Fiction or Non-Fiction? A Veteran Journalist Explains Why He Ventured into Fiction

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Yesterday's segment about new curriculum guidelines that would replace some beloved novels with non-fiction reading in K-12 classrooms sparked a lot of responses listener responses about the virtues of fiction and non-fiction. What's more important for a high school education: fiction reading or non-fiction reading?


"A mixture of both" listener Shannon wrote on The Takeaway's Facebook page. "I think showing both sides of literature help students develop a respect of the written word. A great story sometimes can't compare to a great memoir." 

Another listener, Frederic says neither. "Intellectual discussion of the ideas presented in the reading and a deeper understanding is the most important aspect of any reading. A superficial understanding of either fiction or non-fiction is endemic of the American education system, and the American society," he wrote.


Today, a veteran journalist who ventured into fiction after a storied career in the world of non-fiction weighs in. Jeff Greenfield the author of “Then Everything Changed.”

"The idea that you can favor non-fiction over fiction as a genre, is to me a fool's errand," Greenfield says. He believes that both fiction and non-fiction are equally essential.

There are some history books that Greenfield thinks teach you more than any novel can. But on the other hand, he says, a piece of fiction can be a window that allows us to see into an era, in a way that a history book can't. "I really do think that when people look back at New York in the 1980s, they're going to have to look at The Bonfire of the Vanities," he says. "I think Tom Wolfe was able to take his insights and his shrewd and somewhat jaded eye about the battle over status and money, and render it in a way that a simple piece of reporting — or even an elaborate piece of reporting — just wasn't going to be able to do."

The documents of history themselves are as integral to Jeff Greenfield. "There is no way to understand where we are, without understanding the premises of the folks who created the country."