Why I Don’t Read Fiction

A few weeks ago a fellow PhD student in the English department asked me what I read when I’m not reading for my doctoral research. I answered that I read mostly non-fiction and that, come to think about it, I couldn’t remember the last fiction book I had finished (a later peek at my ‘Books Read’ list revealed it to be The Hobbit). My colleague looked at me confused, noting that he often found himself lost in fiction that drew him away from the books that he knew he needed to read for his own doctoral research. ‘Why don’t you read fiction?’, he asked. Without thinking before I spoke, I blurted out my truth: ‘Because it doesn’t feel productive.’

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Sunday Book-Thought 70

Ghostwriting especially highlights power exchanges between writing and social structures, and also illuminates assumptions about underlying reading and writing processes that enable such exchanges. In the case of the ghostwritten campaign books, for instance, we see how a ‘name’ – that is, a person with currency, social importance, celebrity, or notoriety – can endow a piece of writing with power. Their status brings status to the writing; they are connected to it by name, and it is this connection that authorizes the writing and warrants the reading of it. From this perspective, the actual working out of the words – the writing – is treated with lesser importance: the writer is a mere instrument in completing the connection, a presence not considered meaningful to the reading. Not only ghostwritten books but also much of the writing we encounter in bureaucratic society participates in this power arrangement, whereby words are made significant not by having been written but by the status of the official issuer.
Deborah BrandtThe Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 31.