Am reviewing Lance Armstrong’s autobiography It’s Not About the Bike and its sequel Every Second Counts for a literary magazine, Biblio. I was a bit uneasy at first -- I don’t follow cycling as a sport and only knew the general outline of Armstrong’s inspiring story: his struggle with cancer and near-miraculous recovery to win the Tour de France against all odds.
But there was another, deeper reason for my reluctance: I’m not generally speaking a big fan of autobiographies/biographies. I think non-fiction sometimes gets an automatic stamp of approval even when it doesn’t deserve it; there’s an unfortunate perception that if something really happened, it becomes more worthy somehow, regardless of the actual quality of the book. (I think now of foolish socialites who, when asked about their reading choices, puff their siliconed chests out and say, "I only read non-fiction or ‘inspirational’ books." ) It’s true of movies as well; there is no blurb more overrated than the execrable "Based on a True Story" which almost begs unimaginative viewers to give their unqualified approval to a mediocre Hollywood film or a TV-movie-of-the-week. You understand, my problem isn’t with films -- or books -- that play around with facts to suit their own ends; it’s with the ones that, even when they are dead authentic in every detail, are shoddy, lazy pieces of work, content with just telling a true story in the hope that it will be lapped up.
So give me good fiction any day: after all, what could be more inspiring a "true story" than that of a writer/scriptwriter/director using the power of his imagination to dream up an enthralling tale, and then tell it well?
[Note: having said all the above, It’s Not About the Bike was, against all expectations, one of the most engrossing, delightful books I’ve read recently. Despite the fact that Lance Armstrong’s story is the wet dream of every soap opera writer, the book managed not to be cliched. Guess it’s the treatment that counts. Maybe there’s some hope for non-fiction after all ;-) ]