I’ve come across readers who claim to never read fiction. One man explained this disposition by saying he only wanted to read about “things that actually happened.”
This left me stunned.
I mean, I really like reading good nonfiction. I’ve been engrossed by it, transported by it, had my approach to the world reoriented by it. I’d say 30-40% of my reading diet is nonfiction.
The thought, however, of limiting myself to only reading about “things that actually happened” triggers an autonomic response of sunken-chested spiritual deprivation. Submerging myself exclusively in an ocean of only fact would inevitably leave me parched for the truth that only fiction can provide.
Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth – Pablo Picasso
While nonfiction can possesses artistic value in its aesthetics, its authors would not likely suggest that creating art is their principal motivation. I’d think they’d say their aim was primarily to accurately capture and portray an individual, event or idea. Many are motivated by uncovering new information and/or adding to the current discourse or the historical record so we have a fuller context or a deeper understanding of the past and, in doing so, our present and future. Most nonfiction writers are honest brokers, trying to contribute to their field. Some are experts while some are curious interlopers, looking to answer interesting questions and provide a point of entry for a lay audience into an otherwise impenetrable subject. Some are only out to make a buck.
Fiction has an altogether different function. I won’t attempt to ascribe motivations to fiction writers, as I am very much a post-structuralist on matters of authorial intent. Whether a fiction writer intends to create art is not important. What’s important is that the very form of fiction writing provides a possibility for artistic achievement that non-fiction writing can’t have. A freedom from factual accuracy, linearity, the known physical world, etc., enables fiction writers to construct whatever world, culture, scenario, character and/or action that serves the story s/he wants to tell.
Fiction, regardless of the author’s intent, is inherently imbued with a potential for art that non-fiction just doesn’t have (this is, of course, in addition to the potential for aesthetic artistry available to both nonfiction and fiction writers).
Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen. – Leo Tolstoy
The point is not to take you on a tour over the hills of basic philosophy and through the thickets of 20th century critical theory. I was merely trying to establish a framework for why fiction has different, and I’d argue higher, value than non-fiction.
The point was to express sorrow for those who deprive themselves of literature. This is not a rhetorical sleight-of-hand I’m now attempting, conflating “fiction” with “literature.” Those who limit themselves to a narrow lane of fiction—sci-fi, romance, mystery, “chick lit”, etc.—are missing out as much as those who only read nonfiction, as genre fiction rarely transcends is commercially-driven imperatives of familiarity and predictable rewards to achieve artistic merit. The exceptions prove the rule here.
The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but rather the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity. – Glenn Gould
While I have written about reading what you like—guilty pleasures be damned—and the merits of adults reading YA, I’ve always tried to temper these points of view with the belief that a reader always benefits from a varied (even slightly) reading diet. Literature, though sometimes challenging to read, provides unrivaled rewards for those who give it a fair chance.
My intent is not to be a book snob (I promise), looking down my nose to shame you into reading some hoity-toity, fancypants snooze-fest of a tome. My intent is to offer encouragement, to share the immense feeling of surprise and delight and connection to humankind across lines on a map and expanses of time that literature has given (and regularly gives) me. There is no greater joy to be found in reading.
Again, please read what you want. We Booksellers are here to get you the right book. I’m merely sharing my beliefs about reading, beliefs founded inextricably on the value I place on art as the vessel for Truth and beauty.
Throughout recorded history, humans have sought ways—visually, orally, aurally, physically—to capture and transmit beauty and Truth. As a result of successfully doing so, they forge a spiritual connection with and among others.
This near-ubiquitous pursuit throughout centuries and in all corners of the planet suggests that it is an essential part of being human.
Books are the art form I most appreciate and my goal as a bookseller is to share them, enabling others to hopefully discover Truth and beauty within them and, in turn, connect with and share it with others.
While science and medicine and engineering and such are vital for keeping us alive and living longer and making us more comfortable, art—truth, beauty and meaningful connection with others—is why we want to live. This is, to me, truth.