The Benefits of Non-Fiction

Many teenagers and young adults seem to have a belief that non-fiction books are lame, irrelevant, or not important to the study of English. My whole life I have loved non-fiction. In fact, some of the best books that I've read have been non-fiction. I used to pick one great book each summer to read...most of them ended up being history books about Magellan or the history of the British navy. But I always found them interesting and felt that I was able to learn a lot from them. My little sister loves to read non-fiction books, especially those about dinosaurs, which isn't common for most 11-year-olds.

I recently joined the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and subscribed to the "English Journal." I received my first copy the other day and I absolutely love it. This one focuses on "Reflections and Echoes: Nonfiction in English Classrooms." I think this is an important subject to approach and I loved the different articles contained in it.

A few quotes from the journal:

"The study of nonfiction focuses on the timely while the study of fiction focuses on the timeless" (Timely or Timeless? The Merits of Teaching Nonfiction by Stephen B. Heller).

"Good nonfiction allows us to explore the world in its infinite complexity; to journey into the past in search of meaning; to enter the lives and thoughts of others; to go to the frontiers of science and technology; to become aware of those things that need improvement socially and politically; to ponder ideas about art, philosophy, and history; or to escape into vicarious adventure. Good nonfiction can expand the horizons of our consciousness, and it can show us how to center ourselves in our own truth" (Nonfiction: A True Story by Marion Wrye).

For me, reading and loving nonfiction can be just as critical in the development of a love of reading as finding a passion for fiction. They can work hand in hand to help us understand more about the past as well as the future.

Some nonfiction books help us to see the world differently. I've posted a few non-fiction book reviews on my blog. Recently I read:

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

I really enjoyed this book a lot. I read through it very quickly because, despite the fact that the topic seems a little morbid, Mary Roach does a great job of keeping it light and funny. Each chapter is dedicated to the different uses humans have found for the deceased such as teaching surgical techniques, analysis of human decay, burial methods, crimes against them, and even crash test dummies. Most of it makes you hope that any body parts you donate to science, don't end up being used for horrific tests. Despite this, I felt very satisfied afterward that I knew a great deal more about the human body and what happens after death.

Now, I'd love to hear from some other people about their opinions on the value of fiction and non-fiction books. Should we be teaching fiction in schools? Non-fiction? What fiction or non-fiction books have touched your lives? What would be most beneficial in encouraging reading? Leave a comment and I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Bruce Smith said…
I think the title you cited ("Nonfiction: A True Story") hits the nail on the head. Whether fiction or non-fiction, people love a well-told story. Some of my favorite books have been non-fiction that told a good story, like some of Malcolm Gladwell's books, or some of Oliver Sacks' (although Sacks could get into the weeds with the neuroscience).

The complaint I had about non-fiction I read in school was that it was too often dry recitation ("then, in 1767" ... zzzz). I see no reason why non-fiction that engages the reader should not be included in the curriculum. (Disclaimer: I am not a professional educator, nor even a non-attorney spokesperson.)

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