By Peri Miller
With only 12 short issues in one short year, it would be impractical for me to try cover every aspect of the broad, many-faceted topic of books. It’s like I’ve said before: a book is just some pages bound together. What goes on those pages could be anything. As far as genres go, I haven’t even touched on romance, historical fiction, horror, or mystery. I could discuss bestsellers, libraries, or the fact that there’s a word in Japanese, tsundoku, to describe the act of continually buying books and never reading them. Not that I… have any experience with that. At all.
I also haven’t touched on the flipside of all things fiction—that is, nonfiction. Which, by definition, is everything that isn’t fiction. Cookbooks, history books, textbooks, dictionaries, encyclopaedias. None of them are fiction, therefore they’re nonfiction!
I’d never really considered myself a big reader of nonfiction, not even (auto)biographies and memoirs. I guess I’m still not. This year I’ve read two and a half autobiographical novels, which is at least one and a half more than every other year. Because real life is kinda boring, right? Why would I want to read about that? It could never be presented with the same brio or intricacy as a work of fiction, carefully orchestrated to grab and hold your attention. And there’s definitely no dragons or magic sword fights or inter-dimensional exploration. But sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction, “because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t,” so said Mark Twain.
I suppose part of me naively thought that it was a bit egotistical to write about oneself—and maybe it is, in some cases more than others (cough most YouTuber books cough). Mostly, though, the desire to write a memoir or autobiography is the desire to tell a story, as it is with the desire to write a work of fiction. So they’re really just as egotistical as each other.
But there is something deliciously satisfying in writing about yourself. In serialising your life into something consumable—which life, in the moment that you’re living it, usually is not. It’s easier to read about someone going through something than to go through that something yourself. And, again, it’s more satisfying, perhaps out of unavoidable schadenfreude, (everyone loves a tragedy,) or out of the subconscious knowledge that the writer made it to the end of their tale, physically and mentally intact enough to sit down and write. That’s a marked difference between fiction and memoir. In a memoir or autobiography, you know that the main character will overcome the crippling poverty, physical illness, 10-foot bullies or whatever other adversity faces them, because the bound-together pages in your hands are proof. Or, you know, the words on the screen of your Amazon Kindle E-reader (not sponsored).
From a slightly less sentimental angle, there is, obviously, a lot to be learned from reading the true stories of others. Those who are successful, and those who are not. Learn from their mistakes, learn from their triumphs. Vicariously experience things that you might never experience yourself, like the thrill of competing as an international-level athlete, or of standing on stage playing music for the thousands. Okay, getting sentimental again—I have a pretty severe sentimental streak, which is really the sort of thing you learn about yourself when you write an opinion column. Oh, there you go—a vicarious lesson, free of charge! You’re welcome.