Fiction vs. Nonfiction

Every time I teach a writing class, I get asked, “what’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction?” Well, grasshopper, I’ll frame it, not in a literary framework, but couched in a worldview. (Btw, I’ll be offering a brand new course in the fall at Lewiston Adult Ed on writing and publishing a book in 8 weeks—new course catalogs out soon).

Fiction is 99 percent of the information that you receive; through your television, your newspaper, the radio, and the interwebs. The other one percent, you have to scour the margins for. It’s out there, just like Muldur said, but it’s not easy to find and most Americans wouldn’t know what to do with even if it fell into their laps. We’ve become that commodified.  (That’s today’s $64K vocabulary word—check out the link and impress your friends)

America and Americans love consensus. Finding a common narrative makes everyone happy and fat. Countering that and remaining at odds with the accepted storyline puts you in an odd in-between sort of place.

The Baffler is nonfiction. What’s The Baffler? Well I’m glad you asked.  The Baffler may be one of the most unique and yet, obscure periodicals in the magazine genre today, at least in the U.S. It is gloriously anti-consensus, and since John Summers took over as editor, the magazine seems to be back with a vengeance (after publishing sporadically for the decade following Y2K.)

I discovered The Baffler during that glorious summer of slack in 1999. It was the summer that a light went on and the germ that became the JBE was born.

During a book search at the old Border’s store in South Portland, looking for something in the vein of Neil Postman, or Lewis Mumford, I stumbled upon Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos From the Baffler, collection of essays representing “the best of “ The Baffler, with content that considered the intellectual and moral bankruptcy inherent in the rebel hero as consumer, which at that time was splashed all over the pages of periodicals like Wired and Details; The Baffler deconstructed lifestyle choices as rebellion, and the ever-accelerating race to market youth culture; they were looking at ubiquitous business gurus like Tom Peters and the fad for Hobbesian corporate “reengineering”; that and the encroachment of advertising and commercial enterprise into every last nook and cranny of American life.  That was 1999. We’re much further along that curve in 2013.

If ever there was a time when we needed some nonfiction that time is now. The Baffler, back with a vengeance and the CJR article seems to be saying, with the right man at the helm in John Summers, brings quarterly corrections to all the fiction flying around. Given that it’s Moxie Season, at least locally, I’m happy to drop a little Moxie cred on The Baffler. It’s got Moxie in spades!

Living in Maine, tucked off in the northeast quadrant of America’s empire, it’s not always easy to find communiques that run counter, like copies of The Baffler. Even that leftist bastion of books, Gulf of Maine Books, had no clue about The Baffler when I walked in and walked out on Saturday, sans a copy of The Baffler. Oddly, the place where I have scored a physical copy has been the Augusta Barnes & Noble. The young clerk who waiting on me yesterday told me they get three copies of each new issue, but it’s currently sold out; it’s comforting to know that there are three others in greater-Augusta that align with the anti-consensus represented by The Baffler. I’m guessing our current governor isn’t one of them.