Saturday, May 10, 2008

David Sedaris is My Hero

Concerning the question about how real creative nonfiction needs to be, David Sedaris told the Christian Science Monitor: "We live in a time when our government is telling us some pretty profound lies. And then James Frey writes a book, and it turns out some of it's not true. No one asked for their vote back, but everyone wanted back the money they'd spent on that book. We're in the shadow of huge lies and getting angry about the small ones." I say, Amen to that, Brother. (Sedaris' new book When You Are Engulfed in Flames is due out soon, and he claims it is "real-ish.")  Of course, Galley Cat misses the point entirely. What do you people say?  How much real does there need to be?  Or can we let the artist decide?

10 comments:

Writer Reading said...

I think calling a book about lying "realish" is exactly the point of the book. The categories of fiction, nonfiction, memoir are rigid when in fact there is a continuum and "realish" should be somewhere on that continuum but is a problem for publishers because they need those rigid,neat and tidy categories to sell books. Our whole society is realish. Or is it surreal?

puc said...

Back in the day, when ole Sis announced story time, trying to settle us down to tell us a story, we would all clamour and want to know,"Is it true? Is it a true story"? And her reply was always the same, life affirming, "All stories are true." Then one day you wake up and realize, it's true, all stories are true, but some are truer than others (trow, trust, truth; true, truer, truest).

Heynonnynonymous said...

I know there's controversy over the genre "creative nonfiction," but I do think you've got to give the creative part its due. It's unpopular right now to say that all memory is created, but it's true. Also, all the saps who think that reality TV isn't edited, shaped, cut, and sometimes scripted are out of their gourds. All that reality stuff is a big dupe. I agree with Sedaris, created reality that reads like fiction is what we are after here, isn't it? Who wants to read reality, reality. Not me. I can open my eyes in the morning and go through my day for that.

Did anyone read about the woman who remembers everything....everything. She has a book out called The Woman Who Couldn't Forget, or something like that. She says living her life is hell. I can only imagine.

rmellis said...

I think it matters if you're accusing people or dragging people into your fantasy.

If you're making shit up, why not call it fiction? Fiction not good enough for ya? Doesn't have that titillating zing?

Or heck, "realish" is fine.

All I ask for is a disclaimer!

puc said...

Speaking of disclaimers, what about this one:? "...any resemblance to actual people living or dead or to actual events or places is entirely coincidental." We know fiction is supposed to create a world, but this can't be entirely true either - some dissembling going on, both sides. Either way, the reader must develop skills to decipher.

Anonymous said...

Puc: that's just the publisher covering his ass. Legal B.S. Creative nonfiction is supposed to be based on real-life events made into art.

puc said...

anon: Yes. The issue hinges on "purportedly true." I was thinking of the truth of fiction, the ole eternal verities. But some fiction contains truth, and some falseness. I was thinking of an epistemology of reading (how do we know what we know?). I was just thinking of opposing viewpoints: on the one hand, we want a disclaimer telling us everything is true; on the other hand, a disclaimer telling us everything is invented, and if resembling acutal people, "entirely coincedental," when we know (though how we know I don't know) that both likely contain both truth and untruth. All writing is creative. But when we ask, "is it true?" we get into deep waters. I guess I was thinking truth versus false as opposed to fiction versus non-fiction. I agree with rmellis that if writing is going to accuse there's needs to be a truthful standard of some sort set, for the reader must have reasonable expectations set by the writer. But it's interesting; I went through a few old books on the shelves here and was wondering just exactly when these disclaimers started up. Then I came to Twain's "Huck Finn," and remembered his "Notice: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting find a moral in it will be banished; person attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." Originally, of course, going back to the first novels, they were often purpordely "true," as was often expressed in their titles; e.g. The True Adventures of... Someone blogged on this recently, but I can't remember where I saw it. But the blog discussed History used in the titles of what were fictions. I think Crusoe was an example, Pamela, Shandy, "The History of Tom Jones." Finally, I just think it's too much to expect anything, disclaimer or not, to be completely truth, for truth is simply too elusive.

rmellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

All of this trouble over false memoirs is killing me. For as long as I have been reading them I've never taken them to be the truth line by line. A memoir is only one person's version of the truth. I guess all memoirs will have to come with a disclaimer now.

-C

Vanessa G said...

It is ironic that a religious newspaper is getting all hot under the dog collar about other people basing things on lies.

As if they wouldn't dream of doing that themselves...