Textbooks = *yawn
I know for myself that reading hasn’t always been a picnic in school or college. There were always books that didn’t appeal to me but I had to read and study if I wanted the grades that I aimed for… I’m thinking here of titles like ‘Understanding Statistics’ or ‘Advanced Physics’ (I had a science track). Don’t misunderstand me though, I loved learning and acquiring new knowledge, and I still do. But such books were boring, the explanations difficult and dry, the layout and format horrendous, and don’t even get me started on the price tags!
In school, I had to depend ultimately on lectures and reading books that I thought were worthy enough to impart the necessary knowledge. I recall in high school tossing aside the curriculum textbooks for Advanced Physics and Economics and consulting instead the relevant chapters from ‘The Feynman Lectures on Physics’ and ‘Positive Economics’, since these books “explained” their text in a way that I could digest the information.
But studying aside, I loved reading all kinds of books in my high school and college years – Psychology, Philosophy, Cosmology, History and so on. My brain was constantly stimulated and hungry for new information, or so I’d like to think rather than admit the fact that I had no freaking idea what track I wanted to follow (I ended up doing mathematics).
Non-fiction = *scratching
Anyway, let’s fast forward to the present before this becomes a biographical post. I currently find reading non-fiction titles harder to do than reading fiction. And I ask myself why this is. I stand in front of my bookshelves lately and I find so many of my non-fiction titles with bookmarks in them, some early into the book and others as far as three-quarters into the book. When did I develop this habit of abandoning a book while in the midst of it?
The kind of non-fiction titles I like to read are hard going. At least I find them as such because I need to follow the writer’s arguments to understand what it is I’m being told or shown, and doing this over the span of an entire book is exhausting and energy draining. It requires focus and patience. Also, many books of specific disciplines assume prior knowledge in the discipline itself, and even when the book claims this isn’t so, it requires at best a basic familiarity with the terminology and general principles of the discipline (or the explanations are included in the book), all of which feels like a self-study. In other words, ‘pick up a book and unwind’ never works for me if it’s non-fiction.
I think it’s obvious by this point that I read mostly fiction. I always loved reading stories and 27 years after first grade, the love continues to grow exponentially. But I’m worried that fiction has crept into every niche of my reading time. I don’t even read the newspapers anymore (although I’d argue that’s because they depress me or make me very angry at the stupidity and cruelty of man). Instead, every moment I have where I’m not involved with text such as critiquing, editing, blogging or writing my own stories, I read fiction.
I keep telling myself it’s a phase, it’ll pass and soon I’ll enjoy completing my non-fiction books. This has been going on for over five years. The last three non-fiction books I picked up, one on philosophy, one on linguistics and one on history have ended up with bookmarks in them again, and they’re neatly back on the shelves where they belong. In the meantime, I zap through novels, short story collections or literary journals like the world is about to end before I shut my eyes to sleep. Perhaps I’m a story junkie who needs his buzz to stay high.
? = ???
Then there’s the question, of course, of why I feel the need to read non-fiction in the first place? I’ve always felt it necessary to exercise ones mind and the non-fiction titles that I’m usually interested in certainly do this. Also, the books contain more substantial and valid information than just looking up facts on the internet, but I suppose these aren’t really ‘needs’… Perhaps it ultimately boils down to my conditioning: ‘valid and useful information comes from reading the appropriate books’.
Yeah… I’m not too sure about that last statement myself. I think I’m chasing my own tail here. What do you think a creative writer should do when interested in so many things? Should one invest time reading as much non-fiction as fiction (even when it’s not immediately usable as researched material)?