Sunday Salon – January 13, 2008

January 13, 2008

11:20 AM

I’ve been puttering around this morning – picking up the clutter, playing with the cats, making chicken stock for the soup I plan to prepare later this afternoon, baking bread. Not reading – not yet. But, I’ve been thinking about what I read and why. 

Earlier this week, on one of my many Yahoo book groups, someone posted that a friend of theirs thought reading fiction was a waste of time. This caught my attention…fiction is my overwhelming choice when it comes to reading material. When I chose non fiction, I tend toward that which ‘reads like fiction’ or memoirs, or crime stories which focus in on the people (characters, so to speak) and their motivations. I dislike dry histories or political exposes; I have to force myself to read professional journals.

I love historical fiction, or fiction in translation, or fiction which explores another culture. I fall into literature with rich, complex characters. Recently I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid (read my review). This book is being discussed at the 21st Fiction Yahoo Group. The discussion is fabulous – making me look more closely at American politics and foreign policy and our place in the world; forcing me to examine my biases and beliefs about a culture very different from my own. Certainly, this fiction is not a waste of time.

Looking back on 2007, scanning the nearly 100 books I read (85 being fiction), I find only a handful I would categorize as ‘a waste of time.’ The vast majority gave me reason to pause; to think about bigger issues; to examine my feelings about war, discrimination, interpersonal relationships, equality, religion and racism. Because a book is fictional does not mean it doesn’t contain reality or philosophy about the issues in our lives. I love connecting to fictional characters who are given permission to explore the world unencumbered by political correctness or adherence to the ‘facts’ per se. Not that fiction doesn’t contain real life events…we all know it does…but it is more about the exploration of ideas than about events. And this may be why I prefer it. I don’t want to just learn about an event and when it happened…I want to understand the individuals behind the event – their motivations, their thoughts, their moral dilemmas. Fiction feeds this need.

What do you think? Would you rather read fiction or non fiction? Have you thought about why you might prefer one over the other?

5:00 PM

Just so you all don’t think I completely blew off my reading today, I thought I’d give you a final update. I’m currently reading an early review book from Random House: Have You Found Her, by Janice Erlbaum. This is one of those memoirs that reads like fiction – a disturbing, yet compelling book about the author’s experience (obsession) with a drug addicted, homeless teenager she meets while volunteering at a shelter. The book has a sense of doom about it…I’m half way through…and I’m nervous about how it will end. As memoirs go, this one fits the “genre” – lots of horrible childhood memories and how the author overcomes them. I don’t mean to sound overly negative. It’s a good read so far.

Until next week…Happy reading fellow Saloners!

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    • Anonymous on January 13, 2008 at 15:05

    I am definitely a fiction reader and I think it is, in the main, that it allows me to consider issues set apart from the real world by the creation of a fictional world. If they are too close to reality they become clouded by my subjective point of view – how does this affect me – whereas I can remain more distanced and, if the writer is good, see more than one side of an argument.
    But, we’re not all the same, are we? One of my favourite writers is Helene Hanff, a writer of non-fiction who herself very rarely read fiction. It takes all sorts, thank goodness.

    • Anonymous on January 13, 2008 at 18:22

    I don’t see how reading anything could be considered “a waste of time.” If you enjoy that genre, then you should go forth and conquer. Reading is such a personal thing – it frustrates me to read people being so judgemental about the reading choices someone makes.
    I hope your chicken soup was yummy! =)

    • Anonymous on January 13, 2008 at 18:55

    I prefer fiction to nonfiction, but I do enjoy a non-fiction book now and then. I think what constitutes a waste of time is relative. I imagine that not everyone would think reading a mystery or romance novel would be worth one’s time, and yet I think they serve their purpose in their own right. A person gets out of his or her reading what he or she puts into it. And there are a lot of reasons why people read what they do. Whether it’s to learn something, grow on a personal level and/or be entertained, there’s no right or wrong about it.
    I was met with the same statement years ago by a woman who only read non-fiction. I don’t think what she realized was just how much truth and reality fiction does reveal to the reader.

    • Anonymous on January 13, 2008 at 21:49

    I’m another reader who prefers fiction. No pursuit in which humans are being creative and enjoying it can be considered a waste of time.

    • Anonymous on January 13, 2008 at 21:50

    Table Talk: Well said; and I agree – it takes all sorts to make the world go ’round *smiles*
    Jill: I couldn’t agree more – I hate when people judge other people’s reading likes/dislikes. It *is* very personal…as it should be.
    Wendy: *nods* There are times I just want good entertainment, and other times I’m seeking intellectual stimulation.

    • Anonymous on January 13, 2008 at 21:51

    Absolutely, Imani – I have never felt I’ve wasted my time when I’ve enjoyed a good book (fiction OR non fiction).

    • Anonymous on January 13, 2008 at 23:25

    I’ve heard some people say that before and it just baffles me. I prefer fiction definitely but I do like to throw in a non-fiction book every now and then to shake things up. It makes me wonder if they’ve just not found the right sort of fiction – maybe historicals are for them or a good mystery, etc?

    • Anonymous on January 14, 2008 at 07:16

    I like fiction, fiction, and more fiction. I think it comes from having to read so many engineering texts in college. I definitely am enriched by the stories I read. Most really do make me think about how the world and the people in it work.

    • Anonymous on January 14, 2008 at 12:30

    i’m definitely a fiction reader – i like to be entertained, like watching a movie, so my choices range from light mysteries to asian historical memoirs – i loved joy luck club, memoirs of a geisha and most recently snow flower and the secret fan. i like historical mysteries too, especially those set in england like anne perry’s william monk and thomas pitt series. as for non-fiction, i’m more of a browser in that category or will read as much as i feel i need to – though, i do tend to hoard cookbooks…..btw, thank you for stopping by my site! i love kauai too for its lush green beauty – too bad the island is so small, but that’s part of it’s charm i guess….

    • Anonymous on January 14, 2008 at 15:29

    Iliana, Michelle, and Debbie: Thanks for your comments – looks like we agree!
    Debbie: I also love cookbooks 🙂

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