Wanna see something really dumb?
The Daily Beast just published their list of America's Smartest Cities. As they say on their website, "We’ve gone out and ranked the relative intelligence of every major American population hub [metro area pop. over 1 million], from first-to-worst."
You might think I'm going to complain that Chicago came in at #24 (tied with St. Louis), with a civic IQ of 108 - or, as the Daily Beast says, "a big fat C+." But no, I don't care about that.
My problem is with part of their criteria. TDB came up with an (admittedly) unscientific formula to measure the per-capita IQ of each metropolitan area. A significant component of their formula came from "nonfiction book sales."
They explained it thusly:
"We focused on nonfiction as an imperfect proxy for intellectual vigor, because overall sales are dominated by fiction works that, while entertaining, aren’t always particularly thought-provoking."Here are a few bestselling nonfiction titles, which The Daily Beast seems to think better represent "intellectual vigor" than that silly fiction stuff:
THE BON JOVI ENCYCLOPAEDIA
I'll give them credit for spelling encyclopaedia correctly. But an encyclopaedia of ... Bon Jovi??
HUNGRY GIRL: 200 RECIPES UNDER 200 CALORIES
With just one book, you can teach your daughter to cook, and get her started on her body-image disorder!
STUFF ON MY CAT: THE BOOK
Here's the deal: Put stuff on your cat, take picture of said cat with stuff on it, submit picture to publisher. Then, I kid you not, they publish an entire book of such pictures.
MASTER OF THE GAME: BECOME A CHICK MAGNET AND ATTRACT WOMEN EFFORTLESSLY
This one speaks for itself.
Once again, the reason that The Daily Beast excluded fiction is because works of fiction, "while entertaining, aren’t always particularly thought-provoking."
Looking at the above titles, it is obvious that works of non-fiction are the flip-side of the equation: always thought-provoking, even when they fail to entertain.
Sure, there are plenty of dumb novels in the world, just as there are plenty of dumb non-fiction books. But to read fiction (at least, to read it well) requires thinking in abstraction and metaphor, requires the simultaneous use of both the intellect and the imagination. In short, reading fiction requires the use of more of the reader's brain. To suggest that non-fiction is inherently more intellectually demanding is, well, just dumb.
And yet, we've all encountered people (never extremely bright people, but...) who somehow equate non-fiction with intellectual rigor and fiction with fluffy entertainment.
Why is that?