Nonfiction or Fiction?

Hi y’all! I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything in almost four weeks. Fortunately, I’m going to cut right to the chase. I’m in a nonfiction mood and I’m starting to wonder what is better: nonfiction or fiction. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true. I’ve just been starting to wonder when nonfiction or fiction begins to be too much.

For example, for a long time I really only read memoirs. I loved them, I loved being able to transport myself into someone else’s life for a short while. But for whatever reason I stopped reading them. I decided that fiction caught my eye more and that I could transport myself into not just someone else’s life but an entirely different universe and that was extremely appealing to me.

…Until recently. Recently I’ve been on a Netflix binge of crime documentaries. And I’m not talking about watching Law & Order type stuff. I’m talking watching shows about serial killers, about man hunts, about treatment in prisons and prisoners stories – even about the Drugs War inside prisons. I’ve been going ALL OUT to the point where I decided it would be a great idea to start reading nonfiction books again. But fear not, I decided to stick to the scary theme of murderers and bought The Strange Case of Dr. H.H. Holmes.

H.H. Holmes was America’s “first” serial killer. After murdering dozens of people during the Chicago World’s Fair in the late 1880s and continuing his murder spree by using his home (dubbed “The Castle”) as a glorified torture chamber, H.H. Holmes became an infamous name in history. Quite the uplifting story! This nearly 500 page book was extremely graphic and extremely strange to read because a part of me wanted to believe it wasn’t true, even though it 100% was. Also it was partially written by H.H. Holmes himself as his written confession of a lot of murders.

To give myself a change of pace after reading it, I decided to buy a book called Deep Down Dark by Héctor Tobar. This book is about the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped 2,000 feet below ground for over 60 days. Again, so uplifting. I’m almost done with this book, and to be honest it’s absolutely incredible. I think it’s even being turned into a movie, which would be really cool. But it’s nonetheless a very depressing story. As nice it is, and as great as it is that they were found and rescued, it’s still about 33 men living in their own filth in pitch black eating a spoon full of canned tuna a day and drinking dirty oil filled water that the men bathed in. So, yeah, not very happy.

But to top it all off (and to bring into light my predicament) I started thinking of books I should read next. And rather than read the many books I’ve already bought, or even to read the Star Wars prequel book that my boyfriend surprised me with, I’ve started thinking I should re-read The Diary of Anne Frank AND Night by Elie Wiesel. Because apparently serial killers, dying miners and crime documentaries weren’t enough, I had to decide to not only read, but RE-read two of the most depressing books of all time.

Now here’s where the predicament lies: I don’t think it’s at all bad to be reading these things! There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to learn more about things that school doesn’t go over. I’ve never been in a classroom that was like, “Hey kids! Lets talk about Jeffrey Dahmer!” It’s just not going to happen. Sometimes you need to use your own curiosity to learn things that aren’t publicized too much. Knowledge is power.

But when is it enough? When do you tell yourself, “you know what, I know it’s really interesting, but maybe limit yourself to one depressing book every now and then.” or “instead of watching The Killer Speaks, let’s watch Bob’s Burgers for a while”?

The hard thing is: I have no idea. For years and years I only read fiction. To give you a time frame, the last two memoirs that I read were the hilarious Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? in 2012 . and then The Devil at My Heels in early to mid 2014. That’s THREE years ago and more than a year ago! So am I going to be stuck on this autobiographical kick for the next three years, or at the very least a year? That seems like a really long time. But in comparison, I’ve been reading fiction books for that amount of time and haven’t felt like that was too much. It seems normal, it seems like what a regular reader does.

Which makes me wonder: which is better? What captures the attention more? What makes nonfiction seem somewhat scary in comparison to a fiction book? Fiction can be just as depressing (see my Letter to John Green. God damnit The Fault in Our Stars) but I guess it’s that disconnect: when you’re reading fiction you know that at the end of the book, it’s over. It’s done. But with a true story it hits you in the empathy gut really hard for a long time. It’s something that won’t leave you.

So I guess what I’m saying is, what’s better? Reading something completely depressing and horrible but knowing that it’s just fiction, or reading something that is true and horrible, but will ultimately give you more insight into the real world?

Comment below or send me an e-mail at rachel@booksandcleverness.com so I can hear your opinions. I always love your opinions!

Until next time (and hopefully it won’t be four weeks from now!)

Rachel

Advertisements

Banned Books Week!

Hello everyone! I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I’m back! Today I actually have something that I want to talk about, something that I’ve recently learned about and just can’t understand: banning books.

Throughout America there is currently a bit of an uprising in the reading community. Different places throughout the country are attempting to ban books from schools and entire cities, and sadly it seems like there is a decent amount of support to make it happen. Fortunately, the last week of September is known as Banned Books Week, where people can show their support of keeping these books somewhere with immediate access, and promote the education of long-time masterpieces in the American culture.

One of the most controversial books right now is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Why? Because it uses the word “nigger” frequently throughout the book. While I want to stress that it is never okay to use that word, ever, I also don’t think it’s a word that we, as a society, should pretend never existed. For hundreds of years black people were brought from their homes in Africa to a place where they were treated less than animals. They were called “nigger” and they were oppressed, beaten, and turned into slaves.

When the 15th Amendment was passed, these slaves were legally created equal, but they were not socially created equal. They were continually called the “n” word and they were treated as inferior humans. Even today the “n” word gets thrown around like it’s nothing. In regards to Huck Finn, it’s important to remember that everything said in the book was not meant to insult the reader, but rather educate the reader on what happens and what is said in 1880’s daily life.

Another book that is constantly under fire is The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920’s book about rich partying socialites has been under scrutiny for its content on alcohol and sex. This particular ban irks me to my core because the entire 1920’s was exactly that: booze and sex. In the mid 1920’s Prohibition was in effect. All of New York City is said to have had at least 100,000 speakeasies (give or take the thousands that were shut down by Prohibition agents). The 20’s brought another kind of excitement for young adults as well: sex. It’s said that during that time “men found the clitoris.” Basically, the majority of cities in America were completely alcohol dependent, and sexual activity was at an all-time high. Haven’t you seen Boardwalk Empire??

The thing to remember with books written a long time ago, is that they were NOT MEANT TO OFFEND they were simply meant to bring awareness to the public by writing about what happens in daily life, while still adding a fun fictional flair to the work. But the thing that upsets me the most is that these books are part of our history they are written by people who experienced these lifestyles and wanted to tell others about it. It’s written to bring light to fact that young white people just called black people “niggers” not even because they hated black people, but because that is what they were told was the acceptable behavior.

It’s bringing light to the fact that even the richest, most affluent and respectable families in the 20’s were fueled by illegal alcohol, affairs, and often cruelty. That is what was acceptable. Fitzgerald was not saying that partying all the time is the right way to live your life, he was simply telling a fictional story of what he believed happened during the Roaring Twenties.

The thing to remember is that all of this is history. No one is saying that everyone should forget slavery happened, because it did! It did, and it was awful, and cruel and just plain wrong. And yet, people are saying that a fictional book should be forgotten because it uses a word that was used every single day for hundreds of years in the book. No one is saying that we should forget that there was a ban on alcohol for years and it drove people to do horrendous things, and yet they’re saying to forget this fictional book because it glorifies partying, drinking and sex.

It’s hypocritical and it’s wrong. That’s why for the last week of September the American Library Association is challenging readers to read and understand as many banned and challenged books they can. To prove that no one can tell you what you can and can not read. No one can tell you that you are not allowed to have opinions or the right to freedom of speech.

So for the last week of September, choose a book and read it!. I’ll list a bunch of books that are currently banned in cities or that are being challenged (almost banned) in cities. You can read as many as you want, or as little as you want. Just spread the word! Exercise your right to read what you want to read.

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

The Call of the Wild – Jack London

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

The Jungle  – Upton SInclair

Moby Dick – Herman Melville

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

1984 – George Orwell

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Ulysses – James Joyce

AND SO MUCH MORE!!! This is only a fraction of the banned and challenged books! Visit http://www.ala.org for more information on banned books and to see what books are banned and being challenged.

Until next time! Happy reading!

Rachel

email: rachel@booksandcleverness.com