I read a lot of nonfiction these days. I haven’t checked the list I keep of books I’ve read to corroborate this, but I would venture to say that I probably read a roughly equal number of fiction and nonfiction books anymore. It has not always been this way.
I read nonfiction to find out the truth on a topic, but ironically enough, I often read fiction for the same reasons. A story doesn’t have to be real to be true. The feelings and reactions, the relationships, the ways of looking at the world and seeing God in it–these things make fiction live for me and keep those characters going in my mind for a long time after the book is done. I can recognize myself and those I love in the pages of a good novel, or I can recognize the state of the world, the things people really do to other people.
One recent novel that I have found exceptionally helpful for this is Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. This is the story of friendship, marriage, family, and forgiveness, and the unexpected detours that they take. The people in this story make real mistakes–from the relatively minor, like keeping secrets from a spouse, to the major, like ignoring mental health issues and gun safety–and have to try to figure out ways to trust people and reach out with love again after their worlds fall apart…or if reaching out is even worth it when forgiveness seems like such an impossibility. The events of the story were very different from my personal experience–in my family, there was no adultery, no shooting, no rehab–yet, there was learning to trust after betrayal; there was tragedy and recovery after it; there were mental health issues and reaching out for ways to help and love. I came away from reading this book with a grounded feeling of shared humanity, and assurance that I’m not messing it all up–reaching out and trying again, and then again after I fail, is part of what it means to be human.
Reading helps to broaden the truth of my own experience. Have I read excellent nonfiction on the topics that stood out to me from this book? Of course–the great Pat Conroy comes to mind, and Lori Gottlieb’s book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, and they are writers I would recommend to anyone. They both share from real life many similar events to what the characters in this book faced, and their experiences also broadened the way I understood these issues. As researchers would tell you, it’s important to find multiple reputable sources before coming to a conclusion. Maybe that conclusion is somewhere between fiction and nonfiction.
Maybe we have to read both to find it.