I heard it again today. “Oh, I never read fiction. I prefer non-fiction.” My molars dug into the side of my cheek so that I could hold my tongue.
People who make this remark seem to imagine reading fiction is a frivolous pastime. In my experience, men most often hold this view, but a smattering of women do, too. These finicky readers consider themselves literate, no doubt. But can they be, if they limit themselves to a single genre? Sticking to non-fiction is like someone insisting that carrots, being full of vitamins, is all a person need eat.
If life’s successes depended solely upon knowing facts and the sequence of events, the carrot eaters would rule the world. Unfortunately, we need more than facts. We need the ability to read the human psyche. We are born with a suspicious instinct for a reason, to help us survive. But, in today’s world, we need more than suspicion. We need the ability to cope with at least 50 shades of mood.
What does it matter that we can recite the dates of important battles in World War 11, if we lack enough understanding of ourselves to glean why it happened? Motives are the real movers of history and, sadly, some decision makers have little comprehension of themselves. Donald Trump makes history every day, and scholars, like lap dogs to a feast, will be analyzing his erratic behavior for decades to come. Yet, if our 45th President were to write the autobiography of his term in office, I doubt his recitation would reveal much about the inner workings of his mind. If he can lie to the nation, he can lie to himself.
To gain insight into a man who allows children to be separated from their parents and denies healthcare to the poor, we must do more than read newspaper accounts. His decisions serve as the marker of a troubled individual, but they provide no motive. To understand that, we must enter the world of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Within those pages, we uncover the blisters of a narcissistic mind. Having freed his conscience from the bonds of morality, Dorian Gray, unrepentant, explores the dark passages of his lusts, even as he poses as a moral man. Equally perverse is the ability of our 45th President to posture as the leader of a new morality. Stripping away former mores, he preens as the discoverer of new truths. But the image of this honest man is based upon lies, most of them his own.
Now, to my point. To enter the realm of literary fiction requires courage. Who can read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Note from the Underground without making the sign of the cross over one’s heart or needing a stiff drink, at least?
By contrast, non-fiction poses no threat. A fact may be relied upon never to ask the overwhelming question.