The continuing wasteland
20 March 2010
Solace at the table
21 March 2010

Reality bites

Non-fiction gets no respect as literature. And it should.  “The genre emits a whiff of the déclassé, served (especially in literature departments) with a garnish of condescension.The problem starts with the word: Like ‘childless’ (why not ‘child-free’?), ‘nonfiction’ packs a lot of social judgment. Nonfiction may be real, but in matters of creativity, it’s not quite the real thing.” So writes Rob Nixon in an argumentative review in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Given the choice between reading a middling novel and a middling work of nonfiction, the latter wins every time, offering at least some compensatory lode of information. … Two zesty, ambitious, polemical new books—Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History (Riverhead) and David Shields’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (Knopf)—signal that nonfiction is pushing for greater scholarly respect. Are we witnessing the beginnings of a palace revolution, as reality genres — literature’s foot soldiers — start clamoring to have their creativity treated with the seriousness it deserves?”

Read this invigorating essay, ‘Literature for Real.” Then read the Yagoda and Shields books (the Library has them on order). Then read more non-fiction. Might it not be better named: “fancy-free’?

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