So I can’t stand non-fiction… Anything I read or see that purports in any way to be “based on a true story” or “inspired by real events” instantly gets a black mark in my book. I’d rather not even waste my time.
This is an old bias, something that’s been around at least since my college days. I first noticed it while reading a book called Driving Mr. Albert. The author, one Mr. Michael Paterniti, learned that the brain of Albert Einstein had been stolen during the medical examiner’s autopsy. Paterniti took it upon himself to recruit the surgeon into a road trip across the United States, with the purported goal of reuniting Einstein’s brain with his family.
The book is proof positive that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction; however, it failed to convince me that truth is any more truthful.
Paterniti describes a scene about midway through where he placed a call from a payphone to his wife. The two got in an argument, and she quickly hung up on him. Paterniti describes his response to the argument by detailing how cool the metal from the payphone felt against his flushed skin as the rain came down outside… but all I could hear was Paterniti thinking to himself, “At least this will make a great scene in my book!”
It’s probably be inappropriate for me to accuse Paterniti (or really any non-fictionist) of lying. After all, the “facts” of the story are 100% accurate. Yes, Thomas Stoltz Harvey stole Einstein’s brain. Yes, these two road warriors did decide to visit William S. Burroughs on their road trip. Yes, I’m willing to bet the payphone was cool against the skin. Still, the whole story feels manufacture, as if the “facts” were being used to push some other agenda, like winning Paterniti some writing awards or something.
The thing is, I now have a similar response to almost every bit of non-fiction I read. Memoirs, autobiographies, theses… anything with more spice than the driest of textbooks immediately appears to me to be pushing some sort of agenda. I’d rather not have people twisting the facts to make a point. Heck, I’d rather they just lie to me.
After all, once I know you’re lying, I can try to figure out what you’re REALLY saying on my own.