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Image from Pexels

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!

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the author

Alicia Lalicon is a junior at The College of New Jersey, pursuing a Psychology major with a Women’s and Gender Studies minor. When she’s not reading about mental health and feminist ideas, she proudly enjoys dancing across bamboo sticks as the secretary of Barkada (TCNJ’s Filipino club). Her life philosophy is to always strive for improvement: physically, mentally, and intellectually. Her life motto is “You don’t owe anyone any emotions or reactions.” You can find her being seemingly cold-hearted on Twitter, reblogging black clothes and food on Tumblr, and reading intently behind a book or laptop screen.

6 Readers Commented

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  1. Amanda Huebner on March 16, 2014

    Thanks, Alicia. I don’t think I ever realized how great nonfiction could be until this year. It’s a whole new world of writing where new tools can be unleashed that you just can’t use in fiction. I just read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and it was simply beautiful. There is so much to learn from fiction – I love that. It also introduces people to a new writing niche that students (including myself) might like to explore more than fiction.

  2. Pingback: Non-Fiction Friday | Doing Dewey 21 Mar, 2014

    […] At the other end of the spectrum, here’s a great article singing the praises of non-fiction […]

  3. Diana Pham on April 5, 2014

    1 disadvantage…Ever since I got into reading, (when I say got into reading, I mean it became an all consuming activity. I woke up early to read before school, stayed up late, ditched classes and hid in the bathroom to finish just one more chapter) my eyesight was compromised. Though that’s mostly my fault for never taking any breaks…

  4. Pingback: Bookish Thought: Benefits of Reading Beyond Literary Fiction part 2 – Sorry, I'm Booked 5 May, 2016

    […] I only found one article that really touches on what reading non-fiction does for the reader: The Prospect’s article Why You Should Read Non-Fiction Books. […]

  5. Scott on December 14, 2016

    I had never thought about one of the benefits of reading nonfiction is that you are able to contribute to the conversation when that topic comes up. I can see why this would be a good reason to starting reading these kinds of books. My mom loves to read fiction books. I’ll have to ask her if she has ever considered reading non fiction.

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