Nonfiction’s Slippery Slope

December 17, 2013 § 7 Comments

5602206494_06f71b2b43_zIn a recent Salon essay, Alex Pareene takes Malcolm Gladwell (and others) to task for slapping together books filled with theories that “sound good,” but are not in fact supported by the evidence at hand.  The discussion touches on our ongoing conversation about truth in nonfiction and what constitutes fact. Here is an excerpt followed by a link to the Salon article:

An author, according to Gladwell, can put forth arguments he doesn’t necessarily believe, because his books, while labeled “nonfiction,” are actually meant not to inform readers of what he believes to be the truth, but rather to “start conversations.” What if he’s right? What if we took it even further?

Maybe an author can even misinterpret other people’s research, and misrepresent scientific findings, if doing so makes a book read better. Maybe saying what you mean, and believing what you say, don’t actually mean believing what you say and saying what you mean. Could it be that anyone can justify writing any bullshit at all if they feel like it will start conversations, sell books, and set up high-priced speaking gigs?

We all agree that good writers are better than bad writers, and it logically follows that good books are better than bad books. It may seem like an author’s best bet is a write a good, well-written book that respects its readers’ intelligence. After all, isn’t that true of most of the most famous and successful books throughout history? We assume that a good writer is more likely to be successful at writing professionally than a bad one. No parents would wish for their children to be bad writers.

Or would they?

Read the full Salon essay here.

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