The Age of Nonfiction?

I’m not sure if it’s due to sunspots or historical circumstances, and I know my friends who write fiction and poetry will be unhappy that I’m saying this, but it seems to me that nonfiction is sometimes more exciting than fiction right now. Certainly the stastistics show a decline in fiction sales even while publishers are putting out 17% more titles. (Bowker has the full story.) Biography, history and religion showed double-digit increases for 2003. Some account for this as a post-September 11 reaction – unprecedented American interest in the outside world. It is also possible to view the trend aesthetically and suggest that perhaps fiction hasn’t been keeping pace with current events. (Indeed, how can it?) If this turns out to be the Age of Nonfiction – for talent follows the money – then this could explain the increasing interest in what is detestably called “Creative Nonfiction.” (Detestable because all writing ought to be “creative,” and because “creative” is a cruel term for good writing, so that the phrase “Creative Nonfiction” is doubly appalling from an artistic point of view.) recently posted a link to an essay called “The Age of the Essay” by Paul Graham. Graham, famous for his work on Spam and Spam filters, has this to say about writing essays:

“What should you think about? My guess is that it doesn’t matter – that anything can be interesting if you get deeply enough into it. One possible exception might be things that have deliberately had all the variation sucked out of them, like working in fast food. In retrospect, was there anything interesting about working at Baskin-Robbins?”

Read the whole essay here.