OpenFiction [Blog]

Reading – Reading nonfiction

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on September 27, 2005

What’s this?

Last week I found myself with a few hours of downtime between a doctor’s appointment and a dinner meeting, in the distinctly strange position of having nothing required of me. I could have worked on my novel, I suppose, but wasn’t really able to generate too much enthusiasm for it (not sure why I find this chapter so hard to push through, but am back at it today). So instead, I stopped at a bookstore, bought a book and sat down and read for two straight hours. The only other opportunities I’ve had for extended reading time in the past five years have been during flights somewhere, so it was a rare treat indeed.

And true to past history, I didn’t pick up a book of fiction. I chose Compass by Alan Gurney, which traces the history of that instrument’s development. I’m not exactly sure why I have more interest in nonfiction than fiction when it comes to purely recreational reading–a part of it is that I’m always reading fiction for craft as well as content, and so it’s more work. It becomes harder to enter the “vivid and continuous dream” of the story, but there’s always a part of me reading for craft in any writing, so that can’t be all of it. I think in most cases I just find it hard to get to the point of investing the energy fiction requires to engage with the characters, which may be a byproduct of the energy invested in dealing with a group of characters I’ve created.

In my reading background then, I think I am atypical of most writers. I have not studied literature extensively (BAin Liberal Arts and MFA in Creative Writing). I of course took some literature classes along the way, and have read my share of fiction, but I’ve certainly read more nonfiction—John McPhee, Tracy Kidder, histories of mapmaking, exploration–and I can certainly see how it informs my writing. The novel itself is framed in nonfictional events around the construction of a dam, although the characters and events are all invented (and not particularly autobiographical, which is another difference I see between myself and most writers I’ve known–I tend to write somewhat further from my own experience than most.) And I’ve certainly borrowed some techniques from nonfiction writers to convey some of the technical details of the story. I’m feeling, though, like I ought to make the effort to read a bit more fiction, though, if only because I really do learn quite a bit from reading good writing, and I’d like to be thinking more about fictional craft.

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