Thursday, May 29, 2008

Believe It Or Not

Today I started reading a book that promised to be a witty tome about the (mis)adventures of a safari guide, and as I’ve been reading it, I’ve become painfully aware that the book is quite amusing, but I’m starting to wonder how easy it would be to make the entire thing up. I mean, how many people have enough experience as a safari guide in Africa to contradict anything said in this book, such as the believability of being able to summon lions by wailing like a dying impala? I’m not saying I don’t believe the stories, but I just think it’s a topic that is alien, yet enthralling enough to intrigue readers, and the author could write about animals that don’t even exist and we’d still drool over the stories. Particularly if they’re written with the kind of subtle, sarcastic wit that this book contains.

Long ago I wrote a post about a pseudo intellectual I know, and how he likes to spout trivial facts about things that have no pertinence, or speak a language so obscure that he is the only person in the state who knows it exists, just to seem so uber intelligent as to make common intelligence seem base. He’ll say something in Chichewa and we’re just supposed to believe it means something because there is no one around who can say otherwise. Memoirists are doing much of this now, marketing their books to the masses and writing complete fiction because the masses have no idea if what they’re saying is true or not. No, the average person has no idea what it’s like to survive amnesia-inducing overdoses of drugs, life on the streets with gangs, the torture of escaping a concentration camp, being sent to teen bootcamp in Europe, or schmoozing with Hollywood’s elite. We buy the books, read the books, and try to believe the books, but even objective witnesses remember things wrong, so how can these authors remember these stories with such vivid details as to write these beguiling books about things that happened decades ago? Should we believe them?

It’s like those people, you know the ones, who only like a musical group if no one else on earth has ever heard of them, including their own mothers. I hate these people. They think they’re cutting edge because they love the unlovable, and as soon as another fan joins their ranks, it completely discredits the music. These ridiculous standards are common, and we only value what we think no one else knows about. We crave these stories of backpacking in the African bush, of working as a dishwasher in every state of the Union, and escaping a polygamist compound. I, myself, have read these books for the same reason everyone else did; I know nothing about these lifestyles, am fascinated by the concept, and fantasize a bit that I could be these people and experience their very rare and special triumphs. We could be reading the latest memoir by another politician wanting to tell his side of the story of his life, or we could be reading about yet another bored housewife who reclaimed her identity, but why be a fan of common music when we can be groupies for a band that no one knows anything about? If we haven’t the wherewithal to be cutting edge ourselves, let us at least follow around someone else who is, and trust that they’re more real than we are, living vicariously through them.

And so I’m off to read more of this memoir that is actually quite entertaining and I’m enjoying it thoroughly, but I can’t help but wonder if during a plague of mice, would one really try to scurry into your bungholio, or if elephants really do rattle a branch to warn you that you’re getting too close. I will likely never know. It shouldn’t take away from how fabulous it is to read about it, but it kind of does. I can’t blame modern memoirists who wrote false memoirs because even if their lies hadn’t been revealed, I’d still question if what I’m reading is true simply because there aren’t a whole lot of people who can support or refute any of it.

Yet, this is part of the appeal.

We are such confusing creatures, we humans.

On the other hand, I read the book Tuesday and believed with all my heart that on that night, frogs truly did fly around on lily pads.


Cat. said...

But...Tuesday has pictures to back up the story, so it clearly MUST be true!!

[I *heart* David Weisner]

Leelu said...

Tuesday is my all-time favorite picture book. I less than three it with all my being.

Gardenbuzzy said...

That's why I read science fiction. It's fantastic and entertaining and I don't have to wonder if it's true.

Anonymous said...

I'll believe frogs fly the day I see pigs fly!

Bobby said...

frogs DONT fly around on lily pads? what?

Rachel said...

hmm, if frogs don't fly around lily pads, let's not tell them and spoil it...

Happy Villain said...

Me too! His books are awesome!

Me too! My all-time favorite. When Schwee and I first hooked up, I gave him two books that I wanted him to read that I thought were important if we were to stay together. One was Tuesday and the other was Stellaluna. :) I less than three both of those!

Ah-ha! Makes sense! And also why I stray from non-fiction. Too often it tries to get me to think a certain way and that offends me. Fiction doesn't overtly try to do anything but tell a story.

That's next Tuesday!

'Course they do!

They do! They do!

CJ said...

I've bought Tuesday about 4 times now and I keep giving it away... I can't seem to keep a copy. It's so lovely.