Sunday, December 20, 2009

The World of Nonfiction

We drove fifty miles, twenty-five there and back, along newly cleared roads to play piano while a huge crowd of six singers, later a total of eight after two late arrivals, participated in the first annual Messiah Sing-In. Years from now, someone said, stories will be told of this first attempt, two hundred fifty years after the first Messiah performance on Christmas Day. On another Christmas day, one also noted, the members of a church prayed while a woman went under the knife to have a huge abdominal cyst removed, without anesthesia. She lived 33 more years instead of dying as she and everyone, including her doctor, expected.

Wikipedia could, of course, be wrong. It says the first performance of Handel's Messiah took place on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland. (It's possible the date of Christmas Day has changed since then.) It also says the work is often incorrectly called The Messiah. I have two editions of the masterwork -- the Schirmer edition is entitled The Messiah and (the) Fischer version simply says Messiah. I'm sure this matters deeply to some people.

I remember speaking with a friend about books. After I mentioned a couple fiction novels, he said, "I don't know them. I read only nonfiction." I think I must have laughed. I said something like, "So when you read nonfiction, do you think every word is true?" He laughed, too. "I guess you're right. I do read fiction."

I sometimes wonder how much of what I write and say is true. In a way, I feel more comfortable with fiction because it contains truth without facts. Well, perhaps I should say "real facts." I realize many people fuss about the facts contained in books like the Harry Potter series, and some publishers have internal consistency fact-checkers. One of my editors is especially good at this. She can be a pest, but I know I need her, especially as my mind moves more and more into fiction.

It happens to most of us. As we age, we build one inaccuracy on another after another. I can wait (see my posting entitled "Speeding," November 30, 2009), but it should be great fun when I'm ninety and my life has become exponentially inaccurate. I hope I'm perfectly sane and well-minded when that time comes even though other people may think I'm living in a world of total fiction. I will ask them, now and then, whether they realize they are, too. Imagine an elderly novelist, fact-checking every day. "Is that for real, James?"

"You're nuts," says Virginia, "but who am I to say? After all, if you weren't, I wouldn't be here."

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