NFOs: the tragedy that reads among us

There is an affliction that many suffer from. It hides in plain sight. Someone on your bus every morning has it. Last night in the pub, that guy across from you drinking the watery beer, he carries it. At least one member of your immediate family has it.

It affects men more aggressively than women. And once it gets hold, this bubonic infection bursts to the surface with the slightest stimuli. It can turn the sanest, most reasonable individual into an incoherent, respect-shedding, babbling cretin.

These carriers are people that read Non-Fiction Only. Or to coin an acronym, NFOs. Kind of like UFOs, but even more puzzling.

Before continuing, a clarification: I read lots of non-fiction. Five of the last ten books were non fiction – including the wonderful Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness and Alex Bellos’ Alex’s Adventures In Numberland. The book I’m currently devouring, Edward Hollis’ The Secret Lives of Buildings, is also resolutely grounded in reality.

Non-fiction is great. The best of it makes your mind expand with every passing sentence. After several intense doses of literary fiction, non-fiction is like brain sorbet.

And yet, there is more, much more, to reading than the sugar rush of non-fiction. However, the NFOs refuse the smorgasbord on offer. They turn their affliction into an article of faith. And normally they are more than happy to share it with you.

An old flatmate at university spoke for all NFOs when he would regularly utter the following words: “I don’t like fiction because it is not real”. This mantra is the first, and main, sign that someone has been infected and will soon be an NFO. Poor sod.

By this logic, the feverish brain of the average NFO believes that works of fiction are ungrounded pieces of abstract nonsense. These books contain no human beings, but instead consistently feature an alien species constructed from 29 different dimensions.

Where relatable emotions, experiences or locations are to be expected, random sequences of numbers from pi take their place.

No dialogue about life’s great themes is expressed. Instead, to ensure a complete departure from reality, all conversations within fiction are produced by the author hammering a keyboard with their elbows. In the dark. Whilst drunk.

To be fair, NFOs give authors god-like status. To their diseased minds each book within the fiction section of their local book store, the sinister place beyond the earthy comforts of biography, is a self-contained universe beyond human comprehension. No wonder they seem unnerved by fiction. It would be like taking a Tea Party activist to Sweden.

Is there a cure for NFOs? We tried to lock our flatmate in a room for a week with nothing but Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls (set in the ‘fictional’ Spanish Civil War and featuring ‘made-up’ notions such as romance and loyalty), but he managed to dig his way out with a copy of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Who knows how many he went on to infect?

So please, if you have any tried and tested remedies please share. Together we can cure the world of the NFO pestilence.

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