Fiction vs. Non-Fiction: Is Reading One Better Than the Other?

TO BE honest, I was surprised at what I found when I first started researching this topic.  By searching the simple “reading fiction vs. non-fiction” query, I was inundated with far more results indicating reading fiction was better for you than reading non-fiction.  Yes, I tried reversing it (“reading non-fiction…”); the results were the same.  It seems public opinion – and a good amount of research – leans more toward fiction literature being better for your brain than, say, a biography or travelogue.

In order to better understand this question, we must first understand what we hope to gain from our reading.  We must also understand what each type of literature can offer.

Not Much Of A Reader?  Pick Your Poison, Then.

Before you click away to something more interesting – “I’m really not much of a reader…”, consider this: reading in general greatly improves your brain function.  Reading helps you sleep better, have less stress, and have less mental decline later in life.

With those kinds of positives going for it, why not?  Many of us will do much harder things for the sake of our physical health: Force ourselves to eat things we don’t really like, go to the gym and exercise (when we’d really rather be home relaxing).  Reading is easy, you just sit there and do it!  It takes less willpower and energy than drinking a green, gross super-smoothie or hitting the weights for an hour…AND it can improve your quality of life.

A Tale Of Two Stories

But back to the original question – to Fiction, or not to Fiction?  For those of you looking to expand your intellectual skill set, reading fiction helps to develop empathy, problem solving, adaptiveness and theory of mind, among other highbrow, academic traits.

But…you can’t beat non-fiction for boosting productive brainpower…here’s where type As rejoice.  From learning valuable life lessons to concentration to you’ll just be flat-out smarter, non-fiction is a fountain of educational possibilities.

Non-fiction gives us practical enlightenment.  Fiction provides the abstract knowledge that we need to be real, well-rounded people.  Sixteen years ago, Daniel Pink wrote in his book A Whole New Mind that we had moved from the Industrial Age (factory workers) to the Information Age (knowledge workers), and were moving once more into the Conceptual Age (creators and empathizers).

Employers are putting as much emphasis on associates with creative and empathetic skills as any technical skills.  I’ve personally seen in my own career journey: the practical skills of the job can be learned, but you can’t provide on-the-job training for people skills.  You either have them or you don’t.

Working in automotive quality for 20 years, I’ve had times where I’ve been able to accomplish as much or more with diplomacy and empathy than with statistics and number-crunching.  A phone call, and especially a face-to-face meeting with a distraught customer can do more to defuse a major issue than sitting at a desk and sending an e-mail with a report attached.  Why?  Because they want to know you care.

When you call and they hear a reassuring voice; or better, when you show up and they see your kind, understanding face, you’ve just taken the world’s weight off their shoulders.  You sit down and talk it out with them.  The problem solving is secondary; it happens as a natural part of the conversation.  But it’s the conversation, the contact, that matters.  And reading fiction can help develop those intangible, abstract skills that have become so highly sought after.

My Recommendation

When I was younger, I devoured fiction.  I thought non-fiction was too stuffy and boring.  As I grew, I developed an affinity for “realistic fiction” in the form of Michael Crichton.  If you’re not familiar, think Jurassic Park.  He wrote some amazing novels, usually backed up by real scientific research.  He work was really a fusion of the two genres.

Since about 2017, I’d switched course and read almost exclusively non-fiction.  Now, as of 2021, I’m consuming a balanced diet.  I’ve typically got one to two non-fiction books going, and then I relax before bed with a good work of fiction…currently, a Dean Koontz novel. The non-fiction is educational, for my own benefit. I love learning new things, always have. The fiction is to help me relax, and to (re)develop those intangible skills that make us better people. The world is sorely lacking in creativity and empathy, and we can all do better at developing those traits.

It’s Hard To Find Good Help These Days: The COVID-19 Employment Quandary

I don’t know about you, but my company’s been in a pinch.  Trying to find decent, reliable help has been near impossible.  We’ve been trying to place a temp worker or two for some simple sorting work, and secondary help on one of our bigger machining operations.  For months, the misses have far outnumbered the hits.  You name it, they’ve suffered from it: unreliable, slow, even showing up under the influence.

“I’m gonna need to take a day…”

Help Wanted…Please!

Granted, finding good quality hourly temp workers is more challenging than, say, hiring an engineer, salesman or even a technician on any given day.  But it’s been especially hard since COVID-19 shut everything down last spring.  There have been “Help Wanted” signs everywhere.  Several companies have had signs up since last year offering regular job fairs and walk-in interviews.

Employers everywhere are hard up for good help, and they’re having to make concessions to try and get bodies in the door.  A particular company’s Help Wanted ad mentioned that a drug screen is required, but that they are “THC friendly”. One business owner had enough of not finding good help, and bumped his starting hourly rate far above the norm.  This one was a big hit, and from reports I’ve heard from local colleagues, he’s had a flood of new help knocking at his door.

Why Is It So Hard To Find Good Help Lately?

Shutdowns

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has certainly been a novel virus.  And it’s brought some novel side effects to local, state and national economies.  Nationally, the effects were devastating as early as April of last year, with record job losses across the country.

Michigan’s unemployment rate was at 3.9% in September 2019.  A year later, it had more than doubled to 8.5%.  Shutdowns have crippled the entire economy, but they’ve hit small businesses especially hard.  Restaurants have been the hardest hit, with record numbers of them closing their doors for good last year.  Overall, over 1/3 of Michigan’s “mom and pop shops” went out of business last year.

Nationally, the unemployment rate hovered at about 4% just before the shutdowns.  It spiked to nearly 4 times that in April, and has been on a slow but steady decline since.  Even as recently as January, though, it’s still a full 2 percentage points higher than before the shutdown.

Relief Money

With all of this unemployment and so many productive people out of jobs, why can’t the companies that are hiring find good help?  Enter the financial stimulus packages.  Everyone received either a $600 (individual) a $1,200 (couples) check last year.  Businesses received forgivable loans in the Payroll Protection Act.  Congress dealt out another $600 per person late last year, and they’re looking to fully repeat both individual and small business stimulus plans this year.

Add in the extended unemployment benefits… Michigan citizens received an extra $600 from March 28th 2020, retroactive as needed, to July 31st, and the benefit timeline was expanded an extra 6 weeks.  As of late December 2020, an 11-week extension and a $300 bonus was given for unemployment benefits.

In short, people and companies are being paid not to work.  I’m not implying anything diabolical here, I’m just saying it’s yet another unfortunate side effect of the pandemic.  What was a well-intentioned action on the part of congress has had unintended negative effects on the economy.  Businesses were closed or on very reduced hours; people were out of work, not collecting their normal paychecks; bills, like time, march on no matter what – rent, mortgages, car payments and groceries all needed taken care of.

Fear Factor

There is concern among many that going back to work means exposing themselves to the virus, which has had devastating effects on some people.  Every day for months on any number of news outlets, all you heard about was increasing case rates; increasing death rates; hospitals near or at capacity.  I get it, the point of media outlets is to inform the public on the state of current events.  But another unfortunate side effect of the pandemic is, all of the constant broadcasting about it has created an attitude of fear.  People fearing for their health, even their very lives.

On the other side of the COVID coin, people are encouraged to call in and stay home if they feel even a little under the weather, because it could be the coronavirus.  They’re supposed to go to the doctor, get checked out and get tested.  But the doctor’s offices have been so overwhelmed that, unless the person has severe symptoms, they’re told to go home and treat it like a normal cold or flu.  So they stay home for a day or two, just to be sure.  If they do warrant a test, and the result is positive, there’s the two-week quarantine.

It’s no wonder that people aren’t going back to work regularly, and businesses are struggling to get back up and running like normal.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Pfizer and Moderna were both at the front of the line to release their COVID-19 vaccines, and those are in the process of being rolled out now.  Johnson & Johnson has a very promising candidate awaiting approval, also.  Once the vaccines are fully implemented, people can start feeling safe again and hopefully get back to normal.

Their arrival is not a moment too soon…for the physical health of the public, of course, especially the vulnerable demographic.  But also, for the health of our economy.  And for people’s mental health.  One of the more sinister yet less broadcast side effects from all of the shutdowns and sheltering-in-place have been the marked increases in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, domestic abuse and even suicide.

I believe that a majority of America is ready to get back to normal, and get back to work.  There is a difference between caution and fear.  What we need from our media and our government are words of encouragement and hope.  This can really turn the tide – change the public mindset, and get people fired up again.

Unclogging Those Stubborn Drains: Stop Procrastinating and Just Do It

I was going to write about something else completely last week, but then I got to thinking: I ended my last post about freeing up time to get other stuff done, like unclogging a slow bathroom sink.  As it turned out, I had three of them to deal with, and finally got to them…a week later, just before I started writing this.  And then I thought, “unclogging stubborn bathroom drains” can be a metaphor in itself for procrastination.

“Daaad!  We’ve got a problem!”

Do It Right, The First Time

A slow or clogged drain comes on slowly, over time.  At first, it’s barely noticeable.  Then it gets a little annoying.  But we put up with it, because it’s a pain to clear out a backed-up drain.  We’d rather stand back and wait a minute (or two, or three…) for the water to finally go down than mess with actually cleaning it out.  When I finally got around to doing the job, I got all three sinks cleared and back together in less than forty-five minutes.  I don’t just dump Drano®, or baking soda and vinegar down the drain, either.  The trap comes off, the stopper gets pulled out so I’ve got a straight shot down into a catch bowl below, and I push a wadded paper towel through a couple of times.  If you’ve ever done this – or just go Google “clogged bathroom sink” and check out some images – you know the hairy, gunky, nightmarish mess that comes out the other end.  I want it done right and I’m not waiting on a chemical reaction.  It’s messy, but it’s fast and gets the job done right.

(If you want to uber-clean your drains, as in a total teardown preventative maintenance that leaves them like new, check out these guys.  They’ve taken it to a whole new level.)

So, procrastination…about that.  A funny thing that this post has taken me forever to write.  I’ve been sputtering, stopping and starting for days now.  My goal is to write a post a week.  I did good with the first two, and now…well, I got stuck.  I didn’t want to procrastinate on it, but I just couldn’t get my mind back on topic.

Isn’t it ironic?”

Mmm, yeah.  The irony. Distractions – minor ones like watching a funny video to major ones like chaos in the house – are major sources of delay.  They can throw off the flow, and it can be surprisingly hard to get back on track.  By that time, we’ve got more on our plate to deal with, so decisions need to be made.  What to do…what’s more urgent?  Or easier?  Procrastination is as old a problem as humankind.  There are even verses in the Bible about procrastination: “Whoever watches the wind will not plant, and whoever watches the clouds will not reap”, Ecclesiastes 11:4; or, “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth”, Proverbs 10:4.  One of my favorites – certainly a more proactive one – that I’ve called on plenty of times to get me through, is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

How Do I Delay Thee?  Let Me Count The Ways

Why do we procrastinate?  Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always laziness.  There can be a host of other reasons.  It can be anxiety, self-doubt, or perfectionism.  We might be control freaks.  A perfectionist wants the results of the work to be error free, so they delay the inevitable imperfect outcome.  Like that, a controller purposely delays a task so that it can’t go wrong, or out of their control.  Maybe we get overwhelmed at the size of a project.  The bottom line is, most of us care about the work we need to do, and when we procrastinate, we tend to regret it.  When we finally end up doing it, we feel better for it afterward.  In fact, I usually end up wondering, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”  Like with the slow bathroom drains.  I could’ve done them earlier last week.  Granted, it’s a messy, stinky job, but it’s fast and easy.  We generally have the desire to get something done, but there’s that mental roadblock standing in our way.  On the contrary, by definition, laziness is the unwillingness to do work or expend energy.  Lazy people couldn’t care less if something gets done.

Another big reason we procrastinate is disorganization.  We have so much going on around us, and the freedom to choose between so many things, we often lack the self-control to choose the thing that needs done.  So we choose a distraction instead.  Being disorganized plays right into this.  If we’re not good time managers, any and every little shiny bauble will distract us from the task at hand.  Some rely on the old “I work better under pressure” fallacy.  Been there, done that.  Ultimately we find out that less time to meet the deadline often ends up in the project providing substandard results, or it doesn’t even get finished.

Dream It?  Do It

Are you a dreamer?  I hear you.  We’re always coming up with new and fanciful ways to live life, to do the “next big thing”.  The trap of being a dreamer is, all of these wonderful scenarios play out just perfectly…in our heads.  When it comes to putting an idea into action, we get vapor locked.  That great idea that’s been bubbling in our brain can’t seem to get to get from point A to point B, our hands.  As one who’s lived through this, I can say that the biggest culprit is fear.  What if our grand idea doesn’t turn out as good in reality?  How do I even begin to make it a reality?

With writing, procrastination can come on very easy.  Two words: writer’s block.  But what is writer’s block except just a mental roadblock like what I’ve shown above?  That’s a whole other topic for a different post.  Writing is like any other task, except those of us who write love to do it, so it’s not generally seen as a chore that we might put off until later.  But it can be just as subject to stress, distraction, depression, perfectionism – some of the same causes that lead us to procrastinate on our work or household chores.

Just as there’s a host of reasons why we procrastinate, there are plenty of good ways to get over that bump in the road and get moving.  Nike made millions starting in the late 80s with three little words: Just Do It.  Simple, but effective.  I used this phrase endlessly with my kids as they grew up.  I used it myself countless times.  Just get up and get moving!  Take a step, even a little one.  If the task in front of you seems too big to take just a little step, break it down.

This is where schedules, to do lists and even diagrams can help.  I went out and bought myself an easel and a big paper pad to make notes on.  I’ve used it to list sources for an article – now turned book – that I started over the holidays.  I also plan to use it for article and blog post outlines, and even make flow chart or similar diagrams to help break a bigger project into more manageable pieces.  If you’re a visual learner like me, having it written or drawn out does wonders for being able to see it, grasp it, and do it.  Schedules and to do lists are great time management helpers, and time management is at the core of a lot of procrastination.  We don’t understand or we lose track not just of time, but the value of time.  Time marches forever onward, and we don’t get one second back.  When you let the urgency of that sink in, it’ll help motivate you to get up and get done today what you could’ve put off until tomorrow.