The opposite of fiction is non-fiction. Fiction is the result
of the imagination of the writer. The writer makes it up. In
non-fiction the writer is trying to describe the world. Books
of this type cover every type of study from mathematics to history.
Students need to learn how to make use of non-fiction books as
well as how to read fiction. Non-fiction includes study methods
of all other school or academic subjects. This is dealt with
in Section 6.
When someone is reading a book there are three things involved:
- the writer and what he has imagined
- the contents of the book
- the reader and what he brings to the book
It is time to think about the reader.
Someone might say: I didn't like that book. It was very boring.
Is that a useful thing to say about a book? What really happened
is that the book bored that particular reader. That is: that
particular reader didn't find the book interesting. It describes
the psychological state of the reader. Does this mean every reader
will be bored by the book? Not necessarily. (Some books do seem
to bore everyone who reads them - or tries to read them. Perhaps
they are badly written, or written for a not very useful purpose,
such as to get promotion in a university). However we must remember
that boredom is a feeling produced in a person. It is not in
the book itself. Boredom is a product of the person and the book
and means that the person and the book are not suited to one
Another person reading the same book may find it quite interesting.
In that case the book has found the right reader. It is a pity
that so often in school everyone in a class is made to read the
same book at the same time. Outside school everyone reads different
books and if someone is bored he just stops reading that book
until the time comes, if it ever does come, when he finds it
When a person reads a book he brings to it all the things he
has seen, done and thought before, especially the thoughts he
has had about other books. That is why it is important to read
lots of books as well as the set books.
It often happens that you will find a book which you can't read
at a certain age. But wait a few years and try it again. It may
have become interesting for you when you have grown older. But
also everyone finds that some books which were interesting when
young become boring in later life.
Often a book is boring because you don't yet know enough to find
it interesting. You may need the right experiences first before
you are ready to understand it. Will someone who has not been
in love understand fully a book about love? That is why it is
possible to read a book twice and find something different in
it the second time. It is not the book which has changed but
the reader who has been changed by the experiences of his life.
Perhaps the search of the literature student is to look for books
like that. Most books, especially novels, are not like that.
Many novels are not worth reading more than once, and may seem
even less interesting when you read them a second time. This
may be because the author was not using much imagination - perhaps
because he wanted to sell a lot of books to people with poor
imaginations. Some writers' books are only of interest to those
who have not read many books. Those who have read more, or have
had more life experiences, may find them impossible to read.
As you, the reader, come to read more books you will learn to
discriminate between these two kinds of book.
Something to do
If you want to understand something which someone else
has made, you should try to make one yourself. Perhaps you think
it is too complicated to write a novel. One way to help you understand
how a writer works is to try to write one yourself. Try to write
a story. A story can be short. It does not have to be of novel
length. In the past story writing was a regular part of the English
writing course. If before you begin to study literature you try
writing stories and pass them round your fellow students you
will have a better understanding of what an author does when
he writes a novel or a play.
How to start writing stories
There are many ways:
A. Think of some imaginary people
Give them names
Imagine things happening to them
Imagine where they live
Try to write a description of all these things. Don't forget
that people talk to each other. Give them things to say.
B. Take an incident from a book you have read. Rewrite it by
changing the names of the people and the place where the story
takes place. If you try this exercise several times you will
find that you can make more and more changes until you have a
story which is more and more your own.
Practice writing stories as often as you can. There is not much
point criticising other people's writing if you haven't tried
Easy to Read and Difficult to Read
I hope you understand now that when a book is easy to read
or difficult to read it is partly the reader and partly the book
which causes the difficulty. There is no such thing as a book
for everyone. When Albert Einstein published his Theory of Relativity
there may have been no more than a dozen people in the whole
world who could understand it; perhaps not even that many. Even
now most people cannot understand it. But for those who could
understand it, it was the most interesting book they had ever
read. They had had the right kind of experiences to enable them
to understand what Einstein had seen. Nowadays the right kind
of experience is an intensive study of theoretical physics for
The simplest book is difficult for those who can't read.
Unfortunately books do not usually have a label on them telling
you what you need to know before you read them. (Some books intended
for beginners studying English as a second language are labelled
with the vocabulary used - these are the specially written Simplified
Books). The only thing you can do is to read those books which
you find interesting, leave those books which you find impossible,
and try hard with those books you find difficult but want or
need to read.
If you find all or most of the set books impossible you probably
should not be trying to study literature. If you only find them
difficult, keep trying.
Something to do
Look at your list of books read. Can you say which of them
you might want to read again, and those you don't expect to read
Perhaps you have already read a book for the second time. Write
a review and compare it with what you wrote before (if you wrote
one the first time). Did you see more in the book more the second
time? Or less?
In the study of literature we looking for the kind in which we
see more the second time (and later times).
Sometimes you may find in a book a paragraph or sentence
which uses language so well that you want to remember it. Why
not keep an exercise book for passages you particularly like.
You can call it a Scrap Book. Most writers keep notebooks for
such things. But be careful if you use quotations in your own
work. Never pretend someone else's work is your own. That is
Plagiarism and you can find yourself in a court case over it.
The way to avoid being accused of plagiarism is to put the author's
name after the quotation.