The Funny Thing About Non-Fiction


I’ve had a really literary few days and I’ve finished ALL FOUR of the fiction books I have been mid-way through reading for years. Hurrah! Which means fiction-wise, I just have a couple knocking around the house to decide on and then I’m back to a completely fresh start. I’ve already been gathering ideas and recommendations so I have a nice selection to chose from next time I want to start a story.

Yesterday then, I gave some serious thought to my non-fiction books. I have a LOT of them – especially in ebook format. And many of them (most of them?) I have read the first third or half, and then not carried on.

There are two reasons for this, and it’s down to the type of books that I buy, which tend to be along the lines of self-improvement (parenting, assertiveness, diet, productivity, how-to books etc.):

1. Non-fiction books of this type tend to require you to take action of some sort. You know, make lists, practise things, organise things – and I get stuck because I stop reading to fulfil the actions, but I don’t fulfil the actions, and therefore I never get around to really “working” through the book.

2. Sometimes I stop reading simply because owning the book (and not having read all of it) means that I own the potential to change, in the way that I want to change. If I read it, and don’t change, I have failed. And given how badly I do on instigating action items from books (as per point 1), owning the potential seems like a better thing than reading and failing to fulfil that potential. Which of course, is madness.

So, I’ve decided to approach non-fiction in a different way. I’m going to select a non-fiction book, and read the whole thing. Cover to cover. I’m not going to stop to work through exercises, or attempt to change the way I do things before I get to the end.

Instead I’m going to highlight parts that I think are relevant and summarise what I want to take away, when I’ve finished the whole thing. Then I have at least digested the book, even if I never do anything that it says to do.

I have this terrible fear of losing information. Of not remembering something that might be crucial to me at some point in my life, which of course is also madness. No one can remember every word of every book they read.

So, I’ll try this new approach, and see if I can actually start finishing these books that I buy and then leave on the shelf to gather dust.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

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