The Great Debate

Fiction vs non-fiction

Published On: May 5, 2017 10:17 AM NPT By: The Week Bureau

When it comes to picking out books for ourselves, we know exactly what we like and what we don’t. The blurring of boundaries between fiction and non-fiction may have been going on for a while now but it is very common to come across readers who still stick to one or the other option. 

So The Week brought together two avid readers to put forth their cases. Here they share the reasons why they prefer fiction or non-fiction over the other.

Vibhustuti Thapa
It’s not that I don’t read non-fiction at all. It’s just that I have enjoyed fiction a lot more. It’s the ultimate escape. Now you hear some people taking this as a ‘waste of time’. Apparently, in their opinion, if you are not learning facts or getting some tips from books then they are not worth a read. But I disagree. I value the escape that fictions tend to offer.

You can’t rely on non-fiction work to take you to a world beyond your imagination but that is a simple feat for fictions. Be it with thrillers, fantasies or even simple fairy tales, we get a chance to explore a completely different realm. I think we ought to give fiction writers their due credit as well. 

This is another aspect that I enjoy of reading fiction. I like how you can delve into the writer’s mind through his/her characters. Whether it is the work of world famous writers like J.K Rowling or Dominican writer Junot Diaz, I have met many memorable characters and it is very interesting how the writers offer insight into different personalities.

In many ways, I think fiction also helps us become more empathetic. For instance, I recently finished reading The Great Gatsby and as far as the rich, tragic protagonist from the 20th century was from my reality, I found myself really feeling and understanding his angst and pain. As a reader, you are put in this completely different position that you wouldn’t normally get to experience. And these tend to leave a lasting impression.  

Further, it’s unfair to state that fiction works can’t teach us history, culture or philosophies. Again, let’s just use The Great Gatsby as an example. Reading this book you get a dose of all that and more. Books are informative and fiction is no exception. You can dig out classics like War and Peace or contemporary works like A Thousand Splendid Suns and, along with enjoying the story, you also inevitably end up learning a lot.

I also remember feeling this way since I was a child. I read a lot of kid’s special like Anne of Green Gables. You can’t grab a child’s interest and attention with non-fiction. But with fiction, it’s a completely different case. You can teach anybody to be creative and imaginative from his/her childhood. These fiction works can also help a lot with your language and expression. Even as an adult, I really appreciate the creative ways fiction writers express themselves and use their imaginative world to articulate their thoughts.

Pratik Shrestha
To begin with, I think many people might want to broaden their definition of what non-fiction actually is. Many tend to assume that we only have self help books, biographies, or business strategy guides in the genre but really their assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Many writers or interesting individuals have documented their experiences to make some really worthy reads. Personally, I like exploring reads that address our existential issues. I’m into philosophies. And these books don’t only help me gain knowledge and broaden my horizon, but the fact that these works are based on real life events makes it more intriguing and exciting.

Yes, it may not be as wild as the fantasies spun by Harry and his wands but they always make for very worthy reads. You always hear many fiction readers talk about ‘the escape’ and automatically dismiss that non-fiction works can’t offer those. Well, I disagree. You can read books like Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. 

As he goes through his experiences, talking about his life in the forest, climbing through the mountains and traveling through various places, as a reader, you too find yourself accompanying him on that journey. It’s an escape, and this time, it’s better because the story, the anecdotes are all real. It really happened and that just elevates your reading experience. Similarly, any good travel guide or biography would help you with the escape too. It’s a matter of finding a good writer who can take you on a journey. 

It’s wrong to say non-fiction works can’t be imaginative or creative. I recommend the autobiography, The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity. The Eden Express describes Mark Vonnegut’s experience in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Vonnegut emerged to write this true book about his harrowing life experiences while still maintaining a real sense of humor. It’s brilliantly narrated and, as he takes you through his dark realities, he really triggers your imagination as well.

So basically, people ought to stop boxing non-fiction works into this rigid genre that only has inspirational but dry reads to offer. There are many varieties within the genre as well and it’s all about finding a writer who suits your style. It’s possible to find excitement and innovation in non-fiction works as well. You just have to put your biases aside and give it a try. 

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