Nonfiction: A Tale of Woe

I love knowledge. Actually, no. Love doesn’t quite describe the nature of my relationship with knowledge. It’s something more like codependency. If I’m not learning new things, it feels like there’s an emptiness that needs to be filled, emergency-style. Black-hole-style. Emotionally insecure shop-vac style.

My need for knowledge is neurotic. Say I’m out with a group of people and the conversation wanders to art. Someone is discussing “those pictures with the white rectangles and the primary colors–god, what was that artist’s name?” The others shrug, and all move onto the next subject. Five minutes later, I look up from my phone to interrupt whoever’s talking to shriek, “Piet Mondrian! He’s Dutch! HIs style is called neoplasticism, or De Stijl. You can find a lot of his work at the NY MOMA.” Long pause. Someone coughs. I go back to looking at my phone.

That may be an exaggeration. Sometimes I wait for someone to finish their sentence before shrieking.

Anyway, it isn’t just curiosity. Acquiring knowledge is survival, for me. It’s what makes me excited to be alive. And it’s never enough. I want to know everything–how it works, why it happened, who’s behind it…

Also, you may have noticed (or assumed from the title of the blog) that I enjoy reading. So what’s perfect for a person who loves understanding the ins and outs of everything and also loves reading? Nonfiction, clearly! Nonfiction is perfect for me. Right?

Well, it made sense to me, and it’s why, alongside the Chekhov and the Hardy and the Faulkner, my bookshelf is packed with interesting nonfiction. I’ve collected books about the parts of speech, how cults form, the psychology of Stalin, plate tectonics, the brain chemistry of children, and the list continues. All of it is fascinating. And only a few have even been cracked open since I bought them.

I’ve been reading nothing but nonfiction lately because I want so badly to get the information certain specific books contain. I’m in a place in life where I feel like I need to be equipped. I need revolutionary time-management skills. I need perspective on life before it passes me by. I need to learn how to tackle my fear of flying at the root. I need to understand how to write with clarity and elegance. There’s a series of nonfiction books that I have been meaning to read that will help me do all this. It’s not just knowledge I stand to gain, either. These books will make my life better, and they’ll make me better at what I do. Yet I cannot read nonfiction, at least not without a real push to concentrate. And as I’m reading, I have to renew that push about every five minutes. It’s like my eyes just glaze, and a wall pops up between me and the material.

That’s the real problem with nonfiction. I see the words, but I don’t take them in. I read four pages of material and then realize I haven’t actually processed a word of it. That means going back and trying again, over and over. It’s particularly discouraging because I read quite fast, and there’s nothing like feeling like you’re plowing right through a book only to realize you’ve been spacing out for awhile and you have to go find the last paragraph you remember making sense. So I–who am usually a lightning-fast reader–am stuck in a book for months, working and working to concentrate on what’s being said. It makes it really hard to want to pick up the Kindle.

Why I have this problem, I can’t imagine. I want the information. The information is interesting to me. I have much to gain by taking in the information. My reading comprehension scores on standardized tests were always off the charts. And yet, put me in front of a nonfiction book, and I feel like I may as well be opening up a book in Mandarin.

Sorry to be so absentee and then throw a live-journal-esque monologue at you. I also wanted to announce some changes coming to the site. I’m doing a decent amount of moonlighting, and I’d like to be able to point folks to a place where I more clearly define the services I offer. I figure I may as well integrate it with my blog, since understanding how writing works is key to both how I read and how I edit. I’d like for my hobby and my career to become more integrated than it’s currently been.

Thanks for your patience during long droughts. It’s been a tough few months, reading-wise and everything-wise.

5 responses to “Nonfiction: A Tale of Woe

  1. Oh, Amanda…I can totally relate to your post, except for me it is fiction books. I pick one up and can’t get through the first chapter. I love to hear you are making changes to your site and integrating all the other goodies you do! 🙂

    • My brother is like that with fiction, too–even if he really wants to read it, he just can’t. I feel like there’s some reseach that could be done on this subject, generally.

      Dear scientists,
      Please study this.

  2. I find that there are moods for reading certain things, and moods for reading nothing (more often than is good). The infuriating combination of urgency and spacing out occurs really often when the mood isn’t right, for me… (theory & criticism are particularly arduous usually, but not lately)… perhaps find something/revisit something you enjoy to get yourself feeling up to the nonfiction?

    Elegance and clarity — I think you definitely have several degrees of these in your writing already, and they are lovely goals to keep in mind.

    • You are too kind. And yes, I think perhaps you’re onto something in suspecting it’s cyclical. Maybe situational, too. There was no better place to focus on theory than the Lake Forest library. For some reason, just being there made my mind sharp as a tack and able to absorb nonfiction without a problem. I’d try to read the same material at home, and no dice.

      Please guest post on your un-arduous theory and criticism readings! I need some graduate-level cred, and the more Russian lit that shows up here, the better ~clutches heart and swoons~

  3. Pingback: Some 2015 Awards Coming Out | In Litero: An Evaluation of Literature

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