The Non-Fiction Renaissance at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2014 had Antony Beevor, Geoff Dyer, Reza Aslan as panelists and was moderated by William Dalrymple.
Front Lawns was jammed packed with energy as right after a session with Jhumpa Lahiri, the fictional goddess; there was a riveting discussion on the sprawl of Non-Fiction books. Festival Director William Dalrymple acknowledged the startling development in publishing and literature where non-fiction writers have moved into the space inherently occupied by authors. Antony Beever ascribes this shift to huge change in expectation as with the end of cold war and explosion of internet people have became obsessed with information and facts, Geoff Dyer added that ‘as you grow older all you want to read is military history’.
Reza Aslan says that all writing has one ultimate goal and that is revelation of characters, non-fiction adds a voyeuristic element to the readers; who find a window to watch lives of other people. For him, he told, there are two genres of writing: Good Writing and Bad Writing. Dyer observed, nonfiction reading non-fiction adds to your knowledge, ‘unless you are old, then you’ll have to keep on reading it.’ Dalrymple pointed out that awards such as Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction are equivalent to Booker, which iterates ‘All the best stories are true’.
Often non-fiction doesn’t have great monetary returns, Reza’s advice to all aspiring writers and novelist is to ‘figure out a way to write a book about vampires and love’. He adds that subjects such as Jesus and religion have been addled by historic fiction; he explained the predicament of being a Brown Muslim on television talking about Jesus, and ‘one has to be as non-threatening as possible’ he says.
Geoff says he allows himself to make small alteration in his nonfiction, Beever’s reputation relies on research and verification says that he sits with 5 books to refer with for each sentence; Reza says nonfiction has to be tethered in reality, the novelistic element can be given through research by adding description of place and weather.
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Panel made suggestions of their favorite nonfiction titles, Sir Vida’s Shadow by Paul Theroux, The Shadow of the Sun by Kapuścińskiz, Former Constantinople by Steven Rustin were among few. The brilliance of nonfiction is in captivating the readers on a subject they know little about. That said the session was rife with captivating figures, momentous insights, hilarious revelations and favoring climate.
By Shiwani Sharma@ Jaipur Literature Festival