I’m in the middle of a rather upsetting new experience. It’s so upsetting that I want to talk about it here, but because I’m in the middle I don’t want to give details because I might be over-reacting or misreading. But…
I’ve just bought a popular science book that describes a long scientific investigation and its results. As such books do, it goes into some detail about the characters and motivations of the investigators, which gives something like the narrative drive of fiction. I’ve read lots of book like this, many with great pleasure, and in many ways I’m enjoying this one too. The trouble is that I knew some of the people it describes and these descriptions don’t match the people I knew. The least realistic characterisations are of people who died before the book was started (based on information in the author’s notes) and it’s not hard to see where the author’s picture came from.
All the reviews I’ve seen concentrate on the science and the discovery process, apart from a few comments about how the book is a page turner and written like a thriller - pretty standard review-speak for this kind of book now I come to think of it. So maybe people wouldn’t remember the characters, and what feels to me like a smear on the name of one friend and a dismissal of another would simply not be noticed by most readers.
I might still just be shocked at what I’ve read, and maybe when I read it again it’ll just look like a difference in perspective. I hope so. I don’t like this feeling.
Does anyone here write this kind of book? Does accuracy in representing the “fascinating characters” (they’re always “fascinating”) matter as much as accuracy in representing the data, the reasoning, the errors, and the discoveries? How would you react to a letter from a reader giving you a different picture of one of the fascinating characters, which casts a different light on some of the others? That would be a friendly letter expressing genuine admiration for the book as well as saying “You got snowed” - in the nicest possible way. Has anyone ever written such a letter in such a situation? Or decided not to?
Dunno. Maybe I just want to howl at the moon because the book reminds me how much I miss my friend.
Books!!! BAH HUMBUG.