In writing up the publicity for a book launch for a recent book, Going Home: Cycling Through The Heart Of America, the organizer asked me if she should call the book “creative non-fiction”. I flippantly replied, “Sure, that sounds sufficiently pretentious.”
I see this term used more and more often, presumably to add a little class to the more inclusive category ‘non-fiction’, and I suppose it is useful. Even many bookstores have separate sections for fiction and fiction considered ‘literature’ (meaning, of course, literary fiction).
The category ‘non-fiction’ includes everything from cookbooks, through self-help manuals, to academic papers. Rarely are they creative in the literary sense. They are intended to convey information, not produce an aesthetic response. (Although the food porn photos in cookbooks and the occasional witty passages in books primarily written to convey information are an exception, as are familiar essays such as those books by Mary Roach that I mentioned in a previous blog entry.)
And biographies are non-fiction, although many autobiographies could certainly be called fiction. Some are, indeed, works of literature, such as Boswell’s classic Life of Samuel Johnson. And much literary fiction is based on real people and events.
My book, Going Home, is non-fiction, the same category that includes cookbooks, and it could also fit the subcategory of ‘travel book’, a category that also includes guidebooks. The taxonomy of written works is problematic. Just compare the way library books are classified by The Library of Congress or the old Dewey Decimal system. (Ask a research psychologist what he thinks of having a book on the limbic system sitting beside How To Win Friends And Influence People at the public library).
I like to believe Going Home is ‘creative’ non-fiction, but when asked, I usually just say it is a ‘memoir’.