How to read Nonfiction and stay unbiased!

Non-fiction is that genre of literature that deals with facts. Mostly, you do not find fictitious things. Sure, there are sub-genres like history which bases itself on written documents that are either mostly unreliable, uses obsolete language which, after deciphering, may not be giving out the originally intended meaning. But they are certainly not fiction. They are written based on multiple corroborating pieces of evidence (textual and/or archaeological). And if you find history books and articles without such pieces of evidence and references, ask the bookstore that you bought the book to move it to the fiction section.

Back to the topic. Have you ever found yourself confused as to the reliability of it while reading a book? This often happens when they conflict with your political or religious or personal beliefs. It was a real shock for me as a nine-year-old to find out that Kochi was not a separate country, but a part of the Indian Union. (I suspect that the culprit which imbibed such a notion in me were the Malayalam movies which showed white people in the background when the story is in/set in Kochi). How do you make sure that you read a book unbiased? Surely being unbiased is a utopian concept. We all are pulled to one side based on the influences we had and having as a person, based on the climate of the society we live in, based on our friends and relatives. Even when we think that we are unbiased, we will be subconsciously biased. Like that slight tinge, we have when we see a stigmatized act or person, even though we know that there is nothing to be stigmatized of it/them. It’s the same with reading. We all read with a preconceived impression of the topic. When a racist person read about the studies that refute the scientific basis of racism, that person will surely think that they are a bunch of balderdash, written for the sake of it. Thus, when you read non-fiction seriously, you have to be aware of your biases, and make sure it will not influence your reading negatively.

Reading nonfiction and being unbiased

When I read, I never used to take into account my inherent biases and used to crack when I read positively about things that I don’t agree with or was totally against. It took time for me to bring myself to accept things that I did not agree with when it made sense. And this ‘sense’ too, isn’t easy to achieve. It takes a lot of things to have such a ‘sense’. It is, thus, imperative to have a mind that’s aware of your bias while reading. But it’s also important that you should think less of yourself when you identify yourself as being biased unless you’re not a human being. But you should accept it and correct yourself.

But is there anything specific that you should do to make sure that you are biased minimally while reading? This was the question that nagged me while I started writing this article. It took me a while to realize what to do to make sure of minimal bias while reading. And it has a lot to do with my reading style. You see, everyone has a particular style of reading if it's not for entertainment. How I read may not be how someone else, say Bill Gates read. I read multiple books at the same time and I can compartmentalize each book that I don’t lose track. But that may not be possible for others. Hence you must know to develop your methods to keep unbiased.

One of the things that I do while reading is to put down the book after every section of it and reflect on it, much like revising. This has multiple benefits.

  • First, being able to retain what I read.

  • second, is that it makes sure that I don’t get carried away thinking and lose track of the narrative of the book.

Taking down a note on my take on the subject that the book deals with before starting reading it would help you to compare you before and after reading the book. But you have to make sure that you know enough about the topic before having an opinion. This helps you in two ways.

  • Primarily it will make your bias obvious to you and help you correct yourself.

  • Secondly, it will expose the gaps in your knowledge which were the root cause of the bias.

Next, you should make sure that the book is not too biased, like the leaning tower of Pisa. Every book will be biased just like its authors. But if the bias is obvious, it means that the author did not make a conscious effort to make it minimally biased. Which could mean either that the author is an amateur or is working intending to propagandize his book. Finally, the key to being less biased is to read a lot. Not selective reading, but diversify it. Read left, right, and center on the same topic. Much like reading news. It will give you a wider perspective of the same topic and help you to form an opinion that is well and diversely informed.

It will take a lot of effort and time to make one break away from the shackles of bias that were a part of them for so long. But it is better to be less biased and be a party to reason than to cling on to emotional attachment and ego. Forego and emotional attachments would only bring a negative lifestyle and make your life miserable. Because “if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”