In Dire Need Of a Better Nonfiction Reader

Giannina Ong

During my first quarter as nonfiction editor of the Santa Clara Review, I came across an honest submission. None of that "let me tell you about some other person" bullshit. The piece began simply:  "I am a woman with big tits."


Reflecting back with the current socio-political climate in mind, I could not have been luckier to get Jenny Ferguson's piece, "They Say I’m Lucky I Haven’t Had It Worse." It's a completely unapologetic piece, but reads a bit hesitant to group herself in with other women who have "had it worse" as her title states. I loved it, because I saw myself in it. Her piece, available to read here, is full of vivid images that place you in her personal experience. Yet, there is an overwhelming tension in personal opinion and social perception.


I'm referring to the recent Aziz Ansari piece that came out. A piece that even women believe does not belong in the current #MeToo movement. A piece in which an anonymous woman wants to point out the uncomfortable points in a date she went on, but instead get slammed for complaining about "bad sex." 


Nonfiction does surface personal accounts, but like any piece of literature, nonfiction is too subjected to the reader-response criticism. That is, the meaning of the piece is not in the hands of the writer once it has been received by the reader. But then, if not through personal accounts, how can we change people's notions of right and wrong (and that which is the gray area)? 


Well, I think that is where fiction comes into play. The New Yorker's piece, "Cat Person," comes to mind. Fiction has the ability to startle and shake in ways that nonfiction can't. Not saying nonfiction isn't important, because it is. Nonfiction such as Ferguson's piece allows more women to recognize themselves in those situations and know that what they are going through is not right. Nonfiction provides a sense of relief that you are not by yourself. 


But perhaps, in this day and age, fiction is just a bit better suited for changing readers' minds. That is, until we get better readers of nonfiction. 


That being said, on my bookshelf now waiting to be read is The Power, a novel where women develop a superpower and then become the "dominant" gender, and Red Clocks, a dystopian novel that imagines the world if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Both clearly have an agenda, but I think that the fictional genre allows the reader to come to their own conclusions.


Happy reading!