Fiction vs Nonfiction

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Fiction vs Nonfiction

  • B.K. Marcus

    I’m listening to the Liberty.me podcast “Liberty & Culture” with Jayant Bhandari (@jayant) interviewing Marc Abela (@marcabela). Marc is saying that the popularity of Manga represents a need to escape oppressive lives. He’s saying similar things about what he considers excess consumption of pornography.

    And suddenly I’m thinking about a topic that keeps coming up in bookworm circles: fiction versus nonfiction.

    I used to read fiction almost exclusively. Now I have to make a deliberate effort to keep one novel at a time mixed in with the library of nonfiction I’m reading.

    If Marc Abela is right, should we expect the subjects of larger governments to read more fiction than the citizens of smaller governments? And within any one country, should we expect oppressed individuals to read more fiction than individuals who feel freer?

    Is there any explanation for the popularity of fiction other than the desire to escape one’s life? (Keep in mind, readers are, scientifically, the best people to fall in love with because they are both wiser and more empathetic.)

    Which do you read more, fiction or nonfiction? And why?

    I’m asking that question here, but I’ll also be asking it tonight at 8 PM ET at the Bookworm Hangout: bookworms.liberty.me.

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  • Sean Ridlon

    I like nonfiction. But I fully understand that even nonfiction suffers from bias. Just the same- is it the middle age sense I am “running out of time” and that I am now a parental individual the impetuous that makes me reach for “facts”?

    When I read fiction, I invent moral and actual historic parallels for it to make it “fit”.

    When I read nonfiction, I invent future and current scenarios where the “lesson” applies.

    I think reading must just stretch the brain in ways I don’t fully understand.

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      B.K. Marcus

      Yes, I think you’re on to something about the age of the reader. That sense of “running out of time” is part of what shifted me from fiction to nonfiction.

      Another part of my shift was the discovery of Rothbard and Mises (a tradition I found through fiction!) and then the interest they gave me in learning history. I think becoming “Austrian” for me meant becoming a nonfiction reader.

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    Marc Abela

    Great questions, and brilliant comments, very glad to read this thread today. If I may, here is what I would probably explain things. First, the pivotal question “Should we expect the subjects of larger governments to read more fiction than the citizens of smaller governments?”

    I once read that in life, some people drink to remember, and others drink to forget. I believe fiction fits in the same category of “tools” – it can help you remember, and can also help you forget. As such then in big-oppressive government locations, people will often use fiction to mostly forget and basically escape. In freer environments however they will use fiction to imagine better and to remember more clearly. Needless to say also, just like alcohol, some fiction is built to better help you remember and celebrate (the champagne end of the spectrum) while some of it is obviously built to help you forget (vodka etc)…

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    B.K. Marcus

    So this becomes harder to operationalize as a hypothesis, but let’s not give up quite yet.

    Assuming we could find a reasonable criterion to divide novels into deep “literature” on the one hand and escapist “junk” on the other, would you expect freer people to read more literature than is read elsewhere, and more oppressed people to read more of the escapist stuff?

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