If I keep a diary for a year and type it all up with a chapter for every week, can I sell it off as a novel? Because I’m pretty sure that’s what Sylvia Plath did with The Bell Jar. There is very little plot, nothing ties itself up at the end, and there seems to be little purpose to any particular paragraph.
I suppose her year was a little more exciting than most, since she spent most of it in insane asylums. But where is the line drawn? What constitutes a novel and what constitutes a memoir? Are we allowed to rip off reality and shamelessly sell our friends’ lives to publishers under the guise of ‘literature?’
It would certainly be a lot easier than inventing an entirely new story. I could easily type up my life, change a few names, and call it good. I’m not sure how many people would want to read it, though. I suppose that before you can go and sell your life, you first have to live a pretty exciting one.
Would it be easier to invent something entertaining or go live it yourself? David Sedaris always seems to throw himself into crazy situations that inspire well thought out, impactful and concise essays. Reading them, I often wonder how much of it is made up. I mean, it would be so easy to pretend that you overheard something on a train that you didn’t. No one can call him on it! And he writes about his family’s embarrassing moments as often as his own. I wonder how they feel about supporting his career in that way.
It would be easy to invent, but every story is based on some sort of reality. We all write about what we know at some level or another. So what makes The Bell Jar such a classic when it is basically just a documentation of one woman’s year? One thing I’ve learned about classics is that they aren’t necessarily the best book of that kind ever written, but they are usually the first. Sylvia was one of the first to write about mental illness, so her mediocre quasi-memoir is now read by millions of high school students. Congrats, Sylvia. Way to play the system.