Authorial intent

So I was at a bookclub meeting last night to discuss The High-Impact Infidelity Diet, which was a well-paced sometimes humorous, sometimes serious look at fidelity in middle America. The author himself showed up and — in addition to shamefully admitting responsibility for creating the “Jared from Subway” phenomenon — offered us a nice (perhaps inspiring?) peek at his process. He also joined us as we debated which book to read next.

One suggestion was A Million Little Peices, the infamous novel by James Frey. Our visiting author took quite a bit of offense at my suggestion that it should not matter whether a book labeled as non-fiction contains fictionalized versions of events. He was ammenable to the fact that, in a memoir, we grant that conversations probably did not play out exactly as the author has rendered them, but he was not cool with Frey’s book because much of it is not just misremembered, but entirely fabricated.

You see, from the author’s point of view, “non-fiction” is synomous with “truth.” Personally, I don’t think there’s such a thing as truth, at least insofar as it can be captured in prose or even on film. From a philosophical point of view, I don’t think any medium makes a believable truth claim. A “non-fiction” book is just words on a page, same as a “fiction” book.

Why should the label matter?