I had been listening to the radio – Q on the CBC -- when I heard an appalling comment. I thought I heard Tom King, author of Inconvenient Indian and many other fabulous books say that reading nonfiction was like herding porcupines with your elbows. AHHH!!! My mind reeled and I started in on a head-rant about how its people like him that makes my job seem second rate to fiction writers. “Reading nonfiction – Oooh, Painful – too many facts – yuck!” How dare he! But before I made my head-rant public I listened to the rest of the program, and I looked up a few things about Tom King.
The first thing I learned is that he actually said, “WRITING nonfiction is like herding porcupines with your elbows.” And that statement I can relate to. You do have to wrangle disparate accounts into place, and that sometimes can be prickly business.
The second thing I learned is that Tom King is an award-winning author of several books, a college professor, actor and activist. He was nominated for the Governor-General’s Award twice and in 2004 awarded the Order of Canada. No slub. And no stranger to nonfiction.
However, in an interview with Daniel David in the Globe and Mail, King said, “I have a new book coming out in November. It’s called . Non-fiction. Sort of.”
Sort of??? Is it true or not? All true and nothing but the truth?? Then why waffle?
King goes on to explain. “I’m calling it a narrative history. I know what a history looks like, with footnotes and all. This is more of a narrative history. I think I say in the book that it’s more of an adult conversation that I’ve been having with myself for most of my life.”
Now that sounds like a nonfiction book I want to read -- a nonfiction book that raises the bar; a NF book that other NF books can aspire to; a NF book that can walk into a library and make all other NF books shudder with envy. If I wrote that kind of nonfiction book, I’d be hollering from the rooftop and calling myself the new Truman Capote.
I thought we were past the days when nonfiction was considered a synonym for textbook, boring, dull, tedious. I thought everyone knew that nonfiction simply meant a true story and implied well-told, riveting prose that can take a variety of forms. But I guess our work is still not done. So, in the name of nonfiction, I interloaned the Inconvenient Indian. And you know what he said it that? – “…writing a history is herding porcupines with your elbows.”
OH! A History. Well – that’s different – never mind!