Today I’m doing a couple of last minute posts for the month of June and that includes the current Bloggers’ Alliance of Non-fiction Devotees (BAND) discussion. Each month, this group poses an interesting question related to our common love of non-fiction. This weeks’ question comes from Marilyn from Me, you, and books and she asks the following question:
When is an author’s subjective response to a subject not a bias but a legitimate perspective? What non-fiction have you read where an author’s feelings enhance your understanding?
Subjectivity seems most useful to me when the subject is itself more subjective than factual (a response to music, for example) or when it enhances the author’s understanding of a particular viewpoint. Subjectivity can even be one of the most interesting parts of a non-fiction book when it adds a human element to potentially dry topics. At the same time, it can also be one of the worst parts of a non-fiction book, particularly when pop science books incorrectly present one side of an issue as established fact. This can be incredibly misleading for a reader without discipline-specific knowledge, throwing away an invaluable opportunity to educate.
To avoid becoming a problem, I think subjectivity should always obey the following two rules: First, if an issue being discussed is unresolved, than all sides must be presented fairly, even if the author uses their own experience to add depth to the description of one argument. And second, the author’s own subjectivity must never contradict established facts, unless they have new facts supporting the alternative they propose. Within those constraints, I always find it interesting to get an author’s perspective on their subject. It’s part of the fun of reading a book instead of just a list of facts
Your turn! Feel free to answer the BAND question here or at our host Marilyn’s blog. When, if ever, do you it’s appropriate for a non-fiction author to write subjectively?