A Thousand Lives
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A Thousand Lives

I Switched from Reading Fiction to Fact — And Now I Want to Go back

After years of exclusively reading non-fiction, fiction now feels more appealing

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

Like a lot of people, I was an enthusiastic reader as a child. I would steamroll my way through various book series, from Asterix to A Series Of Unfortunate Of Events.

Sadly, my passion for reading dwindled somewhat during my years in high school. Upon reflection, I reckon this was probably the internet’s doing. During those early teen years, I spent an inordinate amount of time on social media, and reading fell to the wayside.

But around two years ago, I started becoming a regular reader again. However, there was one distinct difference this time — I wasn’t reading fiction anymore.

Being a teenager on the cusp of turning twenty, I was more switched onto politics than I had previously been. And in the midst of Donald Trump, Brexit and all manners of political upheaval, there was no better time to jump into books that analysed the inner workings of politics.

Most of the books I read were polemic in nature, and some made more convincing cases than others. Some writers proved to be instant hits, whilst others remained mostly unread (Sorry, Rutger Bregman…)

But above all else, I was back reading again!

I’d usually have two or three books on the go at once, which I didn’t find to be too difficult. Usually, I’d have a book to read whilst in bed, and a book to read on the bus whilst I was heading to university. I was getting through books fast, and accumulating a lot of knowledge.

But as 2020 came around, I began to feel as if I’d hit a wall. My reading list was leaving me feeling unfulfilled — if I wasn’t even motivated to buy the books, how was I expected to read any of them?

I did my fair share of reading over lockdown — including tackling the long but brilliant Labour and the Gulag by Giles Udy — but I still felt as if I needed a change of pace.

Going forward, I am going to make a concerted effort to read more fiction. Ultimately, I’ve decided that filling my brain with facts and theories, when we already live in a world inundated with information, is not a good thing for me.

I crave the escapism that comes with fiction.

I certainly won’t be turning back on non-fiction completely, but to be able to ‘switch off’ from the real world would be very desirable.

A lot of the books I want to get to have already been made famous by film adaptations — Life Of Pi by Yann Martel, Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard— whereas others have come to my attention because of the great acclaim surrounding them — A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Admittedly, the books I want to read aren’t exactly what you call light-hearted. One is set during a time in India’s history when the government essentially suspended civil liberties and pursued a campaign of mass sterilisation, whereas another follows a young boy’s experiences in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp during World War Two.

But I think what I miss most in my reading is the sense of narrative. Even if the narratives are heavy going, there’s a story there with an emotional core.

And perhaps they will illustrate something about our current world just as any non-fiction book could.

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Ben Thompson

Ben Thompson

22 year old writer and journalist from Manchester, UK.