Look at the size of his… research!

The New York Times has an interesting article regarding bibliographies appearing in works of fiction: Loved His New Novel, and What a Bibliography By Julie Bosman.
This article asks after the validity of a bibliography in a work of fiction. Regarding Norman Mailer’s 100+ sources cited in his newest work, “Never mind asking how “Anna Karenina” and “Paradise Lost” could have influenced “The Castle in the Forest,” a fictionalized account of Hitler’s boyhood to be released next month. What’s a bibliography doing in a novel?”
I find myself identifying with James Wood, the literary critic for The New Republic who is quoted in the article. ‘”We expect authors to do that work, and I don’t see why we should praise them for that work. And I don’t see why they should praise themselves for it.”’ I also immediately thought of Pynchon. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one would have to be naive to think that Pynchon (a man who takes a decade writing a novel) wasn’t doing massive amounts of research: “…Thomas Pynchon, most recently in “Against the Day,” put extensive historical research into their novels without citing sources or explaining methods.” To me, this is what novelists do. They take information in, and process it into something new and non-actual (not non-factual). It’s not that what a novelist writes about didn’t actually happen, or that it’s not true; very often novels are historically based and are “true.” What’s important is that they are not meant to be taken as proof. They are true in an emotional, if not historical sense. A bibliography seems like a way of trying to shore up your evidence so people will take what you read as honest to God fact.
Another take on the reason behind the bib: But some novelists defend the bibliography, pointing out that for writers who spend months or years doing research for historical novels, a list of sources is proof of labor and expertise. And it may protect them from accusations of sloppy sourcing in a climate fueled by lawsuits and plagiarism charges. (In his 2005 novel “Saturday,” Ian McEwan, who was accused last week of misappropriating material in his earlier novel “Atonement” from another author’s autobiography, lavishly thanked a London surgeon he observed for two years while researching his book.) This is where Pynchon’s letter to the courts comes in (see my post below).
And it seems that there are all sorts of reasons for doing it. There’s Vollmann: “But now, Mr. Vollmann says, he does it as a service to readers. “I think it’s nice for a reader to have the information available,” he said. “Let’s say somebody gets interested in a character, or is disbelieving of something I had a character do. He can look in the back of the book.”’ Again, I’m not sure I agree with this thinking. As he said, they are “characters,” not the actual person. How does knowing that the real James Wilkes Booth once pulled a ‘dine-and-ditch’ at a Philadelphia diner enhance my scene showing him do it?
In the end I guess I feel like it’s a personal choice, but I can’t imagine bothering putting a list of the books I’ve read while working on a novel and expecting that it would enhance the reader’s enjoyment, understanding, or appreciation; and I certainly don’t think that it would be proof of concept or an inoculation against a lawsuit.

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