There are four kinds of people in the world. People who read fiction, people who read non-fiction, the weirdos who read both and the freaks who don’t read at all.
I’ve always been of the impression that non-fiction is read by mature grown-up people. Intellectual maturity, not the physical one.
I haven’t met a whole lot of people in my life, but the sample set that I’ve interacted with have corroborated this.
As kids, we begin with fiction. Fairy tales, Goosebumps, Famous Five, the works. The kids who read General Knowledge books? Let’s face it, we judged them back then, we judge them even now !
As we grow up, some develop a thirst for real-life knowledge and start reading non-fiction. Some are happy to stick with fiction. I wish I can say I’m of the latter category but I’m stuck in the middle.
I fall under the category of people who have tried to read non-fiction and failed. Miserably. Multiple times.
My trysts with non-fiction:
- Thinking Fast and Slow — Daniel Kahneman
- India After Gandhi — Ramachandra Guha
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking — Susan Cain
- Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle — Mark Tully, Satish Jacob
- The God Delusion — Richard Dawkins
I’m sure I forgot a couple more. The reason I started each one of these books was because I had a veritable interest in each of their subjects but I found that it wasn’t always sufficient to engage me till the end.
You’d think I would give up, but no. I tried, yet again and ka-ching!
I finished my FIRST non-fiction book.
Why I am a Hindu — Shashi Tharoor
I took way longer than I should have and I didn’t read it in one go. Partly because it got a little political and repetitive in the second half for my liking. My interest in theology and my fan-girling for Tharoor helped ease things along.
Fiction Vs Non-fiction
It’s not an easy debate and I’m not biased towards fiction. A lot of books in non-fiction have interested me albeit stayed out of my reach. There are a lot of things you can learn, discover different genres you didn’t know you had a liking for, or simply know a little more about the world you live in.
But after a lot of conversations and failed attempts, I’ve come to think that you need a certain mindset to read non-novel books. The people who read such books are out to learn something, they know what they want.
I wouldn’t boil it down to
Non-fiction — Focused Grownups
Fiction — Happy fools
Nope, that’s too harsh.
One of the ways to look at it is what you’re trying to take away from the book. I read books for the story, the character or the writing. If you’re looking to learn something, then maybe you naturally lean towards non-fiction.
There are two schools of thought here.
The primary objective of fiction is to entertain. So the author tries to evoke a visceral connection with his/her characters and draw the reader into his space. Fiction stimulates imagination, which is why some people think it’s mostly escapist. Whereas, non-fiction serves to educate. It’s not exactly black and white, though. It never is. If you’re a budding writer, you’ll learn more from novels. Creativity inspires creativity. So I’d say even fiction has a lot to teach.
The other side says, Non-fiction gives answers while Fiction raises questions. According to an IQ study (I’ve only read about this, I don’t know the actual source), smart people look for questions and not answers.
Disclaimer: If you work your way through sub-standard romance novels, you won’t get questions, only unrealistic expectations. That is not the fiction I’m talking about.
When I look at well-read people who write on a plethora of topics, it’s hard not to want to emulate that. It’s not so much the topic as the certitude with which they write. While I try not to feel dwarfed, I’m also always left with the feeling that I have to step up my reading, maybe grow up and try reading about World trade or something.
Barring labels, the kind of books you read says a lot about you. Like anything, even books can become mindless consumption. It’s important to consciously improve the quality of your books and the quality of your reading. For example, while reading Shashi Tharoor (I’ve only read two of his works), I stop and fawn over his wordplay. Did I mention I’m a fan? :P
Now armed with my triumph, I’ll take on another (I think I’ll take a stab at philosophy this time), just to make sure this wasn’t a one-off thing and I really have grown up.