by KJ Howe
The border in my own home has a lot in common with the way a bookstore is divided up. My library tends to be filled with fiction (and books on how to write) while my husband's is almost exclusively dedicated to non-fiction. Lately, I have been thinking about just why it is when either of us have the spare time to read, we will reach for something completely different, but be equally rewarded. Is there a personality type drawn to either type of reading? Do they serve different needs in our lives? Do the different things we read shape us into different people, or is it the reverse?
Now, the first thing that might pop into your minds is that my husband is more practical than I am, but a brief scan of his bookshelves proves this is not so. His collection of books includes a great deal of science and religion texts (peacefully co-existing side by side), ancient history, medieval history, African history, and books on the law of war, and the rise and development of modern mercenaries. None of this has any practical impact on our lives. In fact, one could reasonably suggest that the things he reads about (ie. the catastrophic extinction of dinosaurs via an interplanetary collision) are as far removed from our reality as a Jackie Collins novel!
The first thing that is usually said about fiction, and romance fiction in particular, is that it is escapist. Now while there is nothing at all wrong with that (escapism is a quite healthy part of our emotional lives), I'm not convinced that reading real history is any less escapist. While doing some research for a novel I am working on, I read about Cicero, the great Roman lawyer/politician who played a role in the two great civil wars that turned Rome from a republic into an empire. His life was filled with domestic turmoil, dramatic speeches, political intrigue, exotic travel, and open war. It would take a combination of what Debbie Macomber, John Grisham, David Morrell, James Michener and Tom Clancy to do a novel that would do justice to his life. The maxim that the truth is stranger than fiction never seems to hold truer than in historical non-fiction, and there is no real excuse to learn about Cicero or the relationship between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin (or Philip II) than the same voyeuristic pleasure one can get from watching an episode of Desperate Housewives.
Perhaps the theme that binds together the reader of fiction and non-fiction is the pure joy of discovery. I can see the same look on my husband's face as he flips through the latest piece by Gould on evolutionary biology as I know I display when I am nearing the crescendo of a Lee Child novel. The rush of learning something new, something that fills us with joy, excitement, and satisfaction at a quality outcome is universal in the reading experience.
Are there similar borders in your house? What do you reach for first when you have the time to read for pleasure? Are fiction and non-fiction readers different species, or are the differences between them paper thin?
Happy Easter to all those who celebrate it!