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Why don’t I read fiction?

March 12, 2008

books.jpgLike many, in my idle time outside of work or writing/revising papers, I try and read books. If you’re reading this post, you are likely a fan of reading. I’ve always noticed a big difference between me and my fiancé … she loves reading fiction, while I almost always pick non-fiction, and typically something science-related. Yet, we are both scientists by training.

Why don’t I read fiction? It’s not that I don’t enjoy it when I do read fiction … I certainly do. My fiancé lent me some Tom Robbins and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But, when I find myself in a bookstore, I’m drawn to the science/nature section … I can’t help but flipping through the various popular science books … happens every time.

For some reason, I feel that if I’m reading I should be broadening my knowledge … or something like that.

Who else is like me? Any of you out there prefer reading fiction in your spare time? Just wondering.

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image from here

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2008 4:53 am

    I’m totally the same way. I read ~10 nonfiction books for every novel. And poetry? I haven’t read a book of poetry in fifteen years, probably. I think it may be a case of, the more you know about the world, the more fascinated you are to see how it all works. Fiction can seem bland by comparison. As evidence for this, I’ve noticed that my nonfiction momentum has increased over time. (In other words, I DID read more fiction, but a long time ago.)

  2. March 13, 2008 5:36 am

    At the moment, I’m actually on a historical fiction kick, but that isn’t to say that I don’t have a stack of volcanology and seismology books lying around that I still need to read. I’d say at the moment I read ~3 novels for every nonfiction book. I suppose I’m at the “long time ago” end of Callan’s spectrum. That will definitely change when I’ve reread all of my current fiction collection at least once and discover that the authors won’t have anything new out until the fall.

  3. March 13, 2008 6:16 am

    Historical fiction is definitely a type of fiction I enjoy … and I’ve just barely dipped my toe into science fiction. Anyone have good recommendations in the sci-fi realm?

  4. March 13, 2008 8:11 am

    I went through a long phase of reading non-fiction, but it was mostly non-science. And now it seems that I’ve gone through phases in my reading, scifi/fiction to nonfiction to…. Right now, my reading is kind of mixed as in this. For sci-fi, read anything by Orson Scott Card, who sometimes throws in alternate histories.

  5. March 13, 2008 8:42 am

    I’d go for some Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke; I’ve read the 2001/2010/etc books and enjoyed them, as well as Hammer of God and Songs of Distant Earth. Never quite got to the Rama series. They’re usually pretty short reads, but there’s some good science in there – and Hammer of God made me laugh, since it seems to have been ripped off by two well-known “death rock from space” movies that have come out recently.

  6. March 13, 2008 8:53 am

    I’ve been reading mostly nonfiction in my hobby concentration – social theory, feminism, etc. – and travel writing. I feel like I have a good enough scientific background, I guess, that I don’t feel any urge to beef it up with pop science. Er, except sometimes I wander over to the pop science because I want to learn to write it, which means I need to read…

    Mostly I read fiction for escapist purposes.

    Brian: What kind of sci-fi do you like? It’s been my staple escapist genre for a long time – Greg Egan is a good generic recommendation.

  7. March 13, 2008 9:03 am

    I’ve read some Asimov, which I enjoyed somewhat … I liked his short stories more than the longer books. So, Orson Scott Card and Greg Egan…I’ll look into those, thanks.

    I read Ray Kurzweil’s “The Singularity is Near”, which is kind of mix of technology nonfiction with futurism (which gets close to science fiction) … very interesting reading.

    Maria, my fiance is the same way … she thinks about science all day, so when she reads for leisure she likes to get away from it completely. I can understand that for sure.

  8. March 14, 2008 12:15 pm

    You might consider bothing taking the Myers-Briggs test. It can illuminate differences like this.

    Initial thoughts:

    1. You may be less theoretical in your approach to science, so are thus drawn to more analytic, fact-based research and information rather than speculative, synthetic information. Geology is definitely a very here and now science. In other words, you may be more attuned to concrete, detailed information.

    2. It depends on what your fiancee gets from the fiction, does she enjoy the plot, the character interaction (surrogate for social interaction), etc.? You may not be as interested in this type of experience.

    3. It also sounds like you may be more focused on the practicality of what you’re reading. In defense of fiction, especially science fiction, literature CAN illuminate difficult subjects (albeit with less detail) in a way that can leave a deep impression. Also, I love science fiction in its grasp of the concept of POSSIBILITY. I would recommend anything by Neal Stephenson. He continually blows my mind.

  9. March 14, 2008 3:22 pm

    Chris…

    “You may be less theoretical in your approach to science, so are thus drawn to more analytic, fact-based research and information rather than speculative, synthetic information”

    My colleagues might disagree … although all scientists are ultimately driven by objective data and what we can definitively demonstrate (or refute), I have a love for ‘arm-waving’ science as well … these are the pop science books I typically like. The ones that claim they have unlocked the universal patterns that tie everything together (e.g., complex systems, self-organized criticality, emergent phenomena, etc.). So, I guess for me, in my day-to-day science, I work with the nitty-gritty, the details, the practical … but, when I read for fun, it’s about the big picture, the connections, and a more comprehensive understanding of nature.

  10. March 18, 2008 8:13 pm

    Brian – Thermochronic, late to the discussion again… I actually have become more and more drawn to fiction lately, hell, even poetry. I am not sure why, but it started when I was CalTraining back in the day. It takes me a while to find fiction I get into, but once I am hooked there is no stopping me. Perhaps it is being married to a lit person, perhaps it is just personal preference, but I am always amazed by how well good fiction writers can express sentiments and ideas, I think the more fiction I read the better non-fiction writer I become. Although, to be fair, my lack of blogging doesn’t prove it. I suppose I also consider it food for my imagination. But, in the end, I enjoy it, hell, I even go to poetry readings!

    It is weird how the fiction/non-fiction preference for people is often different for books and movies. I like documentaries, but more often than not when it is movie time I want 007. I’ll check out the documentaries, even the sciencey ones, but they make up a small percentage of my movies. Even as much as I like reading fiction it still makes up less than half of my non-work reading, the vast majority is still non-fiction. Why the difference? Non-fiction when I read, fiction when I NetFlix? Hmmmmm…..

  11. Charles permalink
    June 25, 2011 8:56 am

    You seem to offer this as a justification for preferring non-fiction to fiction:

    “For some reason, I feel that if I’m reading I should be broadening my knowledge.”

    Well, the origins of this “feeling,” contrary to your introductory clause, do not seem especially obscure: you believe that, other things being equal, we should try to do things that will broaden our knowledge. An admirable impulse, and one that I’ll endorse.

    But might I suggest that fiction–good fiction, at any rate–offers us just as much opportunity to broaden our knowledge of the world? I’d guess you’re thinking of fiction as mere entertainment, while nonfiction doubles as entertainment and knowledge-building. But, of course, not everyone sees things that way. I, for instance, have read plenty of novels that bored me to dickens and that I was still perfectly glad to have read, for all they taught me about my world. Since I find that fiction is the only form of prose that does not require lying, I also find that it offers me more opportunity to broaden my knowledge than books whose authors pretend to trade in facts.

  12. June 28, 2011 7:28 am

    You need some good fiction- not Stephen King or James Patterson crap. You need some Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Alexandre Dumas… fiction (literature) helps you in many ways:

    1. It helps you think of the “big picture”.
    2. It reveals a lot about human psychology; writers draw material from their experiences, feelings, relationships, and from society as a whole.
    3. Treats you to a good story.
    4. Great way to escape.
    5. Great cultural outlet. You learn so much about different settings and eras.
    6. Helps you out with semantics- improves the ability to “read between the lines” in both reading and daily interaction.

    Now there are a lot of worthless fiction books and writers. But the key is finding the really good ones. Once you read a few, I guarantee you’ll see fiction in a more positive light. I read a lot of non-fiction (mainly psychology, politics and history), but try to read several novels a month. Check out “Les Miserables” by Hugo, “Don Quixote” by Dumas, and “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoevsky. These are all huge books, but well worth the read.

  13. jdizzle permalink
    March 4, 2012 2:10 pm

    I’ve come to the realization that I don’t like reading fiction either. Which is funny, because I am a huge book worm. I was also an English major…but note, I specialized in writing and only had to take 2 literature classes, in which I got B’s…All my Philosophy and Writing classes I got A’s. Why? I’m just not that interested. I have tried getting into the great works of literature, and I’m just not FEELING anything. I do like reading creative non fiction though, the writing certainly need not be stale. I’ve always been more concerned with information and knowledge as opposed to expression. I read lots of philosophy, history, politics, and current affairs. I feel like I actually came away learning something, I never felt that way reading fiction books.

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