Wednesday, March 12, 2008

So there

I do so enjoy it when smart people agree with things I think. Megan McArdle, as ever, is heroine number 1. She explains why we like certain kinds of narrative stories but that, these days, they often come packaged as Harry Potter or Mills and Boon. So those of us who are made of more pretentious stuff must look elsewhere to satisfy our lust for a ripping good yarn and one place we find it is in memoirs, which it's ok to like. The trouble is that people lie like psychotic 3 year olds in their memoirs, so how should we react to this? Some people don't mind much, but some do.

Having neatly separated fact and fiction, we now read only "fact" as a way to learn about correct behavior, where a hundred years ago people were perfectly accustomed to taking moral or social lessons out of obvious fiction (from whence the term "morality play"). Memoir alone do we permit ourselves to read for the (now conscious) purpose of obtaining information about how human beings behave in other situations than ours.


 

But for that, we require versimilitude; we're only interested in reading about being in rehab or growing up in a gang if that is what it is actually like. Otherwise the "compare and contrast" to our own lives seems meaningless.


 

What I have in mind in particular is "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey. I was shocked to hear people, including some of the principle whistle blowers, leap to his defence when it emerged that most of the book was a total fabrication. I remember reading things like, "I'll still make my kids read it. It does a great job of explaining why you shouldn't do drugs". So, your kid reads about how drugs mess up your life (turning you into a compulsive liar is apparently one of them), from a real drug addict! Your kid is deeply impressed and does some more digging only to discover that it isn't what it's like to an addict at all! Yay! It's all lies, such a good moral.

Just stick in the fiction section where the fake message won't be watered down later by the discovery that it isn't true.

2 comments:

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