Fiction vs Non Fiction – 83

PhD Life

For the last couple of years, I have been very good at making time to read. I have read around 40 books in the last year and a half, 95 % of which are non-fiction. When I started reading voraciously, I really enjoyed it; however, I have found that with non-fiction there are diminishing returns as a lot of material is repeated in slightly different ways.

Most of us are creatures of habit, and tend to read about things we enjoy. The problem with this is that over-time you end up reading the same things over and over. I tend to only read around science and finance, with the occasional biography thrown in. Whenever I have tried to read fiction It always becomes an endurance challenge rather than a pleasure.

The books never seem to capture me; I tend to resent them whilst reading them, and I always think that I could be doing something more productive with my time. I persevere with it because it seems that everyone else loves reading fiction and maybe I could enrich my education by reading some decent books.

So far, with the exception of George Orwell’s 1984 that I listened to the audiobook of, I have not found this to be the case. For me, non-fiction is infinitely more valuable. However, I didn’t get to where I am today by giving up so easily. I have decided to give the classics a shot. Partly because they should be good, and partly because they are feely available, and therefore, only a loss of time if I hate them.

There are tons of sites for free, old books if you care to use google, but the one I have used is I have downloaded a selection and put them on my kindle.

I started with Ulysses by James Joyce. I must admit that I have got sixty pages in and I hate it. The prose is written in such a way that I cannot believe anyone is enjoying it. The sentences are so verbose that it seems like the author is mocking me. It truly is the stuff of David Foster-Wallace’s wet dream.

I have now switched to ‘A tale of two cities’ by Charles Dickens – hopefully this will be more ‘my kind of thing’. I do not have any criteria for how I am selecting these classics, so feel free to recommend some. I guess my current strategy is to go with the ones I have heard of.

I realise that there is a very good chance that those who are reading this are writers of fiction, so to you I ask: why?

Why do you read/write fiction. For me, reading is a pursuit of knowledge, it is an activity that I have to put effort into to achieve. I wouldn’t say it was something I do to relax as it actually requires a lot of time and effort. Time and effort that I could be using to learn a new skill.

I cannot read before bed if I want to actually follow what the author is saying; at the end of the day I am usually far to tired to follow a story, so I normally do my reading first thing in the morning with a coffee. It is kind of like a warm-up for the rest of the day.

At the moment, other than 1984, I am not sure I could recommend any work of fiction over a non-fiction title.

If you had one book to recommend to convert someone like me to the world of fiction what would it be?

I read a lot as is required by my studies and I have to admit that from what I have read so far, the technical, dry, plotless manuscripts that make up scientific literature rate higher than the works of fiction I have read over the last few years.

Maybe I am just wired differently?

Published by Louis

Spend less than you earn, Invest the surplus, avoid debt. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

79 thoughts on “Fiction vs Non Fiction – 83

  1. I like both but if they do not hold my interest after a few pages, I stop reading that book. I think we should read what we like. If reading some book becomes a burden, why continue?
    Thanks for writing about planetbook site.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Omg! I love your honesty, as always. That line about James Joyce and David Foster-Wallace!! So good. Though I kind of love them both… in tiny tiny doses (online quotes and wikipedia bio’s mostly, haha). I agree about 1984 though it was one of the scariest book’s I ever forced myself to read.
    I feel the same about fiction as well, however, off the top of my head (and maybe because I recently saw it in my bookshelf, and remembered how much it affected me in it’s beauty… Michael Odaatje’s “In The Skin of a Lion” might be the one I’d recommend (same author as “The English Patient.” Even if you only read the opening pages… it’s enough.


  3. While I enjoy a good non-fiction book for knowledge and reference, I definitely lean towards fiction for relaxed reading. If your looking for a book to really open your eyes toward fiction then I think it is a mistake to reference the classics. Nothing against them, but they are not exactly relaxed easy reading. I suggest looking for a mainstream series, one of those blockbusters that took the nation by storm. The newer the better! Page turners like Dan Brown’s Angel’s and Demons or the Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin., The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as well…


  4. I know this is an older post, but as a reader and writer of scifi/fantasy, wanted to respond. People simply like different things. Our brains and beings are unique and so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If you respond to non-fiction, that’s what you should read. Personally, it’s just always been the way I am, and what I’m interested in. I’d posit that non-fiction and fiction audiences are primarily interested in different things–concrete things or non-concrete things. Of course there some genres where they blend. I’m interested in a well-build world, good characters, and examining ideas and relationships. I am interested in psychology and how people work, and fiction is the prime place where that is explored. It’s about what can happen if you put particular people in a particular world with a particular set of rules. What is it like living with magic? Or in space? What makes us “human”? How far can I push this character? I’m just not usually extremely interested in doing it in a fully realistic setting.


  5. Full disclosure: I’m a librarian and big lover of fiction but here are my thoughts.
    The classics are great but they can be really hard going because, by and large, language and society has moved on such a lot since they were written. I want to shake Tess of the D’Urbervilles and tell her to sort it out but she is not of the #MeToo generation. And Dickens – you could use most of his books for house bricks they’re so long – try some brevity, Charles!
    If you’re reading a lot of academic texts for your Phd, you probably don’t want to be reading fiction that is heavy going. I’d suggest a good thriller – John Grisham, Lee Child, Stephen King – these guys are experts in writing thoroughly absorbing books that are not too challenging to read and won’t mind if you fall asleep half way through a chapter (if you can!). Or how about some children’s fiction – J K Rowling, Phillip Pullman, Suzanne Collins are just a few examples of children/YA authors widely read by adults and with plenty of interest and imagination going on.
    How about some historical fiction – fictionalised accounts of true events? Alison Weir is part way through a series of novels about the 6 wives of Henry VIII which have all been excellent. Hilary Mantell’s Wolf Hall series about Thomas Cromwell is amongst the best books I’ve ever read – but they do require concentration. C J Sansom’s Shardlake series is about a fictional Tudor lawyer but set against true events of the period.
    Many people prefer to read non-fiction and there is nothing wrong with that. BUT I would argue that NF doesn’t do for you what fiction does, which is to lift your mind to the realms of imagination and fancy. Fiction can teach us things about ourselves and others without us necessarily even realising it at the time. It can change the way we view the world. And it can give us a total break from work/Brexit/Trump/[insert real-life stress inducer here]. Numerous studies have shown that people who regularly read fiction are more empathetic, have better mental health and are happier. I believe there is a fiction book for everyone, you just have to find yours.


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