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March 22, 2012

NON-FICTION I DISLIKE: Discussion Question for BAND:Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees

1. The non-fiction that I dislike most is that which is poorly done; sloppy, pretentious, and falsely claiming to be totally objective. The non-fiction I dislike most is that which fails to live up to the basic definition of the genre, that it accurately described a reality that exists outside the author’s and the reader’s heads. In defining history, Natalie Zemon Davis said “History is the imagination held in check by the facts.” I say that applies to all non-fiction. We may argue over what a fact is, but non-fiction must be involve the discipline of conveying something concrete and at least in part verifiable. I most deeply dislike non-fiction that contains and validates what are clearly lies.

2. I particularly dislike autobiographies and memoirs that are nothing more than fluff about celebrities or politicians and filled with staged dialog. They are nothing more than advertisements and about as trustworthy. Perhaps I dislike them so because many of my very favorite books are well-crafted autobiographies and memoirs in which authors probe for the truths in their own lives and provide me with insight into people who differ from me.

3. I also dislike non-fiction that makes a fetish of being “objective.” The claim of “objectivity” has been overused to deny pain, conflict, and passion. Our knowledge about a subject remains shallow if we exclude what it felt like to be there or to be the subject of an experiment. Devotion to factual evidence does not mean rejection of all emotional response on the part of the author or reader. It simply requires that emotion comes out of the facts being studied, not the emotion creating the “facts.”

In addition to my dislikes, there are categories of non-fiction which simply don’t whet my curiosity or offer enough reward to be worth the trouble. Here are some of the categories I usually ignore.
Anything technical, jargon-filled or overly specialized
Fluff about celebrities, politicians, high society and travel
Most how-to-do-it manuals, including how to be a better person
Anything about crime and torture and war

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2012 9:18 pm

    I hate the fluff too! Interesting comments on objectivity / subjectivity… gives a lot to think on! Thanks 🙂

  2. March 24, 2012 10:30 am

    Thanks for considering my point. I think I will write something “In Defense of Memoirs.”

  3. March 24, 2012 5:18 pm

    Great points … And re objectivity, there is always the question of how objective is objective anyhow. Many who claim to be objective don’t fully recognize this fact. Just by choosing what to say and not to say is being subjective, isn’t it?

  4. March 25, 2012 3:20 pm

    I usually dislike pretentious books too. It’s frustrating. Thanks for participating in BAND!

  5. March 25, 2012 4:34 pm

    Glad to be aboard. I like BAND’s questions.

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