More often than not, readers I meet in person look down on my reading choices.
I started reading books when I was in 6th grade and still did not have friends to hang out with. My darling mum was a reader when she was young and knew what solace books have to offer. Hence, when a private library opened nearby, she got me enrolled as soon as she could.
While mum had introduced me to comic books before that, with Chacha Chaudhary and Pinki being my favourites, I had yet to get into books with only text. But that didn’t matter when I stepped into the library for the first time and saw so many stories just waiting for me.
That’s where my real love for reading began and it has not wavered since.
Books have always been my safe space. No matter what is going on in my life, or how bad my day has been, the world in books were always there.
I reached for books either to go into another world, be a part of a success story, or to get hope that everything will be alright in the end. Happy endings are my favourite because they give me hope to get back up and move on.
Fiction books were what gave, and still give, me all of that. Even though I understand the importance of reading non-fiction, fiction will always be my first choice.
Which is why I don’t understand the snobbery against fiction.
More often than not, readers I meet in real life question my status as a reader. It’s not an outright question but an unspoken invalidation with looks and voice tone.
The conversations begin on a good note. They ask my hobbies and I respond saying that I like to read. They exclaim that they like to read as well and the follow up question is: “what do you like to read?” to which I truthfully say, “I read fiction”.
I’ve received several different responses to that. But most of them have been casual snobbery. From “oh, and what about non-fiction?” to “you should try non-fiction sometimes”. A couple readers accept it only to later slip non-fiction book recommendations in the conversation.
The reasoning for it always seems well-meaning. I’ve been told that non-fiction would help me get over my introverted nature, that it would help me succeed in life, and that it’s important to live in the present.
Non-fiction books have been recommended to me in bookstores by strangers, in passing by mutual friends, and as advice from people older to me. And every single time I find myself defending my reading choices.
It went up to the point that I became even more closed off to meeting new people. I was already an introvert and these experiences did not help me open up to new connections. Every time I met someone, especially if they were older to me, I would be wary about mentioning that reading is my hobby.
All this snobbery only made me averse to the genre. If non-fiction is truly the better genre and helps people grow, why are these people such snobs? The same people who told me to read books on growth were the ones to quickly judge and pass comments about everything.
At this point in time, I’ve read multiple non-fiction books and have liked quite a few of them. And I understand why they’re important and how they’re helpful.
Positives of the non-fiction genre:
- It helps us understand the ways of our world.
From history books to general knowledge, there is so much knowledge to be found in non-fiction books.
Some non-fiction books are chock full of information because authors do all the research and put it together. They accumulate history, articles, research papers, and more in a few hundred pages. They also put reality forward in a straight-forward manner which will not let you look away.
- You can learn and directly apply.
There are books to improve on personal skills and grow. For example, books like 101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think promise that you will learn something which will change you.
Books on growth are not meant to be read quickly. We may have to read them multiple times to fully learn what the book is trying to say. And it will definitely take time for us to change our behaviour or habits in order to grow.
But there are really good books that give plans or exercises in order to make the process easier for us.
- It helps us connect with our idols or people with something to teach.
Memoirs are great ways to connect to people around the world, whom we may or may not meet. From Abdul Kalam’s Wings of Fire to Michelle Obama’s Becoming, memoirs are probably the popular sub-genre in non-fiction. They allow us to truly understand the people we look up to and learn from them indirectly.
But this sub-genre is also a great way to learn about experiences completely removed from us. For example, Tara Westover’s Educated gave me insight into lives which I would never have bothered to learn about otherwise because it is not happening around me.
The whole point of non-fiction is that it’s meant to reflect reality. It keeps us grounded and teaches us about our world. It also expands our knowledge about this chaotic and messy world we live in.
In a way, the non-fiction vs fiction debate also comes down to realists vs dreamers. Although not as prominent, there is similar snobbery that realists have towards dreamers. It simply becomes more intense through books because it’s an indirect way of being opinionated which can be excused and reasoned away.
But we cannot say that fiction does not have positives.
Why fiction is just as important:
- Fiction ALSO teaches many things.
It should not be invalidated just because the characters are not real. The themes are VERY real. There are books set in current times, talking about issues that are prevalent today, and THEY ARE VALID.
There are books set in history and while the characters may not be renditions of real people, the themes and the history is still VALID and IMPORTANT.
I find it surprising how non-fiction books are praised because they deal with real things but the same energy is not given to fiction even though both talk about the same themes and with the same motives.
Why are non-fiction books about racism praised more than fictional books about racism? Why are non-fiction books about World War 2 considered more important than fictional books set in World War 2?
Books that have the backdrop of the same themes and showcase similar experiences are treated very differently. Is it because you cannot ignore non-fiction since it has actually happened and you can invalidate the same if it is shown as fiction?
The fiction genre has books with varying degrees of reality. If realism is the main reason why you think non-fiction is superior, you clearly have not truly read fiction. If you did, you would learn so much from fiction and carry it with you in real life.
- Fiction helps us cope with our lives.
I’m sorry for the hard flex but how many people say that non-fiction gave them solace? That non-fiction helped them feel better in a short time? That it helped them deal with their bad days when everything was out of control?
Fiction has helped me LIVE and that’s a win for me. It may not help me hit success lists. It may not help me get out of my shell and socialize more. And it may not increase my skill set. But it helped me get up when I really did not want to. It gave me hope to move on.
And I know that I’m not alone in this. Most, if not all, readers that I’ve spoken to say that books helped them in some way or another.
The general population is so focused on the rat race that we forget to live for ourselves. Everything is a competition and we concentrate on getting ahead, fast. But what happens when something goes wrong? When you just need some warmth and happiness, and unfortunately people close to you aren’t available? What happens when you need to rest your mind for a bit? You turn to fiction.
There’s a reason why the publishing industry is made up of fiction more than non-fiction. There’s a reason why fiction SELLS so much. It’s because, whether you like it or not, fiction is important and needed by people all around the world.
- It is easier for younger readers.
Not only do fiction books teach and have knowledge in them, they’re presented in a way which is easier to read. It has adventure, intrigue, complexities, and it has an ending. It is so hard to write fiction (I cannot even imagine writing myself) because while it is “not real” and “easier to make up”, it still has to have substance and has to be appealing.
The reason I titled this point as “for younger readers” is because it is hard for younger readers to pick up non-fiction and understand all the themes it puts forth. Non-fiction tends to talk about things directly with on-page complexity. Non-fiction also goes into details which can be hard to get interested in and keep up with.
I find it hard to read non-fiction even today and I would not have been able to read them during middle school unless I was very interested in the topic. But fiction is not like that.
Fiction books can introduce topics lightly while also keeping the book interesting. Younger readers are hooked on to the story but they also learn about the subtler themes present in the book.
For example, take the popular Percy Jackson series. The series introduced me to Greek mythology and actually has a LOT of facts. If I was given a non-fiction book on the same, I would have given up really quick. But because it was fiction with a very interesting story and compelling characters, it also got me hooked onto Greek myths. Yes, I highly enjoyed the books but I also LEARNT so many things.
These introductions should not be taken lightly. They have the potential to shape a young person and teach complicated themes earlier on.
No matter how much we learn after we become adults, it will not have the same impact as us learning something as kids. It will not have the same intensity. Kids pick up things faster with more curiosity than most adults do. Fiction gives them a way to learn and be more curious while also not overwhelming them with information.
Non-fiction books are great teachers. Textbooks have a lot to teach as well. But I personally think that fiction deserves more recognition as a teaching tool.
Do textbooks shape us or show us how to empathize with others? Does curriculum have as much of an impact on us as the fictional books we read as kids? I can firmly say no.
And that is why fiction is very important.
Everything that I mentioned above really begs one question: how is the non-fiction genre so “superior” that people become snobs towards fiction?
Now that I’m sure of my reading choices, I wonder about the people who looked down on my favourite books. Do they think I would be better off reading non-fiction because it would end my naivety? Do they pity me because I don’t stick to reality? Am I considered a “dreamer” who won’t succeed if I read only fiction?
I also judge the people I come across now, if they mention how “they only read non-fiction” with an air of superiority. You might be intelligent but how good is your emotional quotient? Have you learnt everything about empathy from books that directly say how you should think and behave? What made you think that you’re superior just because you read only/mostly non-fiction? And why can’t you take fictional books “seriously”?
If I’m being judged because of my reading choices, I’m going to judge back.
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