Non-fiction can be fun

I guess you could blame my older brother for introducing me to non-fiction. Years ago when I first started borrowing audio books from him he would assure me that this or that book was interesting in spite of their boring titles (ie. “Salt”, which turned out to be surprisingly fascinating). I’ve never been big on non-fiction unless there was a specific purpose, such as learning things for work. But it seems audio books and non-fiction are a good combination. I have a hard time making myself sit down and wade through non-fiction books, but having someone read them to me is entirely different.

For one, I’m a captive audience. There’s not much else to think about on the way to work. I may not engage with the book all the time, but the book keeps making forward progress, even if I’m not paying attention. Sooner or later it’ll get to something that will draw me in again. Usually my disconnects are pretty short, though.

For another, a good reader can add life to the driest of texts. It’s their job to make it sound interesting.

I’ve also decided that of the three learning styles; auditory, visual, and tactile, I favor auditory. I’m not bad with the other two, either, but a good lecture is usually the quickest way for me to pick something up.

Since I’ve obtained my own account and started listening to audio books I’ve found myself getting a little tired of fiction. I’m not sure why. But this time, when it came time to pick up a new book for the month I just didn’t feel like listening to another novel. So I poked around and found a non-fiction title that looked interesting (“The Great Sea,  A Human History of the Mediterranean”, by David Abulafia, if you’re curious). I’m usually a big fan of history, and the reviews seemed positive. So far so good.

Recently at work my previous manager ran us through a test to help us discover our strengths. My top strength was “Learner”. I love to learn things, if only for the sake of learning. I’ll admit this new non-fiction has reinforced that idea. I get excited over discovering a new, interesting bit of information. For example, I’ve learned that in spite of all the rivers that empty into the Mediterranean Sea, with its high rate of evaporation it is actually losing water faster than the rivers can replenish it. That leaves only one other source to make up the difference: the Atlantic Ocean. Water flows in at Gibralter, and that strong inward current is part of what discouraged people from sailing out of the Mediterranean for so long.

I don’t know what that information does for you, but it lit up the synapses for me. Though technically I know that evaporation is always going on, I never made the connection with the part it can play in other areas than the water cycle. For someone who does a lot of world-building for novels, this was big.

I picked this book partly to help me fill in some world-building knowledge, actually. But I picked it for another reason as well. I was hoping it would help me fill in my spotty knowledge of history. I took a world history class in high school–voluntarily! That’s just how sick and twisted I am. But while the events and the impacts thereof have always excited me, memorizing a lot of dates has not. And yet as I get older I wish I’d stuck the timelines more deeply into my memory. As this book will be an overview of a large span of history, I’m hoping to help fix things on the timeline a bit better.

When was the Greek era? The Roman era? I really couldn’t tell you. I’m a bit surprised, actually, that we’re already up to the 13th century BC and the Greeks as we know them are still waiting to enter stage left. We’ve only got their predecessors, the Mycenians, at this point. We’re still dealing with the rivalry between the Egyptians and the Hittites at this point.

So anyway, I won’t lie and tell you this is fun listening. It’s not terribly entertaining, but I find it interesting nonetheless. I find great satisfaction in learning things. This may become my pattern for awhile: read fiction in my free time, listen to non-fiction during my commute. Get the best of both worlds.

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2 Responses to Non-fiction can be fun

  1. “I took a world history class in high school–voluntarily! That’s just how sick and twisted I am.” and this makes you sick and twisted HOW exactly? I often posit, “Why would people NOT do so?” Hmpf.

  2. Thom says:

    It was calculated self-denigration so as to ensure it wasn’t taken the other way, of “Look at me! I take history classes for fun! I’m such an intellectual! Bow before me, cretins!” For a lot of people the main thing they wanted to get out of high school was themselves.

    Now college, on the other hand, I never understood the people who watched the clock carefully so that if the professor was more than ten minutes late they could consider class officially canceled. I always figured it was not required to be there–we were even paying for the opportunity–so why not try to get as much out of it as we could?

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