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I don't read fiction. I find it a waste of time. There are so many amazing things that are real; I don't need to spend any time on a made-up story.

Pretty strange comment to come from a creative type, no?




I don't think it's strange that I don't read fiction. I've met plenty of other "creative" people who don't read fiction either. Nothing against other people reading fiction, I'm just not interested in it.

I watch movies and I'll watch TV shows, but if I'm going to spend dozens and dozens of hours reading, I'd rather read about something that's real. There's plenty of creativity in the real world. More than I'd ever be able to discover in 100 lifetimes.


I watch movies and I'll watch TV shows ... There's plenty of creativity in the real world

You realize that movies and TV shows most certainly do not constitute the "real world"?

Nobody says you have to read fiction. But it's really a shame to take the weaker forms of escapism the world has to offer you rather than the deeper, ecstatic ones, just because the latter are in book form.


I don't think he's taking "weaker" forms of escapism as he's taking shorter ones.

I still find his stance different as a lover of fiction, but I can't argue that a good book isn't also very time consuming, and if you allow that your time is precious, there are probably better uses for it.


I think TV shows and movies are weaker. Movies can't do what books can do because you don't create them in your mind as you consume them (or at least not in the same way).

But I can see why for some people, the basic realism of film might take them even further than a book and their own imagination. My original post sounded a bit more judgmental than intended.


I share your viewpoint. Like Fried, I don't read fiction novels either but.. I do read short stories from time to time. Especially J G Ballard.

It's all about the time issue for me. I read lots of long novels as a teen but it's either do that or actually do some work nowadays.

As an aside, the death of the short story as a significant literary force is worth mourning here too..


He is most definitely not speaking like TV and movies are the real world as your quote seems to make out. I also tend to stay away from fiction other than the occasional short story and find that autobiographies and other forms of non-fiction offer a nice creative boost in their writing.


Check out this story: "How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect" http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/health/06mind.html?_r=2...


I will come out and say it: categorically dismissing fictional books as "not real" (and therefor uninteresting) is both strange and stupid.

Fiction can be as real as the author wishes to make it, as an endeavor to elucidate their ideas and insights regarding the 'real world' through the telling of a story. I'd never be so audacious as to state "I hate non-fiction, there's very little to learn from boorish, presumptuous, and poorly considered interpretations of the author's reality"

This sort of navel-gazing article is uninteresting and of questionable real-world value, reminiscent of breathless puff pieces on the (soon to be forgotten) luminaries of .com technology that were so popular in the mid to late 1990s.


It's not real. At best it is anecdotal. It's a story. It's imagination. It's entertainment. It's a very expensive form of entertainment when you value your time.


It's not real. At best it is anecdotal. It's a story. It's imagination. It's entertainment.

Why are ideas presented in the form of non-fiction any more "real" than ideas presented in the form of fiction?

Even the most literal non-fiction remains an expression of the author's opinion and ideas.

It's a very expensive form of entertainment when you value your time.

I find what I learn from well-chosen fiction and non-fiction to be equally valuable, and I value my time quite a bit.

I also would be very surprised that anyone who has time to comment here doesn't have time to read a fiction (or non-fiction) book.


It's not about having the time or not, it's about what you choose to read when you do have the time.

The difference is that when you read fiction, you are in a world, a physical land that is entirely constructed by the mind of the author. The characters aren't bound by the same laws of physics that you and I are. When characters make decisions, the other characters react in the way the author wants, but real people may not react that way.

With nonfiction, there are rules. With fiction, there are no rules. In fact, you don't know what the rules are when you read fiction.

You know that quote about those who don't read history are doomed to repeat it? Well, there is a lot of history to read.

They're two different universes. One, fiction, is framed in a universe where we don't exist. The other, nonfiction, is in the same universe we all share here. In fiction, what goes up may not come down. If you shape your life or make decisions based on fictional ideas, they don't always apply in the real world. Sometimes they may, but mostly they do not.

Yes, you are right, lots of insights can be gained from fiction. I learned a lot reading slaughterhouse five. It's fiction, but it's also pretty real in a way. I learned a lot from 1984. I learn a lot from science fiction.

But there are is also a lot to learn and a lot of insights to be gained from nonfiction as well. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Think of it this way. If you only read fiction for the rest of your life, could you program a computer? Could you build a house? Could you understand quantum mechanics or any myriad other practical skills? Probably not.

This of course is my opinion, but if I had to choose between a future life of only fiction reading or a future life of only nonfiction reading, I would choose nonfiction. I think nonfiction is a better learning tool and a greater benefit to my life than fiction, because through nonfiction, I can learn facts that I can't learn through fiction. It's actually difficult and confusing sometimes to decipher truth from fiction.


Think of it this way. If you only read fiction for the rest of your life, could you program a computer? Could you build a house? Could you understand quantum mechanics or any myriad other practical skills? Probably not.

My practical skills are only useful in their relation to my human condition, both of which warrant exploration.

This of course is my opinion, but if I had to choose between a future life of only fiction reading or a future life of only nonfiction reading, I would choose nonfiction.

Fortunately for all of us, that choice is entirely unnecessary, and I've no problem suggesting that anyone who actually dismisses either fiction or non-fiction is demonstrating a remarkable, frightening lack of insight.


Do you believe the human condition cannot be explored through nonfiction? Would you entertain the idea that perhaps it may be possible to explore the human condition deeper and more profoundly through nonfiction than through fiction?

I think it's actually quite insightful to understand that.

Find me a fiction book more profoundly descriptive of the human condition than The Divided Self by RD Laing.


Do you believe the human condition cannot be explored through nonfiction?

No.

Would you entertain the idea that perhaps it may be possible to explore the human condition deeper and more profoundly through nonfiction than through fiction?

It's not a contest.

Find me a fiction book more profoundly descriptive of the human condition than The Divided Self by RD Laing.

You don't believe his book is an exploration of his own personal perspective on reality and meaning?


I believe it is a contest, because we have a limited amount of time on earth. If you could do either A or B and you believe B is better, then why would you do A?

Of course The Divided Self is his exploration of the topic, but it's sold in the nonfiction section.


I believe it is a contest, because we have a limited amount of time on earth.

Well, you have enough time to comment here. Is this really a better exploration of the human condition (or whatever it is you want to achieve through reading) than non-fiction books?

If you could do either A or B and you believe B is better, then why would you do A?

In reality, fiction and non-fiction are not mutually exclusive unless you're obtuse enough to make them so. They're not even clearly distinct in their value or purpose.


Using language like "obtuse" isn't really conducive to conversation. They are different. Yes, there can be facts in a fiction book and fiction in a nonfiction book, but they are categorized differently. Humans need groups to put things in and we put books into groups based on fact and based on imagination.

I'm actually doing about 5 things right now. Playing a poker tournament, chatting with my wife, commenting here, watching an animal documentary on tv, and designing a new feature for my web application.

If I was reading, I'd only be doing one thing.


I'd be hard pressed to argue that our imagination does not change our reality.


I agree strongly with your stance on fiction, and am of a similar mind. I was surprised to see someone share it, especially a known "creative" personality, given the tight coupledness of fiction to the worldview and mass-cultural constellation of the technical profession.

Movies and TV shows are principally fiction, sure; I think the salient distinction that people who are prejudiced against "fiction" make is as to the realism and real-world viability of what is involved, i.e. the way that "historical fiction" might stand in contradistinction with Harry Potter-style "fantasy."

I, for instance, as an otherwise ardent nonfictionalist, enjoy Star Trek, but don't enjoy Harry Potter or Tolkien novels. Take that for what it's worth.


Do you not read fiction at all ever, or just not regularly?

I don't regularly read fiction, but I have about 3 novels that I've read in my lifetime that were absolutely spell binding, like the best movie * 1000. Never been absolutely tied to a book that you literally can't put it down until you finish it?


I don't read fiction at all anymore. Used to, but I have limited time for reading these days so I choose to focus on non-fiction. That's what I find the most stimulating and interesting.


You don't really get to see into the author's mind when you are reading non-fiction; it's all about the facts. With fiction, the author's creativity is not restrained by actual happenings. (Books like "1984" are worth reading, even if they are not a factual account of events that took place in 1984.)


"You don't really get to see into the author's mind when you are reading non-fiction; it's all about the facts."

This is very wrong.


I should have qualified that with "as deeply".


which is still wrong. If we use your example of Orwell, "homage to catalonia" may be a more deep insight into his mind than 1984.


So you can't tell the difference between how David Foster Wallace, William Langeweische, and Steven Levitt see the world by reading what they write? Or the difference between a conservative-leaning historian and a liberal historian? Come on.


You realize that DFW was primarily a fiction writer, yes? Sure we all like A Supposedly Fun Thing I'd Never Do Again, but Infinite Jest was his Magnum Opus, and was fiction.


What's your point?

Without getting into the Latrodectus Mactans Productions quiz to prove our geek/hipster DFW cred: I just picked three writers of nonfiction with both very different prose styles and very different worldviews, and I don't think you'd disagree with my point.


Sometimes you can get a good piece of non-fiction that's done very well. For instance, I recently read Newton and the Counterfeiter and found it excellent. In this case fact was far more interesting than any fictional account could've been. Furthermore, I was personally more interested in the outcome since the events actually happened. I get an interesting story, and learn history at the same time. Personally I couldn't ask for more.


Ditto. Except I do occasionally read some good short stories - particularly J G Ballard's. You can get some really mind-bending stuff in < 20 pages from the right authors. It's a shame the format isn't more popular. You can pick up insights and feelings that non-fiction rarely delivers.


Can you share what they are please?


Some fiction is realer than reality.


"The difference between fiction and reality?? Fiction has to make sense." --Tom Clancy


Thats kind of the definition of good fiction [or good art, even highly abstract art]...

eg. Neal Stephensons Young ladies illustrated primer or Cryptonomicon strike me that way - they make you think even more about what is real.


I love that on hackerne.ws the poster/creator of the content you're discussing is far more likely to respond to what you're saying.

I've been a programmer (professionally) for 3-4 years now, been coding far longer than that and was wondering what your feelings were regarding CompSci degrees and the necessity (or not) of them.

Also, have you considered separating the "less is less" product and then creating the more "enterprisey" product as a separate entity and allowing your customers to upgrade within your product range instead of having in and out customer numbers?

I mention this as I think of companies that exercise pretty vigorous product differentiation (Microsoft's OEM versus Corporate licensing, Apple-anything) and your comment regarding not wanting to make your flagship product intimidating to new customers.

Just wondering what your thoughts were on those two questions, thanks.


Odd that he watches fictional TV shows.

Anyway, I think many "geeks" forget that you can read fiction for more than just the stories. The writing is usually more expressive, and reading that helps you become a better writer. That's why I read fiction, anyway. (OK, I like a good story, too.)


How is it "odd" that he watches House but doesn't read fiction? How many millions of people does that describe?


Why is watching fiction not a waste of time, but reading fiction a waste of time?

The real question is, however, why are we arguing about this?


I read through this thread thinking the same thing (re: the arguing).

It was a fairly intimate article providing an insight into the habits and life of JF and I found it slightly disconcerting that people were so quick to criticise what seems to be a personal choice.


You can digest a movie much faster than a novel, so it's easy to see why you'd avoid novels if your time was limited.


But a movie is significantly less content than a novel. If you read manga instead, the time invested would be about the same.

(And of course, neither are as intellectually stimulating as a well-written novel. Which is the point of reading them, for me anyway.)


I think the peculiar bit is that he is conscientiously avoiding fiction rather than the practical fact of the matter that this is not an uncommon phenomenon as you rightly point out.

Maybe it's something about the online medium which is conducive to people making categorical statements or maybe that's just Jason's personality, but still I do find it odd.

Although I do agree with you that we've spent way too much time talking about it at this point...


I think it's a cost/benefit thing. You can probably watch a whole season of House in the time it takes to read one long book. I love fiction, but I certainly don't find his position hypocritical.


Time is a big part of it, yes. I'm a slow reader too.


That surprises me too. When I've heard that remark in the past, it's always been from someone I could dismiss as being a silly snob.

What's the core of the argument? Is it that fiction is not intellectual enough? What about Milton, Shakespeare, and the profound insights they offer into the way people think? Is it not more interesting (and even persuasive) in that form than as a straight essay? What about science fiction, and the thought experiments it offers regarding our social and political systems?

What about films? Does Mr. Fried also ignore films that tell fictitious stories, or are they acceptable due to the reduced time requirement?

Yeah, I don't know. But it's surprising.


I'm pretty much the same way: fiction is just not usually interesting to me. That doesn't mean I'm reading tech manuals; it means I'd usually rather read history, essays, or something discursive on science than a story. And Shakespeare? Milton? Seriously?

There's fiction I do read (I took on Infinite Jest this summer, and I'm slowly reading Blood Meridian), but it takes effort to engage with it; nonfiction never does.

Just another perspective.


Yes, Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, Joyce, Kafka, seriously! Why the hell not? They're all incomparably more fascinating, stimulating, fun and mind-blowing than watching House, after all! (and I'm a fan of House).

I'm not trying to invalidate your perspective, but your rhetorical question suggests you really don't understand, beyond the point of your own preference, why people would read Shakespeare. That's incredibly bizarre to me.

My own perspective is that I'd rather lose a limb than swear off fiction for the rest of my life. I can't help feeling deeply sorry for people who can appreciate good literature but won't read it, for whatever reason - even if I understand how gratuitous and unwelcome this feeling may seem to them. It really is such an important part of what makes life worth living.

I'm honestly not aiming for hipster cred here (I haven't read Infinite Jest). Just another perspective.


Austen, Joyce, and Kafka I get. I think most people who read Shakespeare do so because they think they're supposed to, though. Seeing Shakespeare, different story.

There are a million things vying for our attention. We should invest it in things that we appreciate. There are also people who think fine wine is an important part of what makes life worth living, or marijuana, or Bach.


But Milton, you forgot Milton. I'm reading Paradise Lost. Maybe it is one of those things you're supposed to read, but it's genuinely really good. Like,

"to be weak is miserable doing or suffering: but of this be sure, to do aught good never will be our task, but ever to do ill our sole delight"


When I've heard that remark in the past, it's always been from someone I could dismiss as being a silly snob.

Snob? My first reaction is to dismiss them as philistines.

(Of course, I'm often wrong, and philistines are often smart people too...)


Agreed that it's a strange comment. It was about the only thing I disagreed with in that piece.

Surprising too. I often find more inspiration from fiction than non-fiction. Plenty of fiction work has factual elements of science and technology behind them; they are just stylized into a story. Often, it makes the reading more interesting.


How do you "disagree" with how someone else chooses to live their life? He's not clubbing baby seals.

Sorry; I'm really not "sticking up for Jason Fried" guy, it's just funny how we all get into this rut where everything that's posted here is a subject for critique. I'm as bad as anyone else. But, seriously? How he chooses to spend his spare time?


I should have been more clear. I was referring to the "waste of time" comment.


I think the disagreement is with the notion that fiction is a "waste of time", not with how Jason chooses to spend his spare time.


Echo you here. That's the funniest thing I read in this whole thread.

It's as if Jason's reading habits have caused the OP to take a different view of whether Basecamp is the right/wrong solution to their own needs.


I do not find it strange at all - As I get older, I've been reading non-fiction almost exclusively. Not at all meaning to dismiss the value of fiction, but due to time constraints, I'd rather read practical non-fic. that I can apply towards my career (business/marketing, technical, psychology, bios, etc.).

On the flip side, one of my best buddies who has an extremely technical career path reads non-fic. almost exclusively, save for tech manuals.

To each, their very own. Especially when it comes to reading material, music and food.


I would urge those who think fiction a waste of time to read Thomas Jefferson's letter[1] to Robert Skipwith. In particular: everything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue.

1- http://www.sheilaomalley.com/archives/007403.html




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