This post is really not intended to be polarizing. More often I read “defenses” of fiction, as fiction can be portrayed as a waste of time or silly drivel by some people who primarily read non-fiction. Fiction can be powerful, and stories can play a wonderful role in our lives. No need to defend fiction, okay? I enjoy classic literature, and I don’t know what I’d do without the wonderful world’s of Middle Earth, Narnia, Hogwarts, and the adventures through the tesseract…
I am more concerned with imbalanced reading. Such as people who read a disproportionate amount of fiction, rarely picking up a non-fiction book whether it be a true story or on a certain topic. Or with people who primarily read trash fiction. Let’s face it, there is both high quality and low quality fiction (and non-fiction too of course!). We all need to challenge ourselves to expand our reading horizons. I read mostly non-fiction (probably about 80-90%) and need to read more fiction.
But…yes, here comes my non-fiction defense! I sometimes hear people say that non-fiction does not engage them or hold their interest. This leaves me scratching my head. What?! Of course, we are all different and don’t like the same things. I can understand the dislike of informative, educational or academic non-fiction. I admit that I’m a nerd and love to learn new things! But even with this, I’d say give these books a chance. Some may be dry, but others can be very readable, even witty, making learning relevant. Read on topics that interest you. What topic might you like to know more about?
But my defense here is more about true life stories. It is often hard for me to consider a fiction book, because fascinating true stories beckon me! The old saying “truth is stranger than fiction” proves true. Non-fiction stories…from history, about explorations, travel adventures…leave me amazed. They are page-turners, hard to put down, pulling me in from the very first page. When I want a break from more serious reading, I generally look for a non-fiction book of this type. Here are a few examples:
- In the Heart of the Sea, The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathanial Philbrick. Penguin Books, 2000. A New York Times review of this book stated “A book that gets in your bones…Philbrick has created an eerie thriller from a centuries old tale.” I agree. This book tells the true story of the whaleship Essex from the 19th century, when hunting sperm whales for their oil (used for lighting) was a trade. The ship gets attacked in the middle of the Pacific by a whale – a rare occurrence. The ship sinks and the men are left adrift and thus begins a harrowing survival tale. This true story is what inspired Hermon Melville to write Moby Dick.
- Close to Shore, The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 by Michael Capuzzo. Broadway Books, 2001. The true events of this summer is what inspired Jaws. Remember Jaws? In the summer of 1916, going to the beach for a holiday was a new pleasure enjoyed by the middle class. Yes, it wasn’t always the norm to go to the beach! Police men also patrolled the beach measuring bathing costumes to ensure they were long enough and not too much skin was exposed. (Yes, a much different time for modesty standards!) A series of shark attacks occurs that creates public fear building into near hysteria. Several attacks occurred surprisingly far up a inter-coastal creek, where one would not normally find a large shark or any other large sea creature for that matter. This gripping tale consumed me!
- Kon-tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft by Thor Heyerdahl. Heyerdahl and several companions set out on a simple log raft in 1947 and sailed over 4,000 nautical miles. They spent three months on the open sea – encountering raging storms, winds, and all kind of sea life before finally reaching an island. What was the point? Why not a more modern boat? This adventure was trying to prove that the South Pacific Islands were populated by people from South America. While this has since been disproved, it DID prove that ancient natives were indeed capable of great sea voyages using simple boats! (Many experts said this was impossible.) This book has been translated into 65 languages, so you know it is a great adventure story. I felt like I was right there on the raft with these men and enjoyed the book immensely.
Have I wet your appetite for non-fiction? Maybe just a little? I just realized that all three of these stories involve the ocean. That wasn’t by design. I guess fascinating adventure or survival tales often involve the sea! And as the nerdy type, I like how I indirectly learn when reading true stories. For example, in these books I learned new things about marine life and how to avoid a shark attack. (Don’t swim with your dog! Their paddling seems to attract sharks. And don’t swim alone – never be more than 5 to 10 feet from other groups of swimmers. Sharks are more prone to attack a lone person.)
With that – enjoy your summer beach vacation! Perhaps with a non-fiction book?