Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Way Back Wednesday: Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

This post first appeared in 2014. These days, my non-fiction to fiction ratio is about 5:1.

I love non-fiction. Unlike their novel counterparts, non-fiction books are perfectly content to be read in small chunks. They're even set up that way. Each chapter is its own little nugget, complete in and of itself. Sure, there's more ahead, but there's no pressure to get there. A reader can simply enjoy where she is, knowing there's more to the journey when she's ready to get off (or perhaps curl up on) the sofa and begin again.

But novels are different. Sure, you can read just one chapter, but in a good novel, that's never enough. The pressure to push ahead isn't even subtle. Chapters regularly leave you hanging, daring you to put the book down and do something frivolous like cook a meal or get some sleep before forging ahead to find out what happens next. And if the structure doesn't get you, the character guilt will. Really? You don't care enough about me to stay up a little bit longer and see if I fall in love, get killed off or find out the identity of that dark-haired stranger?

Non-fiction books don't require you to get invested. They know they appeal to a niche audience, and 
they're happy to entertain whomever happens to pick them up, knowing without a doubt that from time to time, someone who truly appreciates every word in every chapter will come along. They delight in being highlighted, dog-eared and written in -- signs that the reader has moved beyond what's on the page to what's going on in his or her own mind or life. These readers make up for all of those who sigh and moan as they read, as though reading the carefully chosen words on each page were merely an assignment to be completed and checked off.

Novels? They're not so happy about the highlighting and the lingering over every word, with the possible exception of literary fiction, which thinks it's better than all the other books anyway. The faster you turn the pages, the happier a novel is. In fact, if you have the gall to leave a novel sitting out on a flat surface, with the intention of returning to it later in the day when you've gotten a few things done, it thinks nothing of shamelessly calling out to you every time you walk by, bidding you to pick it up and settle in, ignoring all that is going on around you, to the detriment of houses and family members and relationships.
My Next Big Idea Club subscription definitely 
contributes to my non-fiction addiction.

Non-fiction books are great for those seasons when life is hectic and dedicated reading time is hard to find. Novels simply don't understand being abandoned at the end of beach vacations and Christmas vacations and long summer afternoons spent by the pool, but nonfiction books shrug (as books are prone to do). They suspect you'll be back when the time is right to read another paragraph, or a few pages, or maybe even an entire chapter. They are patient. This is their nature.

Novels reach out to you with their colorful covers and fast-moving prose, promising to embrace you if you'll simply give them a few minutes of your time. Novels are needy, but also willing to adapt to being tossed in a bag and lugged from place to place if only you'll just pull them out and give them a little attention when you arrive at your destination.

And readers? Well, we're appreciative of both categories. Like siblings whose personalities complement one another, fiction and non-fiction combine to make reading more interesting for anyone who'll open a book and peruse its pages. Some days we long for the embrace of a novel; other times we need the stand-offishness of non-fiction.

It's easy to point fingers at the prose. But the real joy of reading lies in the relationship between book and reader.

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