Thursday, January 26, 2017

Guest Post: Jeanne on "Fictitious Fiction"

Please welcome back Jeanne of the Bookblog of the Bristol Public Library as she considers that annoying practice of fake books being mentioned in real books. On more than one occasion, I have been led on a wild goose chase by an author. I don’t much appreciate it.

Fictitious Fiction

I’ve just finished reading a delightful romance book by Jenny Colgan entitled The Bookshop on the Corner about Nina, a librarian who loses her job and ends up in a little village in Scotland with a mobile bookshop.  Nina loves books and especially loves connecting people with just the perfect book.  A blurb called it “a Valentine to readers everywhere,” and so it is. The joy of reading is well portrayed and the descriptions of the books sound wonderful.

Unfortunately (as far as I’m concerned), the books are mostly made up.  There are a couple of titles which I suspect I know what book is meant, but the descriptions don’t really match up exactly with the book.  I’ve seen posts from readers who are intrigued and who want to read the books mentioned, only to find they don’t exist.  I find this rather puzzling, especially in a novel about connecting readers to books. Why not use real books?

In other instances, there are perfectly good reasons for making up books and authors.  James Patterson had a Bookshots with the controversial title of  The Murder of Stephen King.  Reportedly, it was set around the King’s real home and, given the public outcry and based on real threats to King in the past, Patterson decided to cancel the title. If a writer intends to kill off an author or make him very unlikeable, it’s probably best to invent one to suit rather than use a real person—unless said author is in on the joke.   In Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley, part of the plot centers around a set of beloved children’s books written by the late but equally beloved Oliver Inchbald.  Inchbald’s claim to fame centers around a series of books with a main character modeled on his son, which of course brought to mind A.A. Milne but considering the end Bradley contrived for Inchbald, using a created author and book was necessary.  Other real books are referenced, usually in the form of a quotation from Flavia.

Also, Ali Brandon had a wildly popular author of teen vampire fiction meet her demise in Double Booked for Death, so any comparisons to the then wildly popular Stephenie Meyer were of course coincidences.  Dean James made sure that readers wouldn’t think of Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden when he came up with Electra Barnes Cartwright and her Veronica Thane series for The Silence of the Library. Clea Simon has built a series around Dulcie Schwartz’s search for the identity of the eighteenth century author of the fictitious novel The Ravages of Umbria, a search which usually leads her to a present day murder.

Then there are those non-existent books which seem to take on lives of their own.  When Dean Koontz needed a quotation but couldn’t find one he liked, he simply made up The Book of Counted Sorrows.  He was surprised at the number of requests he got about the book until he finally wrote a poetry book with that title.  Previously, the most requested non-book for us was The Necronomicon, the fabled book by the half-mad Arab cited by H.P. Lovecraft and his followers.  Numerous “copies” have cropped up over the years as some folks produced books by that title.

However, I have to say that my favorite fake book was part of the plot in Dorothy Gilman’s The Tightrope Walker.  This was a standalone novel in which a shy young woman named Amelia had clung to a book entitled The Maze in the Heart of the Castle for solace during a very difficult childhood.  In The Tightrope Walker, Amelia solves a murder, all the while recalling that book for comfort and inspiration.  Several years after Tightrope Walker, Gilman published a real book of The Maze in the Heart of the Castle. I’ve often wondered if she intended to write the book all along or if she only really formulated the story as she wrote Tightrope Walker.

Does anyone else have favorite examples of fictitious fiction?


Jude said...

The one I remember the most is Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater and his fictional author character, Kilgore Trout. I sorely wanted to read Mr. Trout's work, but try as I might, I could not find his work. Then one day, like magic, I found a used copy of Venus on a Half Shell at a garage sale. It wasn't until much later that I found out that Vonnegut was not the writer, rather Philip José Farmer was the author. I lost my first copy of Venus on a Half Shell, probably disintegrated from age, but I found another at of all places another garage sale. I probably could not tell you what occurs in the book, but the story of how I found it will always stay with me.

Elizabeth said...

There are several fake books in Nabokov's Pale Fire.

I love Venus on the Half-Shell. I bought a paperback of it years ago & noticed the "author" in the photo was wearing a wig, fake nose, & clown spectacles.