Posts tagged with "memoir versus novel cage match" - Faerye Net 2008-07-04T10:48:40+00:00 Felicity Shoulders "Better because it's true" 2008-07-04T10:48:40+00:00 2008-07-04T10:49:33+00:00 <p>A few months ago, I spent a lot of time hanging around big-box bookstores. I visited the local Borders and B&#38;N daily in hopes of surprising my <a href="" target="links">first published work</a> on its first shelved day. The local Borders was more convivial and boasted more clearance racks of stationery, so I lingered there longer and noticed that there were two major genera of employees. One day, every counter would be occupied by listless, asymmetrically-coiffed young men with pendant chins; the next, by cheery middle-aged women with long hair and an ineffable air of library.</p> <p>It was one of these latter beings, friendly though they seemed, that shocked and distressed me. Standing in line one day, I listened to the woman at the counter chatting about books with the soccer mom before her with such loquacity that it gave you hope for the brick &#8216;n&#8217; mortar bookshop. The customer, recognizing a font of literary enthusiasm when she saw it, asked for recommendations: light, funny reading.</p> <p>The bookseller immediately launched into an elevator-pitch for a book she&#8217;d just read about an eccentric family, &aacute; la <em>Royal Tenenbaums</em>. As the customer obligingly chuckled, she finished, &#8220;I simply loved it, and it&#8217;s a memoir, so it&#8217;s better because it&#8217;s true!&#8221;</p> <p>Gentle reader, I gaped. Perhaps this underlying value statement is more than evident given the publishing world&#8217;s memoir obsession; perhaps you even agree with it on some fundamental level. But for this fictionist, the implicit statement that the same work would be a &#8220;good&#8221; novel and a &#8220;great&#8221; memoir was chilling.</p> <p>Is this true? And if so, why? There may be greater artistry involved in making a truly compelling narrative without breaking the bounds of personal history. But surely that lack of inventive liberty is balanced by the artistry necessary to create such a narrative out of whole cloth. Why is the book not its own achievement, to be judged on its own merits, on the world between its pages?</p> <p>Is the act of reading different if the reader believes the narrative to be reported fact? If the reader were not told until the end whether the book were memoir or novel, would her &#8220;star-rating&#8221; change upon hearing? And if so, what does that mean for our enjoyment of books &#8211; that we use them as artifacts, not just art; that we are unduly influenced by the biography of the author? Or does it simply mean we expect less of memoir?</p> <p>There are plenty of issues raised, many questions around the primacy of memoir in today&#8217;s writing market. Many of them, I hold, would benefit from the attention of fictionists as well as of nonfictionists. But I will stop this ramble here for now, and ask: do you agree with the Borders lady, reader? Is a satisfying, rollicking good read <em>better</em> if it&#8217;s true?</p>