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Archeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.

Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The debate of truth vs. fact has been occupying space in my head for the last several years, and I have been suspicious of statistics ever since I read the book How to Lie with Statistics. I don’t know if it is still in print, but if so, it is worth tracking down and reading. The principles in it are still valid today.

Today I saw a post on social media questioning the decision to read fiction in such perilous times as these when really people should be reading nonfiction in an effort to figure out how we got here.

The first part of my response was easy, and hopefully fairly obvious and not harsh. Reading fiction can provide respite from the stress of where we are and how we got here.

Then I started to get a little twitchy because the author of the post seemed to be equating nonfiction with fact. I have no way of knowing for sure. It was a short post and has since been deleted. Nonfiction books contain facts, but they also contain perspective, bias, analysis, and interpretation of those facts. Or they might not be facts at all. Fiction doesn’t go any further off the rails than books in the fields of political commentary and memoir. With fiction, I don’t have to worry about whether or not to trust the source.

I have been doing “how did we get here” reading, but I am trying to read history not written by the winners because otherwise it could have as much in common with fiction as with fact — not that alternate viewpoints are infallible. After I saw an interview with the author of Watergate: A New History, I decided to investigate in part because I know very little about the Watergate burglary, subsequent cover-up, and investigation and in part because the author made an excellent case for why a new book was warranted. There is so much more information (facts? truth?) to be had than was available for previous histories. My search turned up another book: The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President by Jill Wine-Banks, the sole woman on the prosecution team. I was surprised to learn that there had been a woman on the team.

Both of these books are history. Both are nonfiction. Both are important. And I don’t have to read both to know for a fact that they present some of the same information in different contexts and from different points of view. If I read both, and they conflict, which one will I believe?

Not unlike history and memoir, fiction offers reflection and commentary but with the premise that everything is made up. Like the best lies, however, the best fiction has its roots in reality. (Might as well let another worm out of the can.)

I read two books in February: Machinehood by S.B. Divya and Sourdough, or Lois and Her Adventures in the Underground Market by Robin Sloan.

Machinehood is near-future science fiction set in 2095, and I am recommending it to anyone and everyone every chance I get. The world, politics, and culture are so familiar that you only have to mentally squint a little bit to see it as the present, or at least see how the world could easily end up as it has in the book. Technology is infused into almost every aspect of human life — to the point of a violent uprising — but the characters have not lost their humanity. They are all of the things that the people you know and love are — brave, scared, driven, stubborn, flawed, intelligent, and just trying to do the best they can. (The book deserves it’s own post, but in the meantime, just go read it.)

Sourdough is the story of a talented young software engineer who moves to San Francisco for a high-paying, high-tech job which has her working all hours of the day and night, subsisting on a nutrient paste popular with her co-workers. The schedule and the diet take a toll on her physical and mental health. Some events occur which end up with her becoming the caretaker of a sourdough starter, and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for her. The content is lighter than the intense social and political upheaval of Machinehood, but the book offers interesting and entertaining commentary about how we feed ourselves, body and soul, in this modern world. Food for thought, as it were. (Sorry.)

Are these two books any less true or even factual than the history of Watergate? Or the two books of Russian history I have checked out from the library? It depends on your point of view.

Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

-Obi Wan Kenobi

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