After being in school the two previous years (2011-12) and being bogged down with classroom reading material (and still managing to read a respectable amount for pleasure), I actually read a lot more in 2013. Admittedly, I can only give you one book that was released in 2013 that I found to be exceptional because more often than not I’m catching up on books that have been recently released but are not brand new or I’m reading classics.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett is a 2013 release that made for an outstanding read. In a rare instance, the introduction was actually fascinating because Patchett doesn’t just give some congratulatory speech about how her nonfiction writing (this is a collection of her nonfiction work) led to greater things in her highly-praised fiction work. She is honest: the nonfiction began simply as a way to help fund the fiction endeavors. However, the nonfiction eventually came to inform the fiction work and vice versa. I’m especially interested in the dichotomy between fiction and nonfiction. It seems some feel there should be a clear distinction between the two, while others see it the way I do: as two creative forms that sometimes overlap. Patchett addresses this in one of the essays: people who believe in nonfiction’s supreme fidelity are sadly naive. After all, how in the world are we to believe that conversations that appear in nonfiction works as direct quotations are verbatim incidents which occurred several decades prior. Most writers would respond “Or something to that effect.”
I’ll agree fabricating news stories out of thin air is completely unethical and unacceptable, but to buy a novel-length work of nonfiction and assume every last detail is completely accurate shows unrealistic expectations. Artists are allowed to have a bit of license in these matters, so long as the basic account of the matter is true. Basically: I’m okay with a little added drama; I’m not okay with fabrication. Also, there are fictional authors who use a great deal of nonfiction elements from their own personal lives for their writing. Sometimes they are given more leeway because they are claiming that which is true is merely fiction. I’m not sure where to draw the line; basically, all I know is there is a definite overlap between the two forms, the way I see it.
Anyway, Patchett has a number of gems in the book, heartfelt stories about family—both those many miles away, those in the other room, and yes, even dogs because dogs are family for many people (something I tried to convey to a rather attractive woman recently in conversation, although my delivery was all wrong). Patchett’s writing succeeds not only because she’s very technically sound, but because she’s brutally honest. Her writing has a way of flowing well enough that you forget you’re even reading you become so engrossed in her stories.