I read fiction. My degrees are based in fiction. I mean, I have actual degrees. They aren’t fake. They just have to do with reading and writing fiction. I have never been a reader of non-fiction. I read to escape real life. I read to live the life of someone else, to experience their adventures, to feel their ups and downs because my own life is rather….expected. Thus, why would I want to read about real life? Why would I want to adhere to the rules of the here and now, or those of the past? Given the choice of gravity or no, I’d go the no route.
Even though I shun the non-fiction section of the bookstore, I have encountered situations where reading non-fiction was unavoidable. In both of my book clubs, there are people who like reading non-fiction. And when it is their turn to pick the book, it is more likely that a non-fiction text will end up on my reading list.
This happened this past month with my newest book club. One of the girls picked a book titled, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” It was a book about women in other countries (mostly 3rd world countries) and the oppression that they face simply because of their gender. The book talks about various organizations that try to help bring these women up. They bring them out of prostitution and squalor and try to help them better themselves and the lives of their families. Some of the organizations were started by women who came from the very living environments that they are trying to change.
In this book, I learned more about FGC (female genitalia cutting), sex trafficking, the denial of education and many other challenges that women face in places all over the world. These are not concepts with which I was previously unfamiliar. But I had not been exposed to them very much since college.
Reading about such subjects is not something I would have decided to do on my own simply because I don’t like to spend my leisure time worrying about the sorrows of the world. This may sound very first world, and I will admit that it is. But in my defense, I do like my leisure time to be more about recharging and reading about such somber topics isn’t very conducive to recharging.
Needless to say, I was anything but excited about this book. But, I’m a good sport. Book club is all about being exposed to and reading things you wouldn’t normally pick up. And so, I played the game and put the book on my Kindle. As I began reading this book, I became mesmerized with the stories told within it. I read the book during my free time. I read it when I was working out. I read eleven chapters in four days and the facts I believed about non-fiction became fiction.
I was intrigued by the choices made by the authors. Dealing with difficult subjects such as these can be very tenuous. You want the reader to understand the magnitude of the situations that the subject of discussion faces. But you do not want to deter them to the point that they feel that any effort to aid them is hopeless.
This book did an excellent job of maintaining that balance. I cried as I read some of the stories they shared. But there were enough success stories that I did not feel disheartened. By the time I finished the book, I was considering whether or not it would be feasible for me to take a leave of absence from my job and go off to some foreign country and work as a literacy volunteer for a few months. As it turns out, such a move would not be doable. Instead, I’ve been putting some of my extra time into a great local literacy charity, Literacy Kansas City, which helps adult women and men learn to read so that they can reach their goals.
After this reading experience, I have found that there is great value in reading about the here and the now, or even about the past. And while the truth expressed in non-fiction can be hard to swallow, there is an importance and a necessity in the stories they tell. There are stories embroiled in the realm of non-fiction. These stories have greater meaning because they are real or were at one time real. A real person lives or lived them and the story was of great enough magnitude to be recorded and passed along, to be remembered. History may be written by the winners. But if we are so lucky, we can find one of those small voices which has survived. We can find the small voices of the oppressed and we can lift them up so that their struggles are known to the world, if the world is willing to listen. While I did not believe in non-fiction, I did and still do believe in the importance of listening and opening one’s eyes.
I had such a positive experience reading “Half the Sky” that I even ventured to pick up another non-fiction work and I hope to add more to my repertoire in the future. Lately, I’ve been delving into the book “I am Malala” written about the girl who is an advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan and was shot by the Taliban. In this book, you not only get the story of this remarkable young woman; you also get the unique experience of reading about recent history from the perspective of someone from another country. The voice and the perspective are so different from what you get about the war in Afghanistan (for example) from the U.S. media. It makes me ponder the fact that history is simply an amalgamation of he said/she said.
And so, in conclusion, I suppose I am now a reader of non-fiction too. I still love my fiction and always will be a person of literature. But, henceforth, I will be a more diverse reader and am set to learn more than ever before!
What non-fiction works have caught your eye? I’m ready for some recommendations!