I don't know if it's about getting older, or if it's about spending a million years going to college for English Literature, but lately I've really gained a soft spot for nonfiction books. Not all nonfiction books, of course, because there are subjects that I don't care to read about (baseball, politics, the history of Dakota), but I'm starting to find it ever easier to pick up a nonfiction book I'm interested rather than a fiction book that I care to read. Maybe I just want a sure thing-- The Smoke of the Gods: A Social history of Tobacco by Ken Burns? That sounds interesting, and it's likely to deliver exactly what I'm expecting. I don't have a lot of time, and I feel that even if a nonfiction book is written poorly, I'll at least some new facts to talk about if things ever get awkward at a dinner party.
(I'd like to take a moment to point out that the NYT Best-Seller list has Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide on the nonfiction list. Is that a joke? Some sort of War of the Worlds stunt? Ugh.)
Thinking about this has made me question if it's the act of reading that is prized amongst those who can, and do read, or if being a reader is more about what you read. Is is about supporting all books, or just the art of books?
Why exactly do we read? Is to to escape; to try to (Jewel lyric coming your way) "see the world from another angle"; to simply gain knowledge about the world around us; experience things we'd otherwise never experience; have our thoughts and ideals bolstered by authors we respect; satiate a deep appreciation for prose, or to simply pass the time?
Is one reason better than another?
Clearly both books are on the lighter side of reading (although The Dirt did make me cry three times...at least), but does one mean more to fill your time with than another? I mean, I didn't even make it entirely through Twilight, does that make me a jerk for being impatient and not open to new (albeit ridiculous) ways to view morality/chastity/vampires? Is having read The Dirt three (okay, four) times pathetic, or is it amazing that in this day and age I've read anything at all?
Maybe this is a dumb conversation to start. Personal taste is personal taste, but for some reason I worry that in order to be respected in the literary community I need to fill my bookshelves with more Dave Eggers, rather than books like these:
Now, did any of those books touch me the way that books like these did?
No, not really (except for, of course, the touching tale of Motley Crüe's trials and tribulations). The sensation of reading fiction versus nonfiction is different. What I'd like to suggest, however, is that both types of books are about what humans are capable of, whether they are inventing incredible stories, wrought with stunning prose, or, in the case of When Rabbit Howls, finding a psychologically stunning way to deal with a childhood of unspeakable abuse.
And isn't almost everything we do a desperate attempt to acquire even the slightest of understanding about what it means to be a human?
Courtney Davison is the Editorial Intern for Paper Darts. She loves getting mail, eating snacks and wants to be remembered as (a) part(y) animal. Feel free to stalk her.