When my mother took me to the library as a child she always insisted I take out one non-fiction book along with the novels I readily devoured. An obedient child, I did as instructed, but I wasn’t happy about it. Although I can remember one notable title (although I imagine I was quite young when I read The Air Is All Around Us), I’m not sure much was achieved. Even though I loved a series of biographies of the childhoods of the famous (which felt like cheating, as these were stories), very few of the facts have stuck. A half century on, my preference for fiction over non-fiction has not budged.
I wouldn’t be surprised that, at an unconscious level, I’m still trying to please my mother, or rebelling by reading so few. But I’m also a bit embarrassed (especially in contrast to that fine educator, Norah Colvin) at my lack of commitment to learning something new. It’s not that I’m uninterested – I read the blurbs and reviews thinking Tell me more! – but the books, when I receive them, often contain more information than I want to consume. Like my response to The Good Soldier, I think this is less a reflection on the quality of the book than on me.
Does it matter that I’m not partial to non-fiction? I was interested to read an editorial in the Guardian recently arguing that the gap between fiction and non-fiction isn’t as wide as contemporary readers and publishers seem to assume. However, rather than giving me permission to immerse myself in novels, the article argues against the relative neglect of non-fiction.
Of course, life’s too short to fret about my biases, but I’d love to know what you think. Meanwhile, you can peruse my reviews over the past month by clicking on the image of fourteen novels and no non-fiction with an interesting but (at least to me) uninterpretable blue-grey and sandstone complexion.
As for next month, although I do have one non-fiction book on my TBR shelf, I’m a little nervous about the nine novels due out in September. Although I love receiving books in advance of publication and try to post my review, so long as it’s not too negative, close to where it comes out, I might have overcommitted myself this time. Better close down the computer and start reading!