I read a lot of nonfiction, from relatively disparate sources. Books and blogs. I read about Hollywood news, of course. But I also regularly read about intersectional feminism, tech startups, venture capitalism, healthcare, probability and consumers’ rights, among other topics. I try to read a bit of everything. Why? To a writer, and to a person who wants to know the world, everything is relevant.
Knowledge is addictive. Knowing more about the world, when you have a thirst for it, is a powerful thing, It helps you contextualise every part of your world. Learning about world war one contextualised my understanding of how the world worked, for example. It influenced my knowledge of politics, culture, human nature. Learning about the differences between rural and urban living clarified a lot of misconceptions I had about certain political systems. Good nonfiction yells you about what it’s talking about, and a dozen things it isnt.
When I was young, my grandmother often took issue with my bookshelf; that is, she noticed I read fiction exclusively, and wondered how I’d ever learn about the world. While the idea that ‘fiction /= informative’ is a failure of logic (as I learned through my occasional love of historical fiction), she was right. In my pre-university years, during mandatory education, I grew frustrated by classes where knowledge was what you memorised for tests, not what you learned. I almost gleefully forgot everything I was taught between years. As I grew out of brathood, though, I began to realise how interesting and powerful learning could be when directed either by someone with a passion for the subject, or by myself. I started picking up books that were exclusively nonfiction and digging into them, fascinated by the world around me.
I started with that catnip for young men: swords. I intended only to engage my boyish love of sword-wielders, but ended up learning about history and sport in the process. I read a book about Chinese history on a whim, and through the powerful writing learned much about political systems I’d only vaguely understood before. This was the beginning. Soon enough I was exploring the world through studies of human psychology (like Malcolm Gladwell‘s Blink and Daniel Gilbert‘s Stumbling on Happiness), and being engrossed in the fascinating world of neurological disorders in Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. I slowly transitioned from being a voracious fiction reader to a voracious nonfiction reader. And now, the hesitation I once had in digging into a nonfiction book is more likely to be applied to a new book of fiction. I have some theories about why this transition happened (partly, due to television and graphic novels’ greater ability than novels to give me pure entertainment for its own sake), but the important thing is that it did.
Since I’ve graduated from high school, the amateur knowledge seeker has gained many more tools. The most prominent of these, I feel, is blogs. Once a fad for teenagers to tell the world about how much they hated their boring lives, they are now a legitimised outlet for many prominent people in very different fields, used to connect and educate the general Internet public. They are a two-way street: observers get knowledge and first-hand experiences from a given industry, and the blogger gets greater exposure and networking opportunities from their blog audience. When I know I’m going to be in a WiFi-friendly zone, I am more likely to ditch my book and use my Google reader to catch up on blog articles from a smattering of authors and topics.
And everything can be relevant, even if it doesn’t seem to be at first. For example: why would I find Both Sides of the Table to be relevant to my life? Mark Suster is an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and I’m a would-be television writer. And yet, there’s a multitude of topics he writes on that can be applied outside of his specific field, like networking, leadership, and internet culture. All of these are, or will in the future be, relevant to me. When I’m meeting with an executive intrigued by a script of mine, I know not to steal his dinner time slot. When I’m (someday, I hope) a showrunner, I’ll know to keep an eye on the competition and see where they excel rather than writing them off. And I have a long history with the ‘real name or pseudonym’ question, so writing on that topic will always interest me.
I read nonfition because knowing more about the world around me, the systems that make it work and the people within it, will always be relevant.