Jump to content


Photo

Problems with Popular Nonfiction


  • Please log in to reply
131 replies to this topic

#1 Suzanne F

Suzanne F

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 21,904 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 05:24 PM

This is why I've given up on most nonfiction. The writers generically are mediocre prose stylists at best, and they always waste so much ink developing arguments at stupid length in a way that yields no joy to me to read.

 

Discuss if you dare.


I don't actually know what a handbasket is -- but whatever they are, singer-songwriters are in the first ones going to hell. -- Sneakeater, 29 March 2018 - 12:06 AM

 

notorious stickler -- NY Times
deeply annoying and nitpicking -- Molly O'Neill, One Big Table


#2 Wilfrid

Wilfrid

    Advanced Member

  • Admin
  • PipPipPip
  • 86,006 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 05:57 PM

Well, I take taion's own experiences at face value.  There's no point arguing.  But from a logical perspective, I find it difficult to imagine making a meaningful comparison of non-fiction writers and fiction writers "generally."



#3 taion

taion

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 7,690 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 06:01 PM

I've been stressed out and exhausted since I got back from the holidays. Can you maybe give me a break?

 

But that Kevin Alexander series on Thrillist is like 10k words all-in, and it's mostly just blather.

 

Like, what's the point?

 

You can guess who I tend to read – people like Greg Clark, Bill Easterly, and Yuval Levin. Their books may or may not develop interesting arguments, but I get nothing out of reading their arguments in book length.

 

Or like Acemoglu and Robinson's Why Nations Fail. Whether it's a good argument or just a bunch of just-so stories – it still essentially makes its point within the first 50 pages, and the next 400 are just pointless filler.


I didn't tip at Per Se either.

#4 taion

taion

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 7,690 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 06:04 PM

Maybe I should make a more restricted statement – most writers take way too damn long to get to the point.


I didn't tip at Per Se either.

#5 Wilfrid

Wilfrid

    Advanced Member

  • Admin
  • PipPipPip
  • 86,006 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 06:07 PM

Like two or three posts.  :D

 

:kidding:



#6 Rich

Rich

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 8,621 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 06:56 PM

I find it difficult to imagine making a meaningful comparison of non-fiction writers and fiction writers "generally."

You mean there's a difference these days?



#7 Wilfrid

Wilfrid

    Advanced Member

  • Admin
  • PipPipPip
  • 86,006 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 10:08 PM

Er.......

 

Yes.



#8 voyager

voyager

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 5,428 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 10:19 PM

Maybe I should make a more restricted statement – most writers take way too damn long to get to the point.

 

I'm not sure that most of my reading has a point, at least not in the larger scheme of things.    :mellow:


It's not my circus,

not my monkeys.


#9 Rail Paul

Rail Paul

    Advanced Member

  • Admin
  • PipPipPip
  • 23,679 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 11:14 PM

Sometimes we don't know what the point is until we've finished the work, and considered it for a while.

 

The boundary between fiction and non-fiction seems to be blurring over the past few decades.


Dreams come in all sizes, shapes, and colors.

#10 taion

taion

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 7,690 posts

Posted 06 January 2017 - 11:50 PM

Well, frankly, most supposed nonfiction tells you more about the writer's priors than about the actual shape of the world. When the writer is a specialist in the field, this can be okay, though it turns out most academics are lousy writers who aren't fun to read.
 
For non-specialists, even setting aside the outright fabulists like Jonah Lehrer, you still have people writing about things they barely understand, colored more by their own class prejudices than anything else. I'm just... less and less willing to submit to Gell-Mann amnesia any more, I guess.
 

I'm not sure that most of my reading has a point, at least not in the larger scheme of things.    :mellow:


I read to entertain and to inform (which is ultimately the same as to entertain) myself. Bad writing that takes too long to get to the point neither entertains nor efficiently informs me.


I didn't tip at Per Se either.

#11 Wilfrid

Wilfrid

    Advanced Member

  • Admin
  • PipPipPip
  • 86,006 posts

Posted 07 January 2017 - 12:38 AM

Of course "most" academics are lousy writers. Most novelists are too.

This is kind of interesting. I read a lot, fiction and non-fiction, but it's a minority of books I find poor, and few I find completely worthless and cast aside.

Doesn't the reader take responsibility for what s/he chooses to read. @taion, are you picking promising genres or writers within those genres?

#12 Wilfrid

Wilfrid

    Advanced Member

  • Admin
  • PipPipPip
  • 86,006 posts

Posted 07 January 2017 - 12:45 AM

Amusing that someone so scrupulous about pop psych throws out the "Gell-Mann amnesia effect" as if it's really a thing.

#13 taion

taion

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 7,690 posts

Posted 07 January 2017 - 01:05 AM

The Gell-Mann amnesia effect refers to how the reader doesn't discount the accuracy of reporting on areas in which he or she is unfamiliar, based on the quality of reporting on areas where said reader has sufficient expertise to judge the quality of said reporting.

 

It's an observation that's available to introspection. I can confidently assert in retrospect that I do suffer from the Gell-Mann amnesia effect. If you don't, more power to you.

 

And, no, as I said, I've given up on reading books that I expect to view as wastes of time in retrospect. Though I'll read reviews of those books when I can.


I didn't tip at Per Se either.

#14 Wilfrid

Wilfrid

    Advanced Member

  • Admin
  • PipPipPip
  • 86,006 posts

Posted 07 January 2017 - 02:07 AM

Ha, I know what it is, but it's nothing established by any research. It's the kind of little pop psych nothing I'd think you would hate.

#15 voyager

voyager

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 5,428 posts

Posted 07 January 2017 - 02:15 AM

Well, frankly, most supposed nonfiction tells you more about the writer's priors than about the actual shape of the world. When the writer is a specialist in the field, this can be okay, though it turns out most academics are lousy writers who aren't fun to read.
 
For non-specialists, even setting aside the outright fabulists like Jonah Lehrer, you still have people writing about things they barely understand, colored more by their own class prejudices than anything else. I'm just... less and less willing to submit to Gell-Mann amnesia any more, I guess.
 

I'm not sure that most of my reading has a point, at least not in the larger scheme of things.    :mellow:


I read to entertain and to inform (which is ultimately the same as to entertain) myself. Bad writing that takes too long to get to the point neither entertains nor efficiently informs me.

 

I read for entertainment.   I have to care about the subject in non-fiction or a character in fiction or even the era.   I can become engaged in the era in either.   I can't read bad writing, but often reread lyric passages over and over.    

 

Not sure that I always look for a point, but definitely need to become hooked early on in any read.    20% of the book is max before I put it aside.


It's not my circus,

not my monkeys.