Thank God for BBC Radio: without access to it on the internet, I might go mad here in the US where news media is so excruciating. This weekend I listened to a great Radio 4 documentary feature on Les Bouquinistes - the 100's of second hand booksellers that line the Seine. The reporter told a story of an American woman visiting Paris who perused the books and was delighted to find a book she remembered as a childhood favourite, long since out of print. Full of nostalgia and keen to buy it, she opened the front cover to find the price and found her very own name in her very own handwriting.
I immediately considered writing this as a short story but then began to worry that, as fiction, it would be considered too contrived, too coincidental to be believable and the power of the story will be destroyed. I could only get away with writing about the American and the Bouquinistes if I added 'Based on a True Story' - a subtitle used to prepare us for the unbelievable. Tolerance for the unbelievable seems so much greater in non-fiction.
I find this somewhat depressing. All non-fiction formats - from newscasts to fashion adverts to autobiographies lie to us: they are fiction masquerading as fact. One fifth of the US population believes Obama is a Muslim because the conservative media has inferred it over and over until fiction festered into fact. No doubt, Glenn Beck's inevitable memoir will convince us all he isn't, in fact, the devil incarnate.
A close friend once refused to read any fiction because 'there are too many facts in the world' and too little time to waste on frivolity. Happily, he's seen the error of his ignorance and is now a passionate writer of fantasy fiction with an appreciation for literature. Although he would never admit it, he would probably agree with me that fiction, especially in this day and age, is becoming the bastion of 'truth'. Fiction is open about its fabrication and lies without hypocrisy and as a result the truths within (by which I mean universal truths about the human condition) can be told.