In which I declare the Hinterlands Raison d'Etre (no theme song yet, but I'm open to suggestions) and put out the welcome mat for the Genre That Hath No Name. (We know who we are. Knock twice on the door and tell 'em John McPhee sent you).
When I was trying to decide what to call this blog, I toyed with the possibility of "Faction: True Stories, Well Told." Of course, "Faction" doesn't mean anything of the sort, which is one reason why this blog is not called "Faction: True Stories Well Told." On the other hand, I might have argued that what I meant was that I intended (self-appointedly) to represent the non-fiction faction (and just you try saying "non-fiction faction" ten times fast) in the world of the lit-blogs.
Musical interlude! The narrative non-fiction lament, to the tune of "Somewhere" from West Side Story:
There's a name for us,
Somewhere, a name for us.
A name that means more than "we're not fiction"
A clear depiction, somewhere.
There's a place for us,
On bookseller shelves a place for us,
Shelves for true stories well told like ours,
(hey Barnes & Noble, my book's not about cars!)
Can find us without hiring a detective,
Don't you think that would be more effective?
(no, that's not the theme song.)
Monday Manifesto, writ short: True Tales Well Told need their own place in the bookstore. In the meantime, they have their own place right here in The Hinterlands.
Or read on for Monday Manifesto, uncut:
Yeah, yeah, I know, the world of non-fiction covers a lot of territory, from biography to cookbooks to travel guides to What Color is Your South Beach Fit, Fabulous and Real Simple Wedding Under 10 Minutes? That's the very point I'm trying to make. To herd everything that isn't fiction into one big tent and call it all "non-fiction" and then assign it all to subsections according to subject matter may be fine and well when you're talking about cookbooks and auto repair manuals and guides to being a perfect parent so that you kids will never give you a lick of trouble (yeah, good luck there--ever wonder why there are so many parenting guides?).
But there's a whole raft of wonderful true tales that you can't say are "about" one particular subject or another, books with engaging characters, riveting story lines, thought-provoking subjects, hilarious situations, compelling writing, unique narrative voices, and all the other kinds of things that you'd expect to find--yes--in a good novel. And they ought not to be shelved according to presumed "subject" any more than you'd expect to find Moby Dick under "Fishing."
True, I have a bit of a personal axe to grind on this issue ever since I discovered Electric Dreams had taken up residence in the "Automotive/Transportation" shelves (not exactly the Grand Central department in any book store, not even here in NASCAR-land). But let us take, for example, The Orchid Thief, which is a rousing good true story with great characters and an offbeat subject, and of course it's shelved under... Gardening.
Or a terrific book I read earlier this year, The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession, a book which I can hardly begin to categorize. It’s involves a scientist and a revolutionary theory of how we smell scent, and the secret world of scent-makers, and the behind-the-scenes power struggles and politics of the scientific community—and really, in saying that, I’m only just glancing over the surface of this book. It’s got scads of weird science in it, and it’s funny, and the author, Chandler Burr, has an utterly individual writing style.
In short, a rousing-good-true-story-with-great-characters-and-an-offbeat-subject, and probably it will end up shelved under “Fashion and Beauty” in bookstores all across the land. (Getting a wierd sense of deja vu? Close followers of the C. Kettlewell blogging oeuvre are correct in finding this ranting subsection of the Monday Manifesto ringing familiar from a past appearance early in 2004. I'm sure Martin Luther took his practice swings as well.)
These are books you want to read even if you don’t imagine, at first, that you’d have any interest in the presumed general topic--orchids, perfume, or, say, electric cars. (You don't need to fancy a spot of adultery, after all, to read The Scarlet Letter.) The story itself interests you, and then through the story you get fascinated with the subjects within the story, and the questions they make you ponder. Life, the universe, Chanel No.5.