24 December 2008

Reading: nonfiction

As much as I like to tell the nonfic teachers that I work with that all I love to read is fiction, it's not exactly true. We have a lot of good-humoured banter about which is better: fiction or nonfic. The nonfic teachers see theirs as the professional side, and therefore more important; we see ours as the artistic side, and therefore more fulfilling. (My first instinct would've been to write "creative" there, but I know that nonfiction can be just as creative as fiction.)

I read nonfiction in a different way to how I read fiction. Usually, I will start a novel on page one and read it sequentially until I get to the end. If it's a gripping read, that might be a day or so. If it's one I'm enjoying but that hasn't gripped, then it might be a matter of months, because I'll put it aside and pick up something else. I will get back to it, and that will frustrate me because then I'll have to browse or skim it to reaquaint myself with the story.

Nonfiction is more like reading a book of poetry. (Maybe that's just the type of nonfiction I read -- on the rare occasions I'll read a biog, then it will be from page one to the end.) My weekly reading includes some newspapers, which, like most people I'll dip in and out of, and Time magazine. The newspapers I don't read every day -- we only get The Age once a week, and I'll usually read several local papers, and sometimes the MX if my husband brings it home, and I'm in the mood for something light.

Next year my daughter will be studying twentieth-century history, so I've been busy collecting some extra books that she might like to look into to get a bigger picture of what it was all about. These have included a set of two books on World Wars I and II (with pictures, lots of stats and stories), a pictorial history of the century (with lots of photos and brief stories), a book of history's worst decisions (amusing) and history's greatest scandals (amusing), and history's greatest hits (events we should know more about is how it's marketed). The latter three embrace a much larger timeframe than the last century, but they're all great for dipping in to. I can sit when I have a few moments and read a story, just as I might read a poem.

The war books are of particular interest. I feel I have a connection to both wars, even though I lived through neither of them. My great grandfather had something to do with the first war -- I think he went overseas but am not sure he was actually in any battles. He died when I was twelve, but I remember I felt connected to this war through him, and so it always held a great fascination for me. And my father was a child and teenager in Holland through the occupation of Holland in WWII and tells lots of stories of his time there and his interactions with the Nazis. His family very briefly helped shelter a couple of Jews and helped them escape the country. (My Australian grandfather escaped the war because he was a firefighter, which was deemed an essential service. He died when my mother was a child, so I never got to meet him.)

These latter books are inordinately interesting and great fodder for the imagination -- I can't help but get fired up with ideas for short stories as I'm reading. At the moment, though, I'm in novel mode, and that's where my priorities lie. But perhaps when I've finished my novel, I might pause and bang off a couple of short stories, and I know just the place to turn for inspiration. On the other hand, I might just leap straight into reworking the second book. I know that's where my heart will lie.


Lorraine said...

Welcome back to the blogging world, Tracey!
Short stories or re-working the second novel, it doesn't matter which one you choose. I wish you happy hours of writing - and I hope to see some of the drafts.

Tracey said...

Thanks, Lorraine. I can always print you out a copy... But the novel is a lot of reading.