Fiction vs. Nonfiction

January 9, 2011 Comments Off on Fiction vs. Nonfiction

Simon loves nonfiction. I have spent much of my reading life trying to avoid it. This in spite of reading occasional amazing nonfiction books like Seabiscuit and Tropical Nature. What’s my problem?

I think I resent nonfiction because I place such a high value on creativity, and it is my impression that nonfiction writers, because they know their story is true, think that they can skate by without writing well or structuring the story. Journalism mostly bores me, and I’m kind of afraid that reading a nonfiction book will end up being the same as reading a really, really long Newsweek article, which prospect kind of makes me want to cry. I’m not really impressed by sheer truth because I believe in different layers of reality—it doesn’t matter how amazing a true story is if it’s not well presented. So part of it is that I’m not always particularly impressed by a true story, and part of it is that I want to make a statement to nonfiction authors everywhere (even if they never see it) that I’m not going to swoon over them just because they present me with a string of facts. They have to earn my approval.

I recently (at Simon’s vociferous insistence) bought The Making of the Atomic Bomb. It looks pretty good. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would probably never have bought it on my own, because my impression is that the pantheon of nonfiction books is peopled extremely sparsely with truly good books, and most of it is poorly written chaff. The more I think about it, the less right that seems, but I don’t think I can change my mind until I get several good nonfiction books under my belt. Operation: Start Liking Nonfiction will begin shortly. Updates to follow.

BOOKS TO TRY:
The Making of the Atomic Bomb
The Forever War
Killer Angels
The First American
Into Thin Air

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