Understanding People Who Don’t Read Fiction: the good, the bad and the somewhat unclear

found this too in one of my old blogger drafts

Note: Migrating from Blogger to WordPress [so late] has been a lot of fun, because I keep unearthing old write-ups from my 500+ Blogger drafts! So this is an old post from 2015, which was written with an incorrigible intention of making fun of everyone; starting with myself. My reading habits have changed considerably in the last five years, but my befuddlement at intellectual elitism and the “fiction / non-fiction is not useful” tirade endures, and that’s what this post was about. Here I go:

Ever since I started Tabula Rasa, I have met, virtually of course, many fiction fanatics. In real life, however, I only know so many. My real world is filled with those who promote conscious reading of non-fiction and newspapers and real world knowledge-expanding truths. People have often scoffed at and expressed utter puzzlement over my love for stories. Biographies, some can understand, but fantasy – hell no! “What is the use of reading things that are not true?” I have been asked and sometimes, generously shown articles that answer the very question. Forced into interaction with this breed of people for over twenty years now, here are some things I have discovered about them:

The Good:

1. They are extremely well informed. Because they dedicate their reading time solely to non-fiction and factual information, they regularly fill their minds with important dollops of knowledge. Because they don’t let themselves get distracted by that which is not true and never existed, they build a good memory and possess a high recollection power.
2. They are very grounded. Unlike fiction readers, they don’t indulge in escapism and can firmly face reality, having practised it throughout their lives, on a daily basis!
3. They are time-management experts. They value time and resist the urge, if ever they have one, to escape from the real world. This is rather obvious, seeing as reading which we fiction-readers view as a hobby is actually a method of learning for them. They simply cannot help but direct all their time to a useful end.
4. They are logical thinkers. They tend not to get carried away by emotions, and when push comes to shove, are able to focus on the critical necessities of a situation than be affected by extraneous, for lack of a better term, fluff. (I have yet to figure out just how this relates to reading non-fiction, but have generally observed it to be true.)

The Bad:

1. They are uncreative. Since they only ever read non-fiction, they don’t get as much of a chance to exercise their imagination, and inevitably lead dull uninspired lives.
2. They cannot come to terms with their own emotions. Since they miss out on the cathartic relief offered to us fiction-readers, they spend their lives unable to grapple with their complex feelings. They do prefer raw facts to temperamental silliness, anyway, however, the lack of emotional self-awareness must cause problems.
3. They lack empathy. Unable to comprehend even their own feelings, they lack the compassion necessary to understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. They find it difficult to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and obstinately stick to their world-view. This may lead to inexplicable loneliness – not caring about feelings doesn’t make one immune to them, after all.
4. They make enemies. Cold, logical thinkers who cannot empathise with others, their argumentative nature often gets them into trouble. They do get along mightily with other non-fiction readers, engaging in debates and healthy competitive discussions on general know-how. But a part of me wonders if they ever make any real friends.

The Unclear:

There are other random observations I have made about people who don’t read fiction. If you, unlike me, are a non-fiction reader (in which case, welcome to my blog, hope you find something of use here,) please be so kind as to clear my doubts.

1. Language: Are readers of non-fiction less likely to sound pseudo-intellectual and do they have more of a business-like vocabulary which helps their expression stay precise and on point? Or am I being baseless and arbitrarily judgemental in this specific instance? Surely not all fiction has extravagant flowery writing! Although to be honest, the vast majority does…
2. Enjoyment: They must watch TV and film for only the aesthetic quality, because insofar as I know, stories don’t give them pleasure. Speaking of which, is it all right in their world of non-fiction for them to enjoy themselves for the sake of it? Or do all non-fiction readers naturally want to indulge in only those actions that have a purpose…? Wait, this vaguely reminds me of something I read in this book called The Metaphysics of Morals (or something like that, curse my bad memory.) Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what it was. See, I quit reading after the second page when I realized it had no plot…

Disclaimer: Just in case my introduction and tone don’t make it clear that I’m kidding, leaving a disclaimer here to remind you, that I am, in fact, just as incensed as anyone else by such sweeping judgements about fiction and non-fiction readers. I was kidding here. If it wasn’t funny, well, you’re welcome to not laugh.

6 thoughts on “Understanding People Who Don’t Read Fiction: the good, the bad and the somewhat unclear”

  1. I know non-fiction readers who don’t understand my love of fiction. I do enjoy some non-fiction but not much, not much at all. This is one of those areas where “agree to disagree” actually makes some sense 😉


  2. What a delightful blog, Priya! Thank you for your bookish opinion. I am leaving this comment with the hope that none of my colleagues would stumble upon this blog, and my comment. 🙂 So, here is a tiny rant: I am now currently leading the book club at work. Every month, before I send the meeting invite, I ask myself why I bother to do it at all. Because majority of the participants are non-fiction readers. They are all usually thrilled to talk books on managing money, time, productivity, and most of them are excited about reading ‘Homo Sapiens’. And then quietly, with almost no confidence, at the very end of the session when everybody is restless to leave, I would appeal to the goodness in some patient listeners, and gush about the novels I read. Once, I almost froze on the call, when somebody discussed a book on C++. But, their language is definitely business-like, clinical but incredibly specific. And they seem much better at articulating their opinions on the tepid, soul-sucking non-fiction they read, while I give them a potpourri of my feelings about the fiction I read. Oh, the irony! That’s when I also realised that I love writing about the books I read instead of talking about them. Unknowingly, I also looked down upon them. I once asked a non-fiction reader, “Why do you read a 400-page book on digital minimalism when you can just read a long-form on it?” The debate went on for hours, but I am still not convinced. So, I am forever Team Fiction.

    Also, it feels wonderful to see your dear Tabularasa blog on WordPress. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this! Thanks for sharing. I routinely ‘zone out’ when the topic turns to the latest business or pop economics book in my book club; I just can’t help it. But I do find myself reading more history, biographies and social reform books of late, so maybe “non fiction” itself is quite a broad classification. Of course, on a serious note, I do see the thrill of reading anything, really. I just get annoyed by the self-important conversations about what is and isn’t useful.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Blimey, I am a nonfiction reader who converted later in life. I was wildly emotional and creative as a kid and my education was all arts (including an honours degree in Theatre). I went pretty much exclusively non-fiction after returning to school to complete a science degree in my early thirties. I got hooked. It’s a bit much to say non-fiction readers are not compassionate. It made me way more empathic. There’s a lot to be said for reading accounts of real lives lived and drawing insights from them. I would say that fiction dulls the ability to imagine creatively because you are only encountering managed and manipulated narratives. They are structured, they lack the raw unpredictability of real life. They are safe. The world we live in is so much stranger and more complex and more wildly beautiful – and horrifying sometimes – than I’d encountered through fiction. The experiences of people living in complex urban cities 3,000 years ago are incredibly compelling. The way people actually lived through real cataclysm or just day to day norms at any age. The courage, hubris, mysticism, eclecticism and pragmatism of people and circumstances beyond anything ‘imagined’. The astonishing coincidences and accidents of ‘progress’: evolution and revolution – the reasons we each are where we are now, the paths we took to get here, the choice we make now are all writ large in non-fiction. The whole, heaving outrageousess of humanity and the mind-bending insignificance of that endeavour within the universe in which we randomly find ourselves. Just astonishing stuff.

    In a nutshell – there’s more to non-fiction than technical manuals on C++. Try something – pull a thread and see where you end up.


    1. Hi, I was so sure that my exaggerated tone would give it away that I was kidding. I did begin with a little note that said – “my befuddlement at intellectual elitism and the “fiction / non-fiction is not useful” tirade endures, and that’s what this post was about.” But apparently it was lost in translation. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Since my thoughts on the matter clearly weren’t obvious, I have added a disclaimer just to be sure. I was kidding. This post is a patchwork of comments I’ve heard and don’t agree with. Have a good day!


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