Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fiction or Non Fiction?

Is there a fundamental difference between people who primarily read fiction versus those who stick mostly to non fiction? If it isn't already obvious, about 99% of what I read is fiction. Sure I dabble in non fiction, but it's really the exception that proves the rule. I can't explain why, but I'm usually really turned off by non fiction. There have been a few notable exceptions (I liked Devil in the White City and I've read a few biographies that didn't suck), but for the most part, my eyes glaze over the second I try to read anything that leans in the direction of self improvement, religion, philosophy or business.

In contrast, my husband reads about 99% non fiction. Now I know that those who enjoy non fiction may argue, "Non fiction is a really broad generalization Jill, it's not all Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus!" I'm sure there are many genres within the category of non fiction, but I can't say that definitively, because I'm not really sure I've ever set foot in the non fiction section of the bookstore. I'm sure my husband, who reads mostly business books wouldn't appreciate being clumped into the same category as people who read philosophy and religious books and I gather the feeling's mutual. Perhaps I'm being careless. I certainly don't like being grouped together with people who read fiction about hobbits and space ships (even if I *did* like the Ender's Game series - shhhhhh that's a secret). But bare with me, because I think my generalizations are required for my theory.

Are there people who read about 50% fiction and 50% non fiction? If so, I don't think I know any of them. It seems like 2 separate camps. I'm not saying they can't fraternize (or even marry) but it is interesting isn't it? What is it about people that makes them more interested in one genre over the other?

My theory: The people in these two camps view the purpose of reading differently. I suppose my theory is nothing but one big generalization, but I think people who prefer fiction read to escape, while people who like non fiction read to educate themselves. I realize in this hypothesis, I come out in a less than flattering light (or at least a less educated light), but I think I might be on to something. For Jeff, reading seems like a "means to an end". He reads a book about building his resume so he can build his resume. He reads a book about investing so he can be a better investor. My reading is the means AND the end. I read a book to escape, to experience a story and relax.

I can't help but wonder - are the non fiction readers the "thinkers" and the fiction readers the "doers" in this world? Sometimes it seems like non fiction readers are the type to get so caught up in the process of educating/improving themselves that action becomes secondary. Whereas those of us reading fiction rarely take the time to stop and think before just doing something. Do fiction readers leap before they look and non fiction readers spend so much time looking that they rarely in fact leap? Perhaps this is why we need each other. I need Jeff to tell me that I can't actually hang a 25 pound mirror on a wall without first locating the stud and using the right kind of nail. But without me, the mirror would probably stay leaning up against the wall on the floor for another 6 months.


cranky rae baker said...

Lately my favorite genre is the memoir. I'd say a good 60% of the best books I've read in the past two years have been memoirs and autobiographies. Technically, those fall under the non-fiction category -- though I also read primarily for escapism and relaxation, not to -- *scoff* -- improve myself.

Care said...

hi! I followed the breadcrumbs here from Raych's site to say WELCOME and then read this post. It made me go count my nonfic to fic ratio - cuz I love nonfic - and it's ~30%. I wanted to rec this site to you cuz it's an awesome take on FUN nonfiction:

Kristin said...

Jill, I like your theory, I can tell you thought about this in depth (did that just sound like a teacher grading your paper or what?). I think you're on to something. I am definitely more of a non-fiction reader and my personality is much as you describe it. I'm definitely more of a thinker than a doer. I don't read much self-help though, mostly I like current event-type stuff. I like to get people's opinions on what's going on in the world.

I've had this problem for the past 8 yrs or so where I can't even get through a whole fiction book. I start them and then never finish. My eyes glaze over, just like you trying to read nonfiction. Sometimes if I really want to know what happens, I'll skim it just to get the gist. (I have to admit that is how I read The Myth Of You And Me). One exception to this is Kite Runner, which I just read recently start-to-finish in like two days and thought was a really great book.

However, as you know, I used to be a voracious reader of fiction when I was a kid, so how does that fit into the theory?

Jill said...

I loved Kite Runner too! I think he has another book out, maybe you you should try it next. I've been meaning to.
RE your former fiction reading self, maybe you USED to be a doer, and now you're a thinker?