April 9, 2011

ALL MEMOIRS ARE FICTION:

The Truth About Charley (NY Times, April 9, 2011)

Bill Steigerwald has made an intriguing, if disheartening, discovery that seems to have eluded admirers and scholars of John Steinbeck for decades. Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley in Search of America” is shot through with dubious anecdotes and impossible encounters.

Mr. Steigerwald, a former newspaperman, said he was planning to pay respectful tribute last year when he retraced Steinbeck’s 1960 journey — 10,000 miles from Long Island to Maine to California and back. But as he explained in a blog and an article in this month’s Reason magazine, facts got in the way. [...]

It is irritating that some Steinbeck scholars seem not to care. “Does it really matter that much?” one of them asked a Times reporter.

Steinbeck insisted his book was reality-based. He aimed to “tell the small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth.” Books labeled “nonfiction” should not break faith with readers. Not now, and not in 1962, the year “Travels With Charley” came out and Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature.


Anyone naive enough to think that autobiographical texts are accurate deserves to be fooled. On the other hand, the last time I was at the Times building the Pulitzer that Walter Duranty received still hung on the wall leading to the Editorial Board offices. That's not irritating, it's disgraceful.

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Posted by at April 9, 2011 5:54 PM
  

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