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Non-fiction and fiction, back to your corners

The decline of the fiction market continues to be felt internationally — at least, according to author Philip Hensher, who writes in The Observer about British publishing’s increasing emphasis on non-fiction. To support this claim, Hensher cites “star” authors like Claire Tomalin, Simon Schama, Alain de Botton, and Niall Ferguson, and also, rather dubiously, a new Penguin series entitled Great Ideas, devoted to such “new” discoveries as Marcus Aurelius, Schopenhauer, Darwin, and Orwell.

From there, Hensher argues that the U.K. industry has come to prefer the non-fiction genre because it’s easier to package as self-help, which is what readers really want. He writes: “Where does this leave fiction in the eyes of publishers? Badly off, one suspects, since the values of ‘relevance’ and ‘self-improvement’ are rarely to be extracted from great fiction, and much of the greatest fiction is lacking in either quality.” Hensher, who’s no publishing naif, is surely being disingenuous here: while that second sentence may be correct, its truth hasn’t stopped publishers through the ages from pushing fiction that’s imagined to be “good for us.”

Related links:
Philip Hensher on the rise of non-fiction