The exchange ended with the question: Have you always bought more NF than fiction, or has it become a habit over time?
And I’ve been thinking about this ever since, about my relationship to non-fiction versus fiction, why I’m drawn to one over the other when I buy books, why it’s important to me to buy non-fiction but I almost never take it out from the library.
A few times a year, I go through my collection and purge. Physical books obviously take up space and when you have as many as I do, it gets out of hand quickly. There are some books that I read that I just don’t love and I don’t mind giving them away to make space for some that I might fall for. And even though I donate books a couple of times a year, almost none of those books are ever non-fiction.
Still, I own a lot of books (I have forgone formal dining space in the apartment in favour of setting up a library). Once I started earning my own money, it became important to me to buy books. That has mostly remained true over time. I do go to the library fairly regularly, in an effort to keep the numbers of books I own down somewhat.
But given the choice to buy or borrow non-fiction? I will pretty well choose ‘buy’ every time. I impulsively buy non-fiction in a way that just doesn’t happen with fiction. Partly, this is because I have been haunted by non-fiction titles that I walked away from once only to spend months and years trying to find it again. So now? I just buy the book.
And partly, it’s because when I was a kid, I dreamed about one day having the kind of library that could be used as reference for school work. It seemed like an insane luxury not to have to troll the baby internet for knowledge, not have to physically go to the library. And that’s not to say that there were no books in my house – there were. Just not on the kinds of things I needed for my homework.
It’s important to me to buy non-fiction because I like being surrounded by history, politics, feminist voices, biographies and the kinds of books that are labelled as social science. I like being able to look something up when I want to, to look at pictures of things that happened a hundred years ago.
When I’ve not been able to afford to buy books, I’ve used the library a lot. And I always end up reading amazing non-fiction books that I then have to give back. And as is so often the case, those books haunt me as I realize that finding them to buy is no simple thing.
So buying non-fiction was a habit born of a childish desire to learn everything, to have that knowledge on hand when I needed it, for this introvert to be able to stay at home and have access to the information I need.
Of course, one could argue that the internet and smartphones have made this desire obsolete. But you all know that there is no way that I would ever trade my books for the internet.
Especially my non-fiction titles.