Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Bibliography In A Fiction Book?

Actually, to answer my own question, I like them! Monica Edinger at Educating Alice has started a great discussion on this question; I left my wordy comments but decided to go into further detail here.

Here's why:

  • When it's historical fiction, I usually end up wanting to know more about the history and the bib & notes help me to find "what to read next."
  • Just like the kids in the library who want to know "is it true" or "is it real," I like knowing what parts of a historical fiction book are "real" and what are part of the author's invention.
  • I know it's been said that "all fiction is fiction" and thus one should never, ever trust in any "facts" included in a work of fiction because, duh! It's fiction. Especially with historical fiction, which is based on history (whether because of setting, characters, plot or event) I like to know what I can believe is "real."
  • Change the "facts" too much in a book, just because you're writing "fiction", and don't acknowledge it because it's fiction? That works in only one type of setting: fantasy. Because with fantasy, including alternate histories, I go in knowing that the facts have been juggled, rearranged, and changed.
  • If you are now writing fantasy, admit it. Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz is set in a world where vampires are real and came over in the Mayflower. I don't need a note to make me aware that the history here is not going to match up with real history -- vampires, you know. (BTW, Blue Bloods is a fun Gossip Girl meets vampire type of book.)
  • What gets included for children's books can be tricky. I'm not sure at what age I could have learned the true story of the Sager family and not been upset.
  • Don't like it? You can always skip it.
  • That said, would it be better to have bibliographies and notes on a website, with just a brief mention and one or two references in the book? The people who don't want them won't care, but those of us who like them can go online to get the info.
  • Are you obligated to include a bibliography and notes? Nope; but I don't like the game of an author introduction insisting "this is all true" or "except for x and y, this is true" and then that being not true, with the defense of "it's fiction! It's art!" It's called trust. You don't mention it, OK; I'll wonder afterwords, do my own research. You say it's true, I believe you, find out it's not.... that's a betrayal. I don't care how pretty it is, you lied to me. (Note this is different from a character introduction, where that note of "it is all true" is obviously part of the story.) (Yes, the book I'm thinking of specifically of having overplayed this coy true/ not true device is The Da Vinci Code.)

What do you think? The Educating Alice discussion is here.


Monica Edinger said...


Thanks for weighing in here and at my blog. Hope some more folks join the discussion.

I do think that novels don't necessarily need the lengthy bibliographies of nonfiction. In fact, I would prefer they are in the book itself when it is for children rather than a website. I think kids are more likely to look at the back of the book than head to a website (others than the really interested ones). I'm talking for a fictional book that is.

Thanks again for the mention!

Michele said...

As I said on Monica's site, I like bibliographies in novels like Victory or King of Shadows by Susan Cooper, or Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer... They don't have to be lengthy or erudite - just suggestions of places to start if you want to learn more...