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True Stories

So, in my rapture over 84 Charing Cross Road earlier in the week, I somehow missed entirely that it’s a true story. Helene Hanff and Frank Dole actually wrote all of those letters. I’m stunned, and deeply gratified, again, by how rich human experience actually is.I will never, never understand why memoirists fabricate experiences to pass off as their own, or publishers continue to send out fictionalized memoirs as if they’re as good as the real thing. The truth has such unmistakeable power to it. Remember this opening scene from the first episode of The Wire (no spoilers, but very great enticement for anyone who hasn’t seen it)?

Careful readers of Homicide, David Simon’s reported book about the Baltimore Police Department, will note that this conversation is something that actually happened. As fiction, it’s testament to the power of a writer’s imagination. As fact it’s an astonishing testament to the power of human experience to be literate, surprising, and clearly and cleverly illustrative beyond the power of anyone to make up. I’d rather be constantly in shock to the beauty and pathos of the world as it is than seek constant substitutes for it.

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