Studying nonfiction could be the key to creating the best fiction
I have been reading classic after classic, and I’m beginning to think it has negative effects on my psyche. After finishing each one, I want to curl up into a ball and start crying. “Why?” you may ask. Well, it seems that many books on my reading list throw me into a world much better than our own. Therefore, when the story is over and I have to get back to real life, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning who just got all of his toys taken away.
Let me explain myself to those of you who may be wondering, “How on earth is Katniss-land better than modern America?” or “Would you rather live in Oceania and have Big Brother hovering over you?” My answers are, of course, "It’s not," and "No." I’m thankful I live in America in 2014 where we have wonderful gadgets like iWatches and whatnot. I enjoy not having to worry about my safety every second of every day. But I don’t really read too many new books these days; I can’t handle it. The books I’m referring to are the oldies, the classics — gems from the 1920s or 1950s.
Many books published today — the ones that become mega-popular anyway — I can’t wait to finish, to get back to my life. The worlds all feel the same. I no longer want to read about a bombed-out earth, and I don’t really care to skim through another dime-a-dozen mystery. It seems as though books that I’d love, ones that can almost teeter-totter on the edge of creative nonfiction, aren’t being published these days, or at least not being marketed to a large crowd.
Helping none of this is the fact that very few schools offer a nonfiction concentration for students pursuing a bachelor's in creative writing. I think writing about the real world, as we live in it today, is very difficult; many writers try to escape it. But then what books will be the classics from our generation? Which of them will be the commentaries on our lot? We need more writers trained in nonfiction; they would be better equipped to create “real,” intriguing fictional characters that resemble modern humanity.
I’m asked what my favorite book is about once a week, and I always cringe. It’s never any easy choice. I tend to bounce between “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Catcher in the Rye”; I think they are examples of the finest first person narratives ever written. When I’m asked for a more modern favorite, I jump directly to "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" — again, a wonderful narration; I’d never wondered what it would be like to read a novel made up solely of letters.
Yes, all of these stories are sad, so what makes their “world” better? A better writer.
Sure, authors can create fantastic, futuristic worlds for which we can lust, but how deeply can we really connect with the story? Sometimes, like with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels for example, I feel as if I’m standing next to my favorite character, which is a wonderful feeling, but when I put the book down, I can’t go to Westeros; I can’t ride Daenerys’s dragons.
On the other hand, I can walk around New York like Holden Caulfield; I can go enjoy the Bullfights in Pamplona like Jake Barnes and his companions in “The Sun Also Rises.” This fact changes the way I read; the idea that I could one day experience the places written about in these books captivates me. But as I stated already, my experience wouldn’t be nearly as meaningful or interesting as that of my dear narrators. Cue my disappointment. But this type of disappointment is good! It means that someone has created a story that is better than reality in the eye of the reader — something that doesn’t happen very often.
Calling all colleges and universities: Give aspiring writers a chance to pursue a bachelor's in nonfiction; it could save literature. Writing about what is happening in front of our faces is difficult and often left to journalists. Let students learn how to write about reality, and they may also write some of the best fiction.
Reach the columnist at William.Ruof@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @willruof
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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