Everyone should read! I cannot think of a legitimate disadvantage to reading. (If anyone can, please notify me.) I feel I’ve always had a bond with books. They’ve served me well with their benefits, both emotional and health-wise. I cry and laugh with fictional characters and I half-ashamedly admit to having crushes on one or two. (I’m looking at you, Augustus Waters.) But in the past year, I’ve been weaning myself off fiction and pushing myself towards reading non-fiction.
Don’t get me wrong; fiction is wonderful. It allows us to experience more worlds (and words!) than we could ever experience otherwise. But non-fiction can do the same thing. Nonfiction has exposed me to a wide (but not all-encompassing) range of topics applicable to ‘real’ life:
- Satanism (The Psychology of Adolescent Satanism)
- Life of drug dealers (In Search of Respect)
- Youth culture and capitalism (The Pirate’s Dilemma)
- Youth racial relations (Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?)
- Parenting as a minority (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother)
- Logistics of cell ownership (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)
- Dynamics of bullying in middle school students (Sticks and Stones)
- Role of social media in the 2010 Egyptian uprisings (Revolution 2.0)
Meanwhile, if I had stayed in my comfort zone of fiction, I’d be learning for the umpteenth time to value people as human beings and not as superhuman emotional saviors. And while that is timeless and indispensable knowledge (especially for all of us in the ‘finding ourselves’ stage of life), it’s not enough. In my everyday conversations, I’ve never started off with, “Have you evaluated the consequences of putting your emotional health in others’ hands?” It just doesn’t jive as well as, “Have you ever really thought about why we all [my Asian friend group] sit together?” The former is some heavy, deep-thinking material. The latter is more discussion-based interactive material. Non-fiction gives me practical, daily life-applicable knowledge that I can use to interact with others; fiction works less so since not everyone reads the same books, nor interprets them in the same way as others might.
Nonfiction is somewhat less about interpretation. I’d like to assume that nonfiction books that make it through editors, publishing, and bookstores and into a reader’s hands are qualified to be read; their contents are legit. Wael Ghonim did create the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page (Revolution 2.0) and Deborah Lacks did fight over the rights of her mother’s cells (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). There’s no realistic dispute over those facts. Even books where authors write about their opinions can’t be disputed: Amy Chua believes her Chinese parenting is superior to Western parenting (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother). Readers can disagree with that, but there’s no confusion as to what she’s believes.
Meanwhile with fiction, I’m compelled to read into the symbols and themes of the story. I’m missing out when I don’t realize the crucial meaning of water in The Fault in Our Stars. I might be wasting my time trying to solve the clues Anastasia left behind in As Simple As Snow. Without immersing myself deep into the story, characters, and writing style, I’m not getting everything out of the book as I could be. Whereas with nonfiction, if I consciously read the words on the page, I’m getting the information I’m interested in, without the emotional involvement. (I’m talking about you, The Fault in Our Stars.)
All this reading makes me feel good about myself, put simply. I learn and can use what I learn to interact with others, and being able to contribute something to a conversation when someone brings up a topic you’ve read about is a proud feeling. I feel especially proud when it’s a topic I would have previously thought I’d never need to know about, like Satanism or drug dealing. (Friends’ impressed reactions to my knowing of such things is also an ego-booster!)
So maybe give the nonfiction sections of bookstores and libraries a browse, and don’t completely knock down that book for that anthropology course you only took for a requirement. The worst that could happen? You don’t enjoy a book, but it sure wasn’t a waste of time if you learned something from it. The best? You spent time enjoying a book that taught you new things. Also, check out the books I listed throughout the article; I wouldn’t have mentioned them if I didn’t learn anything from them or didn’t absolutely love reading them!