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Fiction versus nonfiction: Which is better?

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(Read caption) Oasis member Noel Gallagher (r., with Sarah McDonald, l.) recently criticized novels in an interview with GQ Magazine, calling them a 'waste of... time.'

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Fiction is “a waste of ... time.”

So said rock musician Noel Gallagher in a recent interview with GQ Magazine, reigniting the debate on the value of literature in the information age.

“I only read factual books. I can't think of ... I mean, novels are just a waste of ... time,” Gallagher told GQ UK in an interview to mark his becoming GQ’s ‘Icon of the Year.’ “I can't suspend belief in reality … I just end up thinking, 'This isn't ... true'.”

While his style and scale of attack was more scathing than most – Gallagher is a rock musician known for stirring controversy – the songwriter was, in fact, echoing the sentiments of many readers: that non-fiction is more useful, more worthy of one’s time than fiction.

As Gallagher, and we suspect some other readers, prefer, is reading “about things that have actually happened.”

It’s a not uncommon sentiment, one we have heard anecdotally in our own circles of readers. And it turns out surveys back this up, particularly among male readers.

A 2010 Harris Poll found that male readers, especially male Baby Boomers and seniors, were more likely to have read nonfiction than fiction books, with the greatest gender gap appearing in the genres of history, politics, current affairs, and business. (For more on the gender gap in reading, we recommend Roz Warren’s recent post titled “Are there really ‘men’s books’ and ‘women’s books’?")

Incidentally, the Harris poll did find a slim margin of all readers preferring fiction to non-fiction: 79 percent to 78 percent.

Nonetheless, there often appears to be a perception that nonfiction is “smarter” than fiction, that the former deals in facts, truths, and information, while the latter is merely “made-up stories” designed to deliver a pleasant escape. 


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