Monday, 23 March 2020

Wait, Non-Fiction means NON... FICTION?

I've heard some things whilst I'm travelling, but nothing quite like when a friend, who had just been staring intently at his Kindle for two hours, said: "Oh, I don't really read..."

Denial seemed an interesting route considering I had been sitting next to him as he clicked through the pages, but I assumed this was a classic case of reading-is-not-cool and calmly prepared my spiel about why books are great.
"You do!" I interjected defensively. Cue: Who doesn't love escaping into someone else's imagination?
"...Fiction." "??" (I use question marks here because I'm quite confident I didn't actually use words. Probably just a look of bewildered horror and maybe some sort of throaty noise). "I don't really read fiction."

Definitely no noise. Your gal was SPEECHLESS.

You see, "I don't really read," I can handle. It's time-consuming. Netflix is easier etc.etc. But reading something OTHER THAN FICTION? Until about four months ago, I thought 'to read' exclusively meant 'to read fiction.' Novels. Stories. It didn't occur to me that non-fiction had a share in the realm of leisurely reading, let alone a monopoly?!

Now, I wouldn't say I hate non-fiction. Hate is a strong word. It was more that I didn't understand why anyone would want to spend their time reading textbooks and statistics when they could be escaping into a wonderful world of allegory and imagination. Because that's what non-fiction is, right? It's fact. What's fun about that? I'm a creative, not a computer scientist. I want suspense and emotion and escapism, not algorithms.

So why do I now put my hands up in the air and admit that I am

My pal on the bus was actually the cherry on the cake. Before I left home, I had also noticed that more and more people around me were - shock - reading NON-FICTION in their FREE TIME (not as homework, but by CHOICE). I started to doubt my angle. I'm a swat at the best of times, and you wouldn't catch me flicking through AQA's revision guide just for fun. So what was I missing?

Ashamed that a qualified reader like me was being out-read by my friends who claim not to even LIKE reading (or maybe, as demonstrated in the first paragraph, just never got to the final word of their sentence before I interrupted) a couple of weeks after I left England, I promised to give non-fiction a proper go. I'd seek out a good informative book like Sapiens to earn real adult points. I'd bought Sapiens for my Dad a couple of Christmases ago. A good solid facty book. A Phil Needham (accountant) book *straightens tie.*

Only first I needed to finish the book I was reading: a brilliantly engaging series of stories from the point of view of a barrister, artfully unpicking the cases she’d seen in the courtroom.

The cases that the author had seen in the courtroom.

A non-fiction.

Just like Michelle Obama’s memoir about becoming the First Lady, which I’d read on the plane, and Adam Kay’s diary of being on the labour ward, which I'd read the previous week.

Both. Also. Non-fiction.

No statistics (only those supplementing the stories), a whole load of emotion, inspiration, humour, and some excellent storytelling.


So Hazel's big revelation is that non-fiction actually does what it says on the tin (who knew!) It isn’t the opposite of fiction - aka, a textbook, which is what I always assumed it was - rather, a term referring to anything that can’t be described as fiction. For example, I'm not giving you any statistics in this blog post. Love, George and Haze is highly subjective. But I'm not fabricating events or characters, I'm (trying) to represent a truth - my truth - meaning this blog is non-fiction. I am a NON-FICTION writer. Terrifying!

Memoirs, blogs, articles (sometimes), manifestos, creative essays, biographies. Crikey, the world is full of non-fiction, and not a textbook in sight!

To prove that I'm starting to advance across to the dark side, I’ve done a little summary of five books I’ve read since travelling that are all inspiring, entertaining, informative and witty - and they’re also all non-fiction. Oh - and I’d recommend every single one.

Michelle Obama: Becoming

I didn’t know much about America’s previous First Lady (or any First Ladies, if I’m being honest) and this book is an excellent and humble way of experiencing a life that we are never, ever going to come close to experiencing. My understanding of people being catapulted into both power and the limelight is almost exclusively rooted in The Princess Diaries, so it was probably for the best that I see it in a different light. From validating my fears about finding a career that balances income and pleasure to taking the backseats with Queen Liz, Michelle’s story is not just interesting but thoroughly inspiring. She is modest but powerful, cynical but determined. 


Caitlin Moran: How To Be A Woman

I lie, this one I actually listened to via audiobook with Caitlin's narration (for free thanks to my library app - message for details this CHANGED MY LIFE). I recognised a small section from one of my seminars - Caitlin's pre-teen discovery of pubes. If you liked our Sex Diablogue, you will love this book, and I actually think listening to it rather than reading it made it all the more enjoyable. The comic timing, Caitlin's own Wolverhampton twang and genuine connection with her anecdotes makes this book a masterpiece. Too often feminist is shrouded in seriousness and too often comedy is dominated by men. This is up there with one of my favourite books ever just in that I feel like everyone should be exposed to the ideas and information inside it (what do YOU call a vagina?)


Adam Kay: This Is Going To Hurt
With several relatives of mine working for the NHS, I assumed I was pretty well-acquainted with stories about working in hospitals. I also assumed that, what with strict patient confidentiality protecting the vulnerable, often embarrassing situations for people within the wards, a book could so explicitly (and hilariously) expose torn up vaginas and toilet brushes-in-anuses. The humour in the book allows the depressing circumstances not only bearable to read but absolutely enjoyable. 


Sarah Langford: In Your Defence

A slightly less colloquial writing style - as you may expect from an experienced lawyer - but still a very interesting read. Sarah Langford studied English Literature at university, so finds the stories that her job as a lawyer provides her with and shapes them around the rigidity of the law. In this book, the fact that all of the cases are true improves the experience of reading them, because the issues are hand-picked from Langford’s life as the most topical, troublesome, or relieving. As with Kay’s medical terms, this book has one of the most user-friendly glossaries I’ve ever experienced and teaches you about justice systems, laws and the practices of the court.


Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kisimi: The Courage to Be Disliked

For a people person like me (read, massive suck-up), I hate the idea of having 'beef'. I want to be liked, and make an effort to be friendly. Whilst I normally think of this as a positive trait, this book helped me understand why this desire for peace is double-edged, and really, peace comes from the relationship with the self, rather than others. I try not to be too cliche and read too many of these find-yourself books as I'm travelling, but this definitely forced me to think about life and relationships in a new way. Formatted as a conversation between a master and a student, the book is constantly provoking questions and unpicking them. If you've never read a book like this (I think the award-winning THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F*CK is probably quite similar) I highly RECOMMEND. It's like brain yoga!

ALSO: I actually ended up getting the audiobook version of Sapiens from the library (my favourite discovery whilst travelling!). I only fell asleep once. RECOMMEND!

Love, Haze xxxxxxx

1 comment


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