Fiction or non-fiction?

Chicago Botanic gardens, Glencoe, Illinois (2020)

Not too long ago (say, within the timeframe of my own life) there was no need to categorize a book. No where within the book or the book cover, was a label to categorize the content . The reader knew what he was reading. The reader knew whether the book at hand was a novel, a collection of poems, essays, a memoir, philosophy, fiction or nonfiction. There was no need of further clarifications. It was kind of a given, that the reader would figure out quickly and accurately what type of material he was reading.

Over the years, editors have felt compelled to change this stance. Many books now clearly display a category under which they have been classified: fiction or nonfiction, etc. In other words, editors and authors are urged to tell you (the reader) that the novel you are reading is only the invention of a creative mind and not the reflection of real facts or real characters. This is very revealing. Revealing and worrisome. It shows that these days, readers have to be helped in making the determination of what a book is and what it’s not. Without these prompts, some readers may be at a loss. They may end up believing that a nymphet named Dolores (also known as Lolita) lived in Ramsdale, NH, sometime in the fifties and was known for being kidnapped by an old man. Or that a textbook on Biology & Evolution is just a compilation of religious beliefs, comparable to the Bible.

This is just one measure of how little critical thinking, at the individual’s level, there is out there. In a way, it’s like readers and, by extension, the general public have relinquished to someone else their duty of interpreting reality. Our inability to tell fiction from non fiction goes beyond the realm of books and affects the way we perceive the world. It appears as if we just don’t know what reality is any longer and so defer that judgement to some sort of authority or, even worse, we give up altogether our efforts to understand. Critical thinking gives way then to magical thinking which is extremely dangerous. This is the slippery slope down back to chaos *

2 Comments

  1. Magical thinking is sometimes a necessary tool of evasion when factual reality appears overwhelmingly difficult. But of course, it can be dangerously delusional, and can lead to catastrophe.

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