BAND, the Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees (and “advocates for nonfiction as a non-chore”…how cool is that??), has recently gotten me to think about why I shy away from nonfiction. I’m quite excited to be hosting this month’s BAND discussion!
I am, primarily, a fiction reader. With fiction, I know what to expect. Events and characters may resemble truth; themes may reflect and apply to reality. But overall, I know that what I am reading is not meant to be fact. It is a work of art — perhaps with a message, or perhaps not — but not something whose validity I feel called to determine.
I like learning new things, so what’s the problem with nonfiction? I believe the answer lies, at least partially, in the question of truth. When faced with a “true” book, I struggle to decide how much to believe and how to figure out whether a particular work of nonfiction can be trusted — basically, how to know how true that book is. Which brings me to the question I’d like to ask this month:
How you determine truth in nonfiction? Is the “true-ness” of a book important to you? If you’re a nonfiction veteran, do you have any pointers to offer nonfiction newbies?
This might sound silly, but I can be a very gullible person. When I read nonfiction, I tend to believe whatever the book says. But I know that every author has an agenda, even the ones who try to follow the facts closely. They all have reasons for exploring the topics they choose, and even the ones trying to be objective will have their own particular slant. I suppose it unsettles me, reading something purportedly true and not knowing how to tell whether it actually is. Agendas in fiction don’t bother me because, well, I know what I’m reading is fiction. I don’t feel like my knowledge of the world is being swayed just because a novelist is up on his or her soapbox.
The one kind of nonfiction I read more frequently is memoir, which, I know, can have varying levels of “truthiness.” As I considered why I gravitate toward memoirs, I realized something: I like them because they’re closest to fiction. I don’t read memoirs expecting everything in them to be true, but rather like novels that may have actually happened. To me they are a way to experience another person’s impressions, worldview, and memories, not a source of universal truth or knowledge.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, whether you have answers or questions of your own. Other participants’ posts: