There was a time when a “fact” had a negative connotation. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the most common use of the word in the last quarter of the 16th century and the first three quarters of the 17th, it meant “an evil deed, a crime; the perpetration or commission of such a deed or crime.” An example from 1577, “He is..hange..neere the place where the facte was commyted.” Fiction, on the other hand, has always had its core meaning, “arbitrary invention” (thank you, OED). An example from 1615, “The king hauing made positiue lawes..disdaines that a Groome shold..annull those, to..aduance other of his owne fiction.”
Facts and fiction are blurring together entirely too much these days. Libraries are repositories of both commodities. And, we staunchly fight for both, whether we are providing suggestions for readers of fiction, or helping people sift through and identify reliable non-biased sources of information, be it health, school, business-related – for practically any subject or situation you might imagine. When I think of “facts,” my natural inclination is not to jump to a negative association as one may have done in 1577; rather, it is to be at peace with whatever knowledge facts may impart, as they are true.
The joy of fiction, in the reading, at least, is that although these “arbitrary inventions” of stories may serve as an escape hatch to the everyday existence, there is often something more at the very heart of it. In Graham Swift’s “Mothering Sunday,” (the library’s fiction book group selection for February) the protagonist, a writer by profession, contemplates the craft, “There was also the word “fiction”-one day this would be the very thing she dealt in – which could seem almost totally dismissive of truth. A complete fiction! Yet something that was clearly and completely fiction could also contain – this was the nub and mystery of the matter – truth.”
It isn’t hard to see how fact and fiction can rub against each other. And, while the lines may veer in the telling of the fictions, something is very certain. Our attention to the detail of both has become vital.
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