Last week I came across this headline:
I was completely annoyed by this article. To clarify, I should say I was annoyed by the article that the above link refers to. A post at Forbes by a George Anders suggests that:
Anders's article is a response to allegations that yet another nonfiction book contains inaccuracies. This time the title in question is Wednesday Martin's memoir/anthropological study Primates of New York. This book, ostensibly about the author's own experiences living on the Upper East Side of New York City and studying the Wives/Mommies living there while living among them as one herself, got a lot of press before publication, but got even more after, with Simon & Schuster finally saying they would include a clarifying note about the facts of the book (or Martin's massaging of them) in its future printings.*
Brother. I take his point--I know more and more "nonfiction" books, especially memoirs, are popping up with inaccuracies, plagiarism issues, and truth-stretches. But still. 'Beautiful stories'? Do we really think that a third genre, whatever we call it, will really cut down on fudges and inaccuracies in whatever is left over as "true" nonfiction? Nah. As long as we exist in an era of "publish it fast, and do a half-assed job doing it," there's going to be shoddy nonfiction turned out. Let's face it. There has always been shoddy nonfiction turned out. I think the trick with nonfiction (and with life, actually),is to read it, learn what you can, and take it all with a grain of salt.** If it turns out later that something you read wasn't completely accurate, well, try to find something else that might be.
And also? For the love of god, everyone, stop thinking of memoirs as "the truth." Or "the absolute truth." You ever tried to get the same account of any one event from different people? Everyone's take--and everyone's memory--is different. I'm not saying calling a book a memoir is an invitation to just make stuff up. What I am saying is to look for the story behind the story--when memoirs were the super-hot publishing category, publishers were knocking themselves out to publish as many as possible, and that sort of thing is always going to lead right back to...you got it...shoddy nonfiction. In fact, that's my vote for the proposed "something in-between" category. "Shoddy Nonfiction."
*Wednesday Martin, by the way, is coming out swinging: “Primates of Park Avenue” author calls out critics as sexist: “I really attribute the backlash to this new kind of misogyny”
**And, by the way, when you're reading nonfiction, search out (and buy the books of) authors like Stacy Horn who knock themselves out fact-checking. And then tell everyone else about those authors, too. Do that instead of wasting time coming up with non-genres like "beautiful stories."