Some years back, I was frequenting the public library deep in research. What kind of research? Depending on the week, it could have been the science behind our memories or a memoir some entrepreneur wrote about taking risks or it could have been deep dives into homelessness in the United States, sex trafficking, racism, or global poverty.
I was reading a lot of heavy books.
It was after reading John Lewis’s memoir and a book about how the United States has treated Indineous people back-to-back that I wondered if it might not do me good to pick up a piece of fiction.
As someone with a lifelong love for both reading and learning, I often find myself gravitating toward books that can teach me something I don’t know and oftentimes, that looks like a book on positive psychology or education equity. But after months of reading heavy non-fiction books, something reminded me that I used to devour books about anthropomorphic animals and treehouses that can transport you through time.
In that moment, I decided that I didn’t just want to read more fiction, but I wanted to take some guesswork out of whatever book would next hold the coveted spot on my nightstand to become the next read. For the last several years, I’ve been alternating between reading a nonfiction book and a fiction book. In addition to helping avoid decision fatigue, I find it also keeps me balanced as a reader and as a writer.
The first book I read to start this new pattern was a young adult novel by Christina Soontornvat called A Wish in the Dark. I had the incredible privilege of speaking with Christina for a work project after her book won the prestigious Jane Addams Peace Association Children’s Book Award.
The story is a retelling of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world. It was whimsical and exciting and I loved every second of it. And though it was fiction, it was hard to ignore what I was learning about privilege, power, protest, and justice.
I’ve been switching back and forth since then (fiction and nonfiction) and I am delighted in the ways that both categories challenge my thinking and teach me something. I am grateful for writers who show me what it means to be both playful and poetic. And I am hopeful that all of this “research” only serves me as a writer and, even more importantly, a human with an open heart and a stack of books still to be read.