Spoiling non fiction for everyone

22 December 2017
Sad to see the last episode of the First Tuesday Bookclub on the ABC but I've now got years worth of books I've seen on the show, thought "Mmm, I'll have to check that out" then never actually done so to get through, so that's nice*. I've long given up even trying to be current, but Jennifer Byrne assured me that I'm ahead of the curve in one regard: it is the year of non-fiction, judging that two of the best sellers in 2017 were The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck and The Barefoot Investor.

I admit it is a little dispiriting that those best sellers are a leftover from Oprah's Living Your Best Life Self Help series repackaged with a hot orange cover and "edgy" title, or investment advice from a guy who predicted in 2011 that the house prices were going to start falling. There is however a tonne of fascinating and readable non-fiction out there - if us lovers of fact weren't constantly reminded that someone else had read it first. It's a maddening thing. 

Why do people always spoil non fiction? On the internet where popular culture can fly around the planet in seconds (unless you're on the NBN), a culture of not spoiling plot twists for others who haven't been able to read or watch yet has sprung up, and it's really rather lovely, especially if you're an Australian as old as I am and can remember how episodes of popular TV shows took months to reach us but the spoilers didn't; we never got to figure out who shot Mr Burns, because we found out long weeks before we saw it. 

There was even the Keep The Secret hashtag, encouraging people who'd seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to keep quiet about major plot points for the benefit of those who hadn't seen the play yet (sparing them the disappointment, apparently).

But when a major work of non fiction is released, it's somehow considered okay - nay even mandatory! - for any discussion of the work to include every damn point in the text. One may argue that in the case of non fiction, these are things that already happened, but all of us have to find out about things the first time once. Anyway, when a non fiction book reveals something really juicy - for example, in Niki Savva's The Road To Ruin - instead of leaving it to readers to discover for themselves, every review and media discussion of the book seems compelled to mention the titillating notion of an affair between deposed PM Tony Abbott and his chief of staff Peta Credlin in the first breathless moments. It's really annoying. Us non fiction readers do it because we like to learn, but we also enjoy ;pacing, character development, the twist in the tale.

But we should be able to encounter these at are own pace, not be left grimly going over plot points already chattered to death by the commentariat like picking over the carcass of the Christmas Turkey on 27th December hoping to find enough meat to make a sandwich. 

Whether on your nationally broadcast radio show or just talking with a friend, if you're discussing non fiction - let us know what the book is about, sure. But don't give away spoilers. You're just as big a dick for doing that with non fiction as any work of fantasy.

* I actually bought Infinite Jest, it's sitting on the shelf with the two bookmarks and notepad I was advised to keep handy during the process and I will read it one day.  


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