It happened to me therefore it is good

For most of this term at The Loft, I feel as though I’ve been doing battle with a faction of the class who seems to think that fiction can only be truly enjoyed or understood if you have some personal experience with the topic at hand. I’d even go so far as to say that most of this faction only champions those stories that they can personally relate to.

Even if you haven’t dated a gay person even though you’re straight? Then you cannot understand this story and that’s why you are so hard on it. Never been a caregiver of someone suffering from Alzheimers? Well that’s why you don’t get the story.

Their argument is usually, since something like this happened to me this story is good. This argument is the cousin of, “Well, it really happened.”

Both of them are total bullshit.

Often my retort to “it happened to me therefore it’s good” is something snooty and pedantic along the lines of, “You shouldn’t have to have dated a lesbian to enjoy this story. It’s our job as writers to make those who have not experienced such a thing feel what it might be like to experience it.”

Save a handful of kindred spirits in the class, my argument falls on deaf ears.

This weekend, one of my ears has become deaf to my own argument. This week I’ve been spending a lot of my free time reading Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. It’s typical dick-lit, which is chick lit written by men. Instead of being about shopping, fucked up women who want a man, and the men they chase, it’s about rock & roll, fucked up men with commitment problems, and the women who want them despite all that.

It’s a humdrum mildly entertaining novel at best. BUT, I’m loving just about all of it.

One of the main characters is a small-time Internet personality because of a website he runs devoted to a reclusive rock & roller. On the website the fans dissect every word the dude has ever written, spoken or sang. The rock & roller is the kind of artist who inspires his handful of fans to make pilgrimages to significant sites in his career.


This is gonna be a tough one to review coherently. Because there is very much about the novel that I dislike: Hornby’s use of the phrase “it was what it was;” his incorrect usage of begs the question; and the fact that most every character is an unlikeable and/or unbelievable prick. But here I am enjoying it anyway because some of that stuff feels like its happened to me and therefore I love it.


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1 Comment

  1. JRC 07.Dec.09 at 8:35 pm

    The classmates at the loft who think personal experience is a prerequisite for understanding are way off-base. If that were the case, the only good editor would be one whose life experiences exactly matched those of the writer.
    And, it would be impossible to read fiction older than , say 80 years, because everyone with first-hand knowledge of the time period is dead.
    Their comments are exclusionary and tantamount to saying, “I have insights that you can’t have”.


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