Saturday, July 25, 2009

Save us from "truthiness"

I've always respected Dave Eggers because he understands the difference between memoir and fiction. The late Oriana Fallaci did too. She described her book about her relationship with a Greek revolutionary as a novel, but said everything in A Man was true.

Writing true non-fiction is hard. You can't make stuff up. You have to research or report it. It takes a long time and can get messy. Note that Frank McCourt does not use quotation marks around his quotes in Angela's Ashes, ackowledging they are not verbaitim.

This from the Globe on writer and "entertainer" Ben's Mezrich, whose truthy new book is No. 5 on the Times non-fiction bestseller list. (Note -- "Poster boy" is on my list of banned cliches.)

Mezrich, the Boston-based author of 11 books, including the 2002 hit “Bringing Down the House,’’ on which the movie “21’’ was based, has become a poster boy for the pernicious, wiki-era blurring of fact and fiction. But what’s clear now with “Billionaires’’ is that rather than let criticism of his style nudge him toward either straight fiction or painstakingly reported narrative nonfiction, Mezrich is more determined than ever to create his own category, where fiction and nonfiction coexist not only in the same book and same page, but in the same sentences. On the phone from his book tour, Mezrich says, “I see myself as attempting to break ground. I definitely am trying to create my own genre here. . . . I’m attempting to tell stories in a very new and entertaining way. I see myself as an entertainer.’’

...For some, Mezrich’s style is an unfortunate symptom of our culture’s ever-increasing “truthiness,’’ Stephen Colbert’s satirical word for versions of truth that disregard fact.

For the record, a little truthiness earned one of my well-meaning students an F last term.

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