My friend's father prefers non-fiction books.
"You know why?" he said to me. "Because they're true."
I let it go.
I happen to prefer fiction. You know why? Because, in some ways at least, it's truer.
Writers of both fiction and non-fiction use a lot of the same narrative techniques and have to make a lot of the same choices as they craft their stories -- what to leave in, what to leave out; where to start, where to stop -- so that in the end the difference between a novel and, say, a memoir can be a little hazy.
One of my favorite memoirs, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, was famously exposed as, well ... fiction. Turns out Frey had exaggerated everything that happened to him. And I could understand why. It made a better story. His defense: It was still true on an emotional level.
I can buy that. But he should have called the book what it was: a novel.
On the other hand, even the best biographies and histories and accounts of current events aren't really true. Why? Because writers have to make choices. They can't include everything, but everything they leave out makes the story a little less true.
Everything they add changes the truth of what they've already written.
Novelists make the same choices, of course, but they have more freedom. They aren't hampered by an inability to get all the facts. They can make them up. Yet the best fiction ends up being as true-to-life as the best non-fiction. More so in many cases.