Good Bad Books (p. 927)
Fiction and non-fiction literature are different only in substance, because when our minds read them, it filters them according to similar criteria. We don't have completely separate minds that engage with each piece of literature. We do, however, have different proportions of our mind that engages according to the type of stimulation, yet we still process information and knowledge according to established filters of understanding and emotion.
Say you buy a sports car to drive on the long, straight highways where you live, then experience a life-changing event and need to relocate to a more rugged landscape before you can sell it. Is the sports car completely incapable of being driven on narrow dirt roads? No, it just struggles a lot more than an all-wheel drive vehicle would. It doesn't stop being a car; it's still propelled by a combustion engine, wearing rubber tires. Some environments will be more difficult than others (I'm thinking inclement weather), but that doesn't change the fact that at base, it's an automobile.
Our minds are no different. We each go through life building our own car--developing habits, traditions, values, relationships, vocations, making mistakes--so some mental applications become more comfortable to engage than others. However, we all still have minds, which is easy to forget because once we're in our comfort zone we tell our selves that our minds only work in some ways. In reality though, our minds are more inclined to work in certain ways due to how they've been practiced, not due to restrictive programming. Our mind's basic ability to imagine and feel is thus a natural inclination each of us have, which is really a resource constantly ready to be tapped.
Whether we read fiction or nonfiction--or write it--our mental fabric thus remain the same. We apply the basic filters: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why? and How?; or more complex filters: What is the network of causes and effects?, What is in our (their) control / out of our (their) control?, and Do the perceptions reflect reality, or what we (they) want to see? There's many filters we mentally apply, so many that we aren't even conscious when we apply them. These filters are basic agents of categorizing our reality. It doesn't matter if a book plot is located on Mars or at the Watergate Hotel, or whether the writing is autobiographical. Conveying meaning requires us to present or expose things, associate or dissociate things, show a progression or regression, reveal hidden truths or hide damaging truths, etc. If it's non-fiction, we need to conform ourselves to existent reality, and if it's fiction we need to conform ourselves to a fabricated reality.
The literary universe has developed a chasm between fiction and non-fiction because of the content, not because they entail distinct tools and techniques. The entailed tools and techniques are so similar that I suspect we're missing more than we may want. We're being too comfortable with our segregation. If it's one thing I've learned from my literary and intellectual influences--Kristhoffer, Orwell, King, Vachhs, Gardner--it's that if you approach both fiction and non-fiction with the same mental orientation, not only will you understand more meaning, but you'll develop a practiced, learned type of empathy that allows you to identify with other beings.
Our minds are always ready to work, we just need to get out of the way and let them. Our mind is a bone--the frame of our consciousness--but also a muscle, something that can be strengthened with practice.
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