Monday, July 19, 2010

memoirist credibility through the lens of the greatest sporting event known to man.

Not the World Cup.

Andy Schleck toys with Alberto Contador (the most dangerous cyclist in the world) on the slopes of the Pyrenees, and the Tour shows Lance Armstrong that no rider is bigger than the race, shoving enough bad luck his way to make up for a decade of injury free victory laps.
A disgraced Khazakstani rider returns with grace from his two-year banishment to pull the peleton up the high mountains, only to have his bid for glory dashed by mere seconds in one stage, and then rewarded with victory the very next day. Tears and hugs all around.
The French have won four stages in this race which has been dominated for years by, well, everyone else. They might even keep the polka-dot jersey all the way to Paris.
There have been broken collarbones, broken ribs, broken wrists, and enough road rash to cover a soccer pitch. An Australian contender has ridden for days with a fractured elbow.
Why? Because this is the Tour de France. It is the race of truth. You do not quit as long you can still turn the pedals.

And I know what you are thinking.
If, unlike me, you do not catch the fever every July, you are thinking, why bother? They're all cheaters, right?

Well, it does matter. And this is why:
Professional cycling maintains its purity in an age when marketing and ticket sales have turned every other professional sports organization (not to mention political, financial, and business organizations as well) into a racket, where a blind eye is turned to cheating, and it takes a Congressional investigation to show the public what everyone has known for years.
Who out there loves hometown homerun darling David Ortiz? If professional baseball were professional cycling he'd be a distant memory, playing for bragging rights at the company softball game rather than raking in all the cheers and all the dough under the bright lights.

Why am I writing about this here, on the (awesome) blogsmith?
Because everyone is told at some point: "You should write a book!"
And now, increasingly, unfortunately, people do.
People who have no business getting their personal story published are turning into "memoirists", and there is a big share of the publishing industry that puts all of its effort into making sure we, the reading public, get the impression that this is a story we just have to hear. Oh, the triumph over adversity! Oh my, the will to move on after tragedy! Oh my goodness, this dog saved my life by being so wonderful and understanding after my surgery!

What if publishers, or better yet, an independent investigation unit specially assigned to the publishing industry, were to rigorously fact-check every soon-to-be-released memoir? Before all those trees die an ignoble death, let's see if this person actually was a gangbanger before we trot them out on all the talk shows and find out that they culled their "life experience" from the movies. Let's see if this dog really barks.

In the Tour de France, cheaters and liars cross the finish line and hardly get to the showers before they are led away in handcuffs. That's right, the police usually lead them away on the very day of their suspected offence. They can't race for two, sometimes four years. In most cases, that means never racing at the professional level again. That's why, when you watch the Tour, you can watch it honestly. If these guys are cheating, they will be caught.

Why can't professional memoirists be held to the same standards?
If it's fiction, then call it that, and let's see how it stands up or falls down on the wall in aisle 4.

1 comment:

Susan Theriault said...

What a unique approach to critcizing the publishing world for turning every experience into a story that "has" to be told. Comparing the high standards of the Tour de France to so many other human endeavors, was a great idea.
Cyclists of this caliber are as dedicated as it's humanly possible to be- you can not fake the physical and mental stamina needed to ride the race. it also seems that this level of effort engenders a mutual respect among the riders - something that is sadly lacking in so much of the sports, entertainment, political and business world out there, where it's survival of the meannest, most devious and self-serving who "ride" right over others without a care.
Great job, Paul. I always enjoy your writing in the Booksmith newsletter and this was an excellent idea.

Your completely impartial and unbiased