Reading is one of the most powerful exercises to improve your personal health and wellbeing. You become smarter, speak clearer and think creatively thanks to reading. In the words of the Albus Dumbledore, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic”
But in reading, I often come across the question, what genre should you read. Which is better, Fiction or Nonfiction?
Now I wanted to get to the bottom of this question. So I asked my family, peers and professors for an answer.
Some of them sang the praises of fiction, while others swore by non fiction. Everywhere I went, I met members of either faction, who completely rejected the other, terming it as boring and a waste of time.
This was interesting. People seem so fixed on which genre is better that they were simply unwilling to glance at the other’s shelf.
So you might be wondering, what must I think?
I find it awfully hard to confine myself to this binary outlook towards reading. Instead, I challenge the premise of the question itself. Must preferring one come at the cost to another? Can we expand ourselves beyond this narrow outlook towards reading.
Now whenever I have expressed these views to my peers, people expect me to say something along the lines of, “fiction and nonfiction have a lot in common, and we must learn to appreciate this commonality”.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
I find that fiction and nonfiction are two distinct kinds of literature, each with its unique characteristics. My argument is that they complement each other. They are like two sides of the same coin, not two different currencies. A healthy dose is what is required if you want to develop into a well rounded human being. Otherwise, you will always be denying a part of yourself some much needed intellectual stimulation.
In Praise of Nonfiction
Nonfiction gives you a detailed understanding of a certain topic . It gives you a deep dive into a subject, exploring its intricacies with a scientific or journalistic lens.
Professionals from various fields condense years of research and experience into nonfiction books. This allows you to absorb the most important facts and findings from years of hardwork in just a few hours. It is the ultimate distillation of expertise.
You could read about a field that you might have never professionally dabbled in. Just think about it. A neurosurgeon could arm herself with enough knowledge of the stock market to become a competent stock broker through the brilliance of nonfiction.
Think of the potential!
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An Accolade to Fiction
When you desire emotional or creative stimulation, read fiction. A racy story can get your heart pumping or your eyes crying is bound to have a lasting impact on you.
Sharing stories is an essential part of most cultures. It is how we pass ideas forward since time immemorial. The story of Jesus is one of forgiveness, while the story of imperialism is one of greed and violence. In Harry Potter you fly on broomsticks while in The Hobbit you fight dragons.
Fiction forces you to think differently. You enter the mind of the author, and attempt to see the world through their eyes. It pushes your creativity to breaking point. You might be sitting in your house when you read, but your mind soars with the characters in some make-believe world. Before you know it the stars have come out, and yet you find it hard to put your book down. Such is the transformative power of fiction.
Many people underestimate the power of creativity. Remember, we wouldn’t have smartphones if Steve Jobs didn’t dare to imagine a new way of communication. We wouldn’t have been able to travel if the Wright brothers didn’t create the first plane. We wouldn’t have books if ancient Mesopotamian people didn’t start writing. the world would be a vastly different place if we weren’t creative.
Some of you may be wondering whether I always had this balanced outlook towards reading, and the answer is a resounding no. I confess myself guilty of prejudice. I used to be part of the Nonfiction faction, touting fiction as “children’s literature” and thus not having any value.
It was when I read the Japanese classic “How Do You Live”, (read my analysis) that I changed my outlook. I recognised that certain philosophical concepts can only be communicated through a story. In nonfiction you merely read about these ideas. In fiction, you experience them.
Finding a Balance
When I begin to feel dissatisfied with fiction, I return to Harry Potter. I remember how this book transformed the world, how it made reading popular again. Go to any corner of the globe, and you will find 11 year olds who are waiting for their letter to Hogwarts. It is a story that will go down in history as one of humanity’s most beloved pieces of literature.
Now in my reading journey, I strive to find a balance. A healthy dose of nonfiction and fiction is what will help you develop as a well rounded human being.
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