December — A Time to Review the Year’s Reading

nonfiction cartoon

December has quite crept up on me, something it seems to do more quickly each year. While the speediness of the months’ passage always alarms, I am one of those people who looks forward to the Yuletide season, a time for seeing faraway family, and, for some of us, a time to look back on the year’s reading with a curious eye.

Extreme bibliophile that I am, I track all the books I read using one of the many online reading social media sites. As 2013 wraps up, it’s time to have a look at how I’ve done:

Of the 55 books I’ve read so far this year

37 were Young Adult (YA)

7 were essays, memoirs or some permutation of the two

6 were adult fiction

2 were non-fiction

2 were short stories

and 1 was a graphic novel

Across all of these genres, 6 of the books were New Zealand titles. 

What troubles me about my reading habits this year isn’t what I’ve read (a healthy dose of YA literature can be a great benefit to any adult), but what I’ve not been reading. I’ve never been much for non-fiction, unless it be in memoir or essay form. I like to think this tendency has to do with the fact that I often read on the bus or before bed and I don’t feel I can process and retain new information very effectively in either scenario. However, given that I often read lengthy non-fiction magazine articles in these settings, this hardly seems an adequate excuse.

I think the real reason I tend to avoid book length non-fiction is that I learn best through following a narrative. A story told from the point of view of an individual creates empathy which, for me, has always been a short path to memory. When I hear a good tale, compelling and involving people whose character interests me, it’s easier to remember other, drier, details. Story is my favourite mnemonic device.

But, I also like a challenge, so in the new year I plan to add a second resolution to my recurring one (to keep flossing):  read more non-fiction. Over the years, fiction has helped teach me what it is to be human and how to begin to understand and acknowledge the fact that every person exists in as complex an internal realm of mind and emotion as I do. But there are many things fiction hasn’t taught me. It hasn’t taught me why calculus is important (or how to use it), it hasn’t taught me much about the history and politics of other countries, or how to untangle issues in food ethics or live more sustainably. I think it’s quite possible that fiction has taught me the most important things I need to know about life as a person. But, with the tools of fiction in hand (empathy, imagination and flexible thinking), it’s time to turn to some other, perhaps tome-ier, types of learning.

Don’t worry novelists, I won’t stay away long. I never could.

Liz Gillett


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