is not calling me, I don’t want to read or write anymore … reality. I want fiction.
There was a time before our modern media overload that non-fiction was a welcome respite (mostly an only respite). Today, the shelves are filled with business books espousing the latest trend in management and finance. If it’s Tuesday, this must be supply chain. Memoirs seem to be either mudslinging or narcissism, often both. I have lots of cooking books, but I don’t really read them; I’m only there for the food. Lots of war remembrance, too bad we don’t learn from any of it. Number nine on the Sept. 2011 NYT bestseller list for non-fiction was about fonts. Somebody needs to get a life. Don’t even get me started on fitness and self-help.
Let me clarify that I do not consider books used in formal education as non-fiction. I think of them as instruction manuals. I also give a hall pass to exploration and history if it is well written (and factual), for both provide a window to who we are, and fodder for our stories.
Not all subscribe to my dysfunction. My father was a non-fiction buff. In his opinion, fiction was for children, his way of saying it is time to put aside childish things. Okay … I never grew up, I just hide it well. Fiction is that place where everybody knows my name. It’s a place where I can imagine myself better than I really am. Inspiring heroes, compelling tales and beautiful women … all of whom love me.
Then I wake up.
Like eating my vegetables, non-fiction will always be a part of a balanced diet. So is liver, but at least I can take that in a pill.
Zen A. said:
It’s interesting that you would compare non-fiction to liver! I can’t stomach it either, and often when I read non-fiction I find my mind wandering to all those fiction books I could be reading instead. It just never holds my attention. 😦
Yes, I do the same. Once is awhile, I’ll run into a NF that is written so well, it reads like a fictional story. Not many of them around. Thanks for visiting.
Marlo Berliner said:
Ahhh, then you must’ve been reading the wrong non-fiction books, sir. When I was little I gravitated (literally, I was wafer thin) toward non-fiction books on all the cool subjects – ghosts, ESP, the Bermuda Triangle, aliens, the pyramids, the Mayans, etc. (Some would argue that these books are fiction, LOL) But I was drawn to all the mysteries out there that we just haven’t solved yet. It was funny because the nuns really frowned upon my interest in these books – I think they felt like these subjects challenged faith. But I believe they missed the point. Religion asks you to believe in fantastical things in the first place – voices from burning bushes, the parting of the sea, miracles, rising from the dead, heaven/life after death, etc. My grandmother used to say that to believe in God was to believe that anything was possible. So these books helped me keep an open mind about the world around me, both seen and unseen. If anything, they strengthened my faith that we don’t know the whole story – but someone does.
Ah yes … the nuns. I remember them well. Times have changed on that front (I think), but you’re right, Marlo, tolerance for un-sanctioned reading was not what it is today. I do read National Geographic and similar genre, so I’m not completely NF averse. To paraphrase Joel Stein’s article in Time, it’s hard enough to get kids to read, why give them additional reasons to dislike it. Like I said, I recognise NF as part of a balanced diet … sort of like the need for fiber.
Well, non-fiction does give us lots of fodder for the fiction doesn’t it? I grew up buried in non-fiction, books about the human body, astronomy, but those things still held a mystery for me. I couldn’t deal with history then. Now it’s much more interesting but still – sorry – not for escape. Some might say why are we wanting to escape so much, and if more of our kids wanted to read non-fiction maybe we’d have better results in our global “smarts” measure. But now that I’m past needing to pass a test I get my non-fiction from the discovery and history channels.
An interesting thought, “we’d have better results in our global “smarts” measure”. I witnessed the excellent educational programs overseas that are heavy in math, science, and “those NF things”. What I found (as well as others), put these bright educated kids in a non-structured environment, and they’re lost. No imagination. Scarily “machine-like”, like Spock. Again, a balance is needed.
James Pailly said:
“In his opinion, fiction was for children, his way of saying it is time to put aside childish things.”
This is a very narrow-minded point of view, and it’s one I encounter frequently. Sounds like Uncle Vernon from Harry Potter. It’s sad how many Uncle Vernons there are in the world.
Yes, James, Uncle Vernon’s who limit thinking to the steely-eyed world of concrete fact in front of them. We all need to walk there as part of life, but to shackle the imagination because it’s considered childish, is indeed, short-sighted, and make us robotic. Thanks for coming by.