Fiction or Nonfiction: Which is Better for You?
Vacation time (for me) means selecting which books to read while I’m waiting because there’s a lot of waiting during vacations. There’s waiting in the airport, waiting on the airplane (in between naps), and there’s waiting in the hotels, tourist traps and traffic jams. For as long as I can remember (including childhood), I’ve packed two books for these waits, one fiction and one nonfiction. I’ve always known that one part of my brain likes fiction, and when I get tired I can use another part of my brain for nonfiction while the fiction side of my brain rests.
All my life I’ve either had an innate understanding of my brain, or I’ve had a really short attention span.
An article in The Atlantic examines the differences between fiction and nonfiction, but I have to warn you; it’s kind of boring. The article is not something to read in the airport (unless you want to fall asleep on the airplane). At least it’s boring to me, but I have a short attention span. I don’t think these kinds of articles were written for people who have a short attention span. Despite having a short attention span, I understood the point of the article (even if I thought it was boring).
According to the article, fiction is spiritual reading, and nonfiction is carnal reading. Talk about loaded words. Fiction is considered spiritual, and I get that. It’s not the word I’d choose, but I understand what they mean. When you read fiction, you put yourself into another person’s mind. You have empathy for people that aren’t you (and people that probably don’t exist). You think about their problems and how you would handle their situations. You put yourself in another place and time, and if you’re lucky, you see the pictures in your head and can tune out everything around you.
And if you’re really lucky, nobody sneaks up behind you and conks you on the head while you’re reading (and tuned out). I have a thing about being conked on the head while I’m reading. That’s more likely to happen if I’m reading fiction.
I was surprised that nonfiction would get the term carnal applied to it. When I think of carnal, I think of Fifty Shades of Grey (not that I’ve read it). When I think of carnal, I don’t think of Wheat Belly, Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight , and Find your Path back to Health (15 word title, which isn’t that long for nonfiction).
Supposedly, (according to the article) people who read fiction are more empathetic than people who read more nonfiction (or don’t read fiction at all). I haven’t seen the studies. I don’t always trust these kinds of studies (especially if they’re funded by somebody with an agenda, which is almost everybody, but I don’t know who has an agenda for fiction over nonfiction other than fiction writers). Being able to get into the minds of various characters helps fiction readers see and understand the points of view of others. Readers might not get by just reading nonfiction.
All I know is that if somebody interrupts me while I’m reading fiction, I’m NOT very empathetic because they’ve disrupted my concentration when I’m in somebody else’s entertaining world. That ticks me off. If they interrupt me while I’m reading nonfiction, I usually don’t care because I’m just reading information. If I’m reading fiction and watching football at the same time, do… not… disturb!
Since I have a short attention span, carnal and spiritual don’t seem to be the best words to use to describe the categories of literature. To a guy like me, nonfiction might be practical reading, and fiction would be fun. Again, neither term is completely accurate. Both terms have positive connotations. I’ve replaced two loaded words (carnal and spiritual) with two other loaded words, but at least my two loaded words are loaded in the same direction, and I know what the two loaded words mean.
Switching from fiction to nonfiction is easy today with so many electronic devices for reading. For example, my phone can store as many fiction and nonfiction selections as I want (keeping me both spiritual and carnal). And with longer airport lines this summer, I don’t think I could carry enough books to keep me occupied. Now all I need is my phone and a small dose of a certain (legal) drug, and I’m ready to travel and stay entertained at the same time.
Just don’t interrupt me while I’m reading fiction because I might not be empathetic.
So what do you think? Does reading fiction make you more empathetic? Are these studies bogus, or do they have merit? Is carnal the right word to describe nonfiction? Which do you prefer: fiction or nonfiction? Should I let my subscription to The Atlantic lapse? If so, what should I replace it with?
That’s probably too many questions, but this is what happens when you’re a guy with a short attention span.