Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Novel and Not Novel

Day 282 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and one hopes that plenty of ISU journalism students are reading The Death and Life of American Journalism, by Robert McChesney and John Nichols, because McChesney just spoke there, as I read this morning in the Daily Vidette.

One thing that troubles me is that the student staff writer called his book a "novel."  It isn't a novel.  It's non-fiction.  It's about journalism.  Its death...and life.

This kind of thing also troubled me quite a bit when I was a college teacher, students coming to college, after high school, after 12 full years of schooling, not knowing what the words "fiction" and "non-fiction" mean.  Happens quite a bit in the bookstore, too.

Fiction is made up.  Non-fiction isn't; it's factual.

A novel is fiction.

I do get the blur and the irony here, and out there in the world. Even in the world of "news."  Sigh....

Not to dwell on this so long that it bogs me down, I am just going to delight myself with all the books that have "the death and life of" something in the title:

The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by Diane Ravitch. Ouch. Actually, just a couple months ago, I chatted with a woman reading this at a little table on the sidewalk in front of the coffeehouse....

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs.

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, by Ben Sherwood. Baseball, brotherly love, now a major motion picture.

The Death and Life of Malcolm X by Peter Goldman.

OK, that's enough.  I've gone beyond delight.  But, wait!  What about The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch, by James L. Rosenberg, a play?!  That's delightful.  In the long ago past, I played a saloon girl in a yellow dress in that play, recalling Gunsmoke on tv in my childhood.....


SHS said...

I took a class with Bob McChesney my first semester at the U of I. The material was difficult, his book a bit laborious to read, but oh, so worth it. He and his class grabbed me out of a years-long political apathy and gave me a second wind. I'm sorry I didn't know he was speaking, but then again I've been sick. I still have the book that I read while I was in his course, and I regret not having had him sign it.

(Side note: I got a high A, while the apathetic 18-year-olds around me bitched and moaned their way through the course. Some even complained of his "liberal bias." Probably the same kids that confuse fiction, non-fiction, and novels. Satisfying for me, though!)

Sandy Longhorn said...

Same frustration here, especially after I've spent a semester teaching about genre. Sigh.

Kathleen said...

But I do remember being confused and troubled by the meaning of those words as a child--"fiction" and "non-fiction." The "non" seems to suggest "not true."

Of course, I am someone who cannot turn on the correct burner on the stove unless there are clear words, and my stove only has pictures. Hence, various forms of undone and later burnt offerings....

Anonymous said...

where does 'creative non-fiction' fall in the scheme of things? my brain hurts when I start trying to work that one out

Kathleen said...

Creative non-fiction is in the blur, and I hardly dare to define it. But what would make me most comfortable is for it to be understood as non-fiction beautifully written, with the care taken with poetry and prose fiction and essays and belles lettres. It is more open than a non-fiction work where editors and readers might expect the author to stick to the facts, and stick to the point.

If too much is fiction, then I think the author should go ahead and call it a novel, and shape it thusly, as so many novels are based on facts and historical facts. I find I am troubled by the "fictionalized memoir" unless that is clearly stated...

But I think all kinds of experimental and innovative writing goes on and has always gone on, and there is room for it. Writing that defies label and definition and category.

So I guess my problem is not with the writing or the label, or lack thereof, only with the intentional misleading of the potential reader as a path to personal gain.

I guess my panties are in a bunch are in a bunch about that.

Collagemama said...

Thanks for reminding me of Amanda Blake's beauty mark on "Gunsmoke". Sure, the world is full of important news and great literature, but "Gunsmoke" was my very first tv show as a little kid. I could say, "Sit down, Matt, and I'll buy you a beer," before I learned my ABCs, but right after I learned to like butter brickle ice cream. I believed the brickle pieces were beauty marks.

Shannon said...

OMG! I've NEVER known another person who's done "The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch"! My high school drama teacher actually wrote music and lyrics for the show. We had such a fine time hamming it up. It was the last show of my senior year. Memories!

Kathleen said...

Shannon, what a delightful coincidence! It is a charming show. I don't remember singing in it, so you got to do the musical version, I guess!! OR that's something that's irretrievably fallen into one of the origami folds of my brain.

Shannon said...

Kathleen, the music was original, and even though it was almost 40 years ago, I can still remember:

"Sneaky Fitch is dying fast.
It's a shame that he won't last.
Sneaky Fitch is dying fast,
and we can hardly wait.

We will plant him in the ground,
then we'll make a mournful sound.
Sneaky Fitch is dying fast,
and we can hardly wait."

It was wonderfully fun and we had a couple of actors who were true hams and practical jokers. There was a scene with Sneaky in his coffin and when the lid was raised, the actor had covered himself with ketchup, stuck his tongue out, and dared the sheriff to keep a straight face.

Kathleen said...

Shannon, I am picturing it and giggling myself! The production I was in was in an outdoor theatre in the park. Also great fun, community atmosphere, people in bench seats but also walking around, fishing behind us at the small lake, etc.